In a way, System 3’s recent Ferrari Challenge: Trofeo Pirelli faced identical problems to SBK-08, in that it faced new players with an unforgiving difficulty curve and placed the emphasis on realism rather than instant gratification. Ferrari Challenge got past this because the racing was actually very good, the rewards were there in terms of new cars and new tracks to unlock, and because the feel and challenge of the driving became part of the pleasure of playing the game.
Sadly, this just doesn’t happen in SBK-08. It’s not the fault of the handling, which is perfectly decent, growing more satisfying once you start to switch the realism settings up. You learn to squeeze and hold the brake and throttle triggers gently then smoothly lean into the bend, and once you develop these more analogue racing skills, the flow of straights and corners gets a lot more enjoyable. The problem is that, where any motorsport game should be exciting, SBK-08 never quite kicks into high gear.
A lot of this comes down to atmosphere – or the lack of any such thing – and to the poor performance of the competitor AI. On lower settings I had my doubts that the AI code had even been plumbed in, so unresponsive and glued to the racing line were my rival riders.
Still, I hoped that notching it up for a quick race might make all the difference. All that happened was that the pack started taking corners slightly faster. There’s no reaction as you zoom to the back of a group of your fellow competitors, and no effort to block or evade you as you overtake. You’ll have countless upsets just because none of your opponents have the sense to shift out of you way when you gun toward their rear at 200 plus miles per hour. Surely part of the thrill of the sport is that human beings weren’t meant to travel at such speeds in such dangerous proximity. When nobody else on the track seems human, a lot of this feeling goes out of the window.
Like Ferrari Challenge, SBK-08 starts off feeling like a rather dry and technical racer. The unfortunate thing is that SBK-08 doesn’t become anything more.