Milestone has long been trying to perfect the art of two-wheeled racing with annual updates to its SBK series. The developer is bringing a number of improvements to the latest installment, SBK 2011, including better graphics, a Career mode, and simulation settings. It's also introducing new social features, which will allow players to share their best racing performances with the SBK community. We went hands-on with an early build of the game to try our hand at the simulation mode and get an early glimpse at the changes.
Speaking with Milestone, we were told many of the new features in SBK 2011 have come directly from critics and player feedback. One of the most lambasted features in SBK X was the Arcade mode, which aimed to make the game accessible to more casual players. Rather than bring it back, Milestone is replacing it with three different simulation levels: low, medium, and high. Low incorporates plenty of driving aids, such as braking assistance, which aim to make racing easier without losing any realistic physics. Subsequent levels remove the aids, with the hardest requiring quick reflexes to navigate safely around a circuit.
In our hands-on, each level was tuned to make moving from one to another feel like a natural progression. A lot of that came down to the bike handling, which felt similar on each level and made it easy learn. It was also helped by the assists. For example, when we played on medium, the braking assistance from low was removed, but arrows on the track lit up red if we drove too fast, so we still had a shot at making it around in one piece.
As we rode around each circuit, we also noticed improvements made to the visuals, the most noticeable of which was reflections. Road surfaces and billboard advertising around the circuit were all reflected on the shiny surface of the bike, giving it a highly realistic look. The effect was heightened in wet weather, with rain catching the light for an ultrashiny effect. Milestone told us there were also a number of other additions planned for the visuals, including new shadows, lighting effects, and motion blur.
Though the Arcade mode has been scrapped, many others are making a return. The SBK Tour retains the driving challenges from the previous installment while attempting to create a more compelling experience with an improved narrative and better prizes. The Career mode remains mostly unchanged, letting you work your way up from a minor Superstock 1000 team to the SBK World Championship, complete with full customization tools for your bike.
The final addition to the game is photo sharing. Though we didn't get to see it in action, Milestone told us that players will be able to take pictures of their race performances and upload them to social networks for the world to see. SBK 2011 is due for release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this May. Keep checking GameSpot for more coverage soon.