Publisher and developer Motorsims was founded in 1997 with one purpose: to create the most realistic simulations possible with online access so racing fans could meet and compete on the Internet. Motorsims has taken a very big step toward achieving this goal with its first release, AMA Superbike - provided the people who buy the game are prescient enough to penetrate one of the most convoluted interfaces ever slapped onto a game.
The first things any motorcycle racing fan will want to know about AMA Superbike are what bikes are included and where they'll get to race. AMA Superbike earns high marks in both departments: It features nine bikes, four in the 600cc Supersports class and five in 750 cc Superbike class (except for the two-cylinder Ducati). You can choose Honda's CBR600F4, Yamaha's Y2F-R6, Suzuki's GSXR600, and the Kawasaki ZX6R in the Supersports department; and the Superbikes include the Kawasaki AX-7RR, the Honda RC45, Yamaha R7, Ducati 996, and the Suzuki GSX-R75. While there are a few physics problems affecting all the bikes' performances, you can definitely notice the differences in handling and performance between them. More importantly, these differences accurately reflect each bike's real-life performance.
You'll get to run these speed demons on nine authentic tracks, more than a few of which will be instantly familiar to auto-racing fans, including Road Atlanta, Road America, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio, and New Hampshire International Speedway. However, even if you're used to these circuits from your car-racing experiences, expect to log many practice laps before you start competing against more challenging computer opponents and human racers online. While the racing lines are extremely similar in both types of racing, motorcycles and cars are obviously two different beasts, and learning how to approach and exit curves is possibly even more crucial to success when it comes to two-wheeled racing.
AMA Superbike's graphics won't necessarily blow you away, especially if you compare them to the slick stuff you see in arcade racers where the CPU is typically free from the worries of calculating realistic physics. But AMA Superbike's graphics are more than good enough to get you right into the midst of the action, especially after you grow accustomed to the initially challenging first-person perspective that features head movement to simulate the way a real biker sees things as he leans into a curve. On the other hand, the crash animations are a little less convincing - in fact, some are downright hilarious - but it's not surprising that Motorsims decided to downplay the sport's most dangerous aspect.
Motorsims made a big deal about its emphasis on realism, so it's a little surprising that it let a few major glitches slide through in AMA Superbike's physics model. For instance, if you head off the track at over 100mph while leaning heavily into a curve, you'll be shocked to see that your bike doesn't slide out from under you when you hit the slippery green stuff - and that you hardly lose any speed at all. Kick in some big-time throttle in a curve, and you'll be either pleasantly surprised or seriously disappointed that the rear end holds to the road like it's coated in super glue. And the sight of a bike popping a wheelie at close to 130mph is disconcerting, to say the least.
In addition, although online competition ought to be one of AMA Superbike's biggest draws, the amount of online competition is pitifully small, even several weeks after the game's release. I tried more than a half-dozen different multiplayer sessions, which contained no more than three other opponents each, even during prime times. However, given the intensity with which Superbike fans follow their sport, you can probably expect more and more players as time goes by.
At least that's one area that can be resolved over time; unfortunately, AMA Superbike's interface is something you'll have to deal with at least until the next iteration of the game. Simply put, this is the most confounding interface I've ever had to deal with in any game. All looks fine at first glance, but once you jump in and start mucking about in the submenus you'll find yourself wondering not only how to do what you set out to do, but even how to get back to the main menu with any changes intact. It'd take too many words and too much space to explain everything that's wrong, but one example should give you an idea: After I finally configured everything to my preference, it took me several minutes to figure out how to actually launch a race! I put two other gamers to the test, and they too sat befuddled for a while before finally realizing that what looked like a mere menu label was actually a button.
The good news is that you won't be messing around too much in these menus once you finally get things the way you like them, and there's definitely enough full-on action to compensate for the laborious setup sequences. AMA Superbike doesn't quite deliver all the goods when it comes to realism, but it should definitely be the first choice for biking fans who long to put their skills to the test against fellow racers.