One of the great things about the current gaming ecosystem is that not every game has to be a massive triple-A effort. It opens up the market to smaller games that wouldn’t have been made in the past. Take FIM Speedway Grand Prix 15, for example. Flat-track dirt oval motorcycle racing is so niche that I’m not sure that I ever saw it on Speed Channel. Yet this fairly unheard of form of two-wheel motorsport has one of the best racing games of 2015.
For the unfamiliar, Speedway Grand Prix racing is a form of motorcycle racing on flat dirt tracks. Rather than your standard race weekend format, riders will run a minimum of five heats at a Grand Prix event and earn points based on their heat finish (3-2-1-0 for the four runners). The top eight points scorers from the heats advance to semi-final races and the top two finishers in each semi-final go on to a final race. The points accumulated in each heat run, including the semis and finals, go to a season-long championship total.
This isn’t an arcade game either. There is an arcade handling mode that is a lot more forgiving but it’s not easy by any stretch. Simulation handling has your thumbs dancing to steer on the left stick and shift your rider’s weight on the right. It’s a delicate dance that I couldn’t quite get. My first go on the bike saw me dump it in turn one repeatedly. When you bail, it’s back to the starting line just like a real Speedway Grand Prix race regardless of whether you’re in a practice session or not. At least I got really good at my starts.
There are a few game modes for you to play. There is a training mode which is necessary to get you up to speed because there is a bit of a learning curve to this game. You can play single heat or single events. And there is the obligatory online mode.
For the most part, you will be playing in the season mode. This puts you in the boots of one of the 15 permanent riders in the 2015 Speedway Grand Prix season and sees you battle for the championship over 12 rounds. Championship events earn you both points for your heat finishes and money for your event finish.
The money comes into play because there is a bit of team management going on in the game. In between rounds, you have to buy or repair parts for your bike and that costs money. Repairing parts keeps your bike from breaking in the middle of a heat or event. I had my engine go while leading a final. It was a good points day but a bad money day. Buying parts lets you upgrade your bike’s top speed, acceleration and handling. The barebones bike likely won’t having you compete for too many wins so smart upgrading is a key to success.
Once you actually hit the track, the real fun begins (though I enjoyed trying to budget my way to success). There are a lot of variables that keep the racing fresh. The dirt track you race on is leveled every four heats. That means the track starts neutral and grip shifts to the outside as the heats progress. You’ll also be dealing with managing your tyres over the course of your five to seven heats (depending on how well you do) which are basically useless after two full heats.
I feel as though I’m underselling the racing component of the racing game but it’s so much fun if you like having to search a track for speed and grip. Turning left and counter-steering right to get around a corner seems so easy in theory but there’s so much to worry about in practice. All the tracks have subtle differences in layout. Each heat has different grip levels. The other riders are looking for speed just like you are. It keeps the racing from getting old.
Maybe it’s just me but I liked the challenge of constantly moving around with my bike to get by other riders. I could take the shorter line around the inside but lack grip. The outside is longer and might have more grip but there’s a wall looming to punish a mistake. I often found myself trying to “diamond ” corners but that can go badly if someone sneaks up the inside as you slow mid-corner for the exit.
The season mode is a bit of a let down, though. You can’t create your own rider which is a fairly standard feature for racing games. Also, there is no career mode so you aren’t battling to stay in Speedway GP (the top eight riders in points qualify for the next season, three more qualify through a qualifier event and the final four permanent riders are invited by the series promoter) nor does your team management carryover to the next year. Maybe it’s one of those features that were always planned for 2016 but I think that rider creation and a career mode are mandatory for the next game.
The team management component to season mode does give it a little bit of replayability. The AI difficulty and the race variety thanks to the variable track grip gives the actual racing part of the season some replayability too. The racing is good. The problem is that so much of what’s around lets the game down.
There weren’t too many bugs with the game. It runs fairly well. The 1.01 patch was supposed to fix the game’s judging of collisions but I spent the majority of my time playing the 1.0 version of the game. If you cause a collision in a heat, you can be disqualified. I’ve been sideswiped out of races but was the one eliminated for falling while the other rider got away unpunished. If you get a little aggressive squeezing another rider, you stand an inconsistent chance of disqualification.
I also found that the game would occasionally screw up the clutch controls. Starts with arcade handling allow you to throttle up and hit left trigger to engage the clutch and take off. Simulation requires you to hold LT to disengage the clutch and release to engage like you would with a real clutch pedal (and presumably with a clutch handle on a bike). Often I found that if I walked away for a few minutes, starts would become a mess where the clutch wouldn’t disengage so hitting the throttle launched you. If I took a break, I would have to start with exploratory throttle taps to see what I had to do not to jump the start and often “granny” (no throttle until the green light) the starts to stay onside.
For what is really a budget title (regular price of $25 USD), the graphics were pretty good. The character models weren’t anything to write home about unless they’re on the bikes and ready to ride. You’re not looking at those, though. You’re looking at the track. You’re looking at the wall. You’re trying not to get blinded by the sun as it sets over the grandstands. Those pieces all make for a really good experience. You won’t confuse it for the latest triple-A racing experience but I’d put it above what I’d expect from a last-gen game.
The dirt looks good and you can see ruts start to develop during races as you slide your way to the front. You can also see the difference between a freshly levelled track and one on its last heat before levelling. I was also really surprised that each of the tracks look different. Well, dirt is dirt but the stadia that the races take place in were all recreated in the game which I don’t think would have been a necessary detail but certainly one that shows SoftPlanet’s commitment to making a proper Speedway Grand Prix game.
The sound isn’t quite up to the same level as the graphics. The music is virtually non-existent and certainly not memorable. The commentator’s lines get old very quickly. I’m not sure I made it through my first event before I heard repeats. It’s also painfully obvious where the lines have been recorded separately as volumes and pitches don’t match. Commentary is the hardest part of a sports game to do well and SoftPlanet completely missed the mark. However, it goes from bad to comical after you’ve played long enough so there is a redeeming quality.
When it comes to straight racing, FIM Speedway Grand Prix 2015 is an absolute joy. It focuses on the core component of the game and that’s definitely to the game’s and the player’s benefit. Sure, there are a lot of the surrounding components that need to be improved for the next game. If Speedway GP 2016 doesn’t come with a career mode, expect to see me score it in the 6s.
For a first effort with this type of racing, I absolutely loved this game. I hope that we get to see a second iteration of the franchise and hopefully not after the 2016 season ends.
FIM Speedway Grand Prix 2015 was played on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The review code for this game was provided by SoftPlanet. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and whether turning left and steering right isn’t too much of a challenge.