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By Tauriq Moosa

As is known by the traffic department and my neighbour’s cat (now deceased), I’m not a good driver. Handling tons of metal that travels over a hundred kilometres an hour is something that terrifies me. Driving games provide me an opportunity to test these driving “skills”, with the only major consequence being my pride (assuming I have any).

Many racing games attempt to foster an appreciation for the technology, engineering and brilliant design that goes into the creation of these metal beauties and into the talent of racing itself. There is an art to the vehicles’ creation, their maintenance, and one must be appreciative of the unique combination of aesthetic mastery and engineering genius. In racing simulations, specifically, there is an added focus on strategy.

This is certainly the goal of SBK 2011 rather than its actual accomplishment; indeed, SBK taints all these aspects of racing as soon as it touches them.

Vanilla Sky

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The game begins with a number of choices, like Quick Race, Career, and so on, which is now standard with most racing-sims. Let me first tell you what you’ll find if you want to leap straight into the game with Quick Race.

I was greeted to an uninspired and bland track, with what appeared to be a 2D sky, 2D grass, an eerily silent 2D crowd, and clone bikers and flag-wavers. The bike itself was nothing to behold, nor were its reactions to its boring world. The only impressive aspect of racing were my driver’s movements, which were highly realistic in capturing men in tights on bikes.

But I couldn’t believe how bland everything else was. The trees looked like a Window 3.1 screensaver and the sky was a glorified, almost pixelated JPEG, with an occasional glare effect. For some reason, the in-game music (taken from ‘Generic Racing Rock: Volume #398′) was turned off: I’ve had a less eerie experience playing Silent Hill. The way the silent flag-wavers moved in perfect synchronicity, right up to every ripple in their respective flags; the silent crowd that appeared to be either cheering or suffering from mass hysteria – these are not aspects of a racing game that should be highlighted at all. Except I did notice them, since there was nothing else worth looking at. Before I started screaming in fear, I turned the music on.

Banal Bike Cruelty

1To gain the full aspect of the game, you must enter Career Mode. Career mode is, of course, more in-depth than Quick Race and allows you to create a biker of your choice: age, face (all of 5 different faces – take that, Dragon Age!), date of birth, nationality, height and allergies. Or something.

Anyway, after you’ve created Guy McBiker, you get to sign a contract initially with three different sponsors, like BMW and Yamaha. The aim is to meet their demands – like beat races, specific opponents, maintain your sanity in the midst of the banality – before you can progress to the next stage. The ultimate aim being the Superbike World Championship.

There is no tutorial for newcomers, so you suddenly find yourself talking to a mechanic about the best options for the bike. And by “talk” I mean that annoying Final Fantasy-type of conversation where the words appear on screen, while the character in question moves around you like a mute madman.

There were words like Telemetry, which I thought maybe was a psychic power but was not. Instead you are told about traction and other boring things. You are simply told that the mechanics are going to do x, y and z to the bike. You don’t see it happen – it just occurs while time counts down. You get advice about the weather and recommendations there on. Fascinating stuff if you like watching timers countdown. I did what I thought necessary, before being thrown on to the race.

At least I think it was the race – but it wasn’t clear what was happening. There was no starting line, so it must’ve been the practice track. No clarity, no communication, nothing. This game was as inviting to newcomers as a bricked up house with a sign saying “Beware the Leopard”. But what about the racing itself? Well, it is certainly, um, “realistic” – if by that word we mean little fun at all. Yet, this is a racing simulation after all, not an arcade game. It’s supposed to be technical and strategic. As I said, there can be an appreciation for the detail that developers go to in the creation of a racing-sim.

It Feels and Sounds Like a Bike

 

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As I say, this is not an arcade game. It’s about simulation of superbikes. The bikes feel and look like superbikes; certainly there are factors to driving a bike that are not the same as driving cars. Here, the driver is part of the movement of entire vehicle whereas, unless your Roseanne Barr or Charlie Sheen’s ego, a car is unfazed by your shift in weight.

They look OK, but again, nothing spectacular. You’d think that being the central aspect of the entire game, some form of effort would go into them. Instead, they kind of shine, are smooth and handle well.

The sound is good: all two or three of them. It’s a racing simulation so there isn’t a need for other sounds. The engine makes a loud noise and the tires squeal; your Guy McDriver makes no sound as he tumbles off his two-wheeled death-trap. But who cares? The necessary sounds are there and they sound realistic enough.

Last Updated: July 22, 2011

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SBK 2011
Summary
4.0

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