Ah, motorcycles, more commonly known as ‘’suicide bicycles’’, with all the adrenaline rush of a rollercoaster and a far greater chance of hurtling to your death. Motorcycles are an exciting mode of transportation and far more interesting to master than any other road vehicle. In life (and in video games) I’ve always enjoyed their delicate balance of precision and power and, in some cases, their ability to execute full-on flips and land safely. I can’t say I ever saw an articulated lorry do a 360 degree corkscrew while the driver made obscene hand gestures to passers-by and still come out relatively unscathed, but then maybe I’ve lived a particularly sheltered life, far from the arenas teeming with people gawping at dump trucks getting major air off a dirt ramp.
Anyway, I digress. I’m here to talk about RIDE, the motorcycling equivalent of Gran Turismo from the creators of the popular MotoGP series (Milestone). I‘m here to tell you why it works rather well as a racing sim and why it sometimes fails as a fun experience.
RIDE gives you hundreds of real-world bikes in different classes as well as official bike gear and bike parts to play with, all accessible in the tried and trusted routine of doing well and earning credits to unlock them. It features a decent selection of popular real life tracks that take in street, TT and GP race types to name but a few; you can also customise your bike and rider in a fairly in-depth manner too, so you can see where the GT comparison comes into play. That also extends to the sim-like nature of the gameplay, but I’ll come back to that later on.
The first strong opinion you’ll have on RIDE is ‘’why does it take so long to load anything?’’ as nearly every screen transition takes somewhere between ten to thirty-five seconds. It isn’t like RIDE is chewing up chunks of memory at any given time either. For the most part there is nothing complex occurring on the surface as, graphically speaking, RIDE is a bit uneven. The bikes themselves and the racing gear your rider wears are well-realised and have a good level of detail to them. The menus may be iceberg-slow to load, but they do at least look rather slick and polished. As PS4 games go, RIDE is overall fairly average-looking, but the ugly side comes from trackside mainly – the scenery often looks poor for a PS4 title – in fact it’d look poor on the last generation of consoles. It can have a damaging effect on the rest of the game simply because it looks so out of place. The same goes for the horrid amount of textures popping in upon the loading of some tracks, though that seemed to be primarily an online mode issue.
It is excellently animated for the most part though, which is especially noticeable on the sim difficulty as every slight movement of your rider and bike is on show and has the full real-world physical effect upon your steering and/or smashing into corners at high speed. This is where the game shines brightest, when it tries its best to capture the essence of riding a motorcycle in race conditions. A feat that is supremely difficult to replicate in comparison to cars just because of the differences in control. RIDE gets the closest I’ve seen, but that in itself brings frustrations as well as satisfaction.
Even at its most dumbed-down level, RIDE is tough. Even with all the steering and braking assists on and the AI reduced to mannequins with hands taped to the throttle, you will struggle at first. A bike fanatic who rides them in real life is likely to suffer a disconnect as they try applying what they know into how they race in the game and car drivers with a passion for motorsport will find the transition a little odd. However, perseverance does pay off. Gradually you will adapt, learn the nuances of cornering, start climbing the rankings and then you might be able to take on the more realistic gameplay settings (if you hadn’t already started there) and it becomes a whole new learning experience all over again. RIDE is not for the casual race fan who feeds on the Need For Speeds of this world, but prides itself on being a racer in which you need to pore over suspension options and get your overtaking down to a tee. It’s not a full-on sim, like I said, encapsulating the feel of controlling a bike is a lot harder than that of a four-wheeled vehicle. RIDE plays like the closest approximation of a sim for motorbikes could be and as such is a tad alienating to all but hardcore racing fans, but then, that does seem to be the audience being catered for here.
If you feel like this sounds like something you’d be into, then the gameplay customisation options I touched upon earlier do allow you to tinker to your hearts content to find your perfect mix. The aforementioned ‘’kids’’ setting -if you will- is still challenging enough whilst giving you a big helping hand, but it does seem better to turn some assistance off once you get the hang of it so that you can move through to the far more rewarding simulation mode a lot quicker. The game being easier does it no favours in the long run as anyone with a modicum of racing knowledge will soon outstrip its usefulness and end up in procession races by the halfway point of their career. At which point you might as well be playing as a postman delivering mail for all the thrill it’ll bring you. The only thing difficulty doesn’t seem to change is how dreadfully pedestrian the A.I. is. They don’t like taking risks or pushing hard to overtake and that takes the spice out of being competitive. As a result, only mastery of your bike and the circuits provide excitement. It feels like half a job done when your modus operandi is racing games.
While you can dive deep into World Tour mode alone and play motorcycle enthusiast Pokemon to your hearts content, there are other ways to enjoy RIDE. Time trials, quick races -and perhaps more importantly- Online races are all quick-fix alternatives to that gargantuan career mode. Online allows up to twelve players to compete, filling out the rest of the 16-bike grid with AI-controlled riders. I only managed to find a handful of people to play with at pre-release and some of them were the sort that disconnect for reasons I will never begin to understand, the others were already ridiculously good at the game and soon left me for dust. There was the one occasion where I had a fairly even contest with three others and that was by far the most enjoyable race I’ve had to date. This is probably something that will be less of an issue at full launch, but it would be worrying if that’s the experience every rookie has to endure.
RIDE is enjoyable, despite how boring it can come across to the casual observer. It just takes enthusiasm for motorsport and patience in mastering the subtleties of motorcycle controls to fully appreciate it. There is a lot to dig into and decent depth in choosing your style of riding without it ever going up its own stat-backside. It’s a shame then that while it nails the riding of a motorcycle, it fails spectacularly to offer any exciting race scenarios.