Last year's official SBK game was a successful outing for developer Milestone, and a game that managed to cater to both the simulation and arcade markets. This year's title makes the jump to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on June 1, and we got our hands on a preview copy for the latter format. The racer provides customisation options, allowing for varying levels of realism and difficulty between arcade and simulation play. It will also include 12 real-life tracks (11 on the Xbox 360 version) including the well-known Phillip Island, Valencia, Monza, Donington, and Magny-Cours.
As SBK-08 Superbike World Championship is a fairly realistic game, it's beneficial to spend time in the five tutorials to help bring you up to speed. They involve challenges such as passing through a series of checkpoints at certain speeds, or completing a lap in the wet within a given time frame. Unfortunately, the tuition style proved more autocratic than we'd have liked, and veering even slightly off the track resulted in us being kicked back to the beginning of the lesson.
The menu system is quite similar to that of TOCA Race Driver, with the game's various options presented through a virtual garage. In addition to the usual game modes such as Quick Race, Time Attack, and Championship, SBK-08 will offer bonus content including pictures of races, trophies, and umbrella girls. There's also an online multiplayer mode for up to 16 racers, although we were unable to access this on our preview build.
In addition to the racing season, there are 20 challenges such as reaching a checkpoint within a limited time period, overtaking the race leader on the final lap, or making your rear tyre skid at a certain point. Successfully completing a challenge will earn you a virtual gold medal--not quite an oversized bottle of Mumm champagne, but a reward nonetheless.
Racing in SBK-08 is challenging and rewarding, and there are plenty of options to tweak on each bike should you find it too easy with traction control, braking assistance, or other such aids turned on. If that's not enough of a challenge, there are also four levels of opponent AI ranging from rookie to legend. While we've never hurtled around a grand prix track at breakneck speed, the game offers a good sense of speed, especially given the motion blur effects. The controls are solid and not overly sensitive, but you'll still require quick reflexes if you want to brake sharply at the end of a straight and avoid flying off into the gravel pit.
Overall, the environments look good and appear to be re-created faithfully. The racers and bikes look authentic, too, right down to small logos on the bikes and leather suits. The tracksides seemed a tad sterile and lacking in smaller details, but the background vistas looked great, with detailed clouds and distant mountains on certain tracks.
SBK-08 still needs some polishing before it's ready to be wheeled out of the garage, as the version we played was missing music and had long load times and some glitches in both the menus and heads-up display. Despite this, the game is looking near to completion, and we hope to see the minor issues ironed out when it launches next month.