SBK-08 Superbike World Championship Hands-On

The official Superbike World Championship game is to make its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 debuts this year, so we paid a visit to developer Milestone to take the latest builds for a spin.

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SBK-08 Superbike World Championship
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While it may lack some of the glamour of Moto GP, the Superbike World Championship is certainly increasing in popularity. For many fans, the attraction of the sport comes from watching professional racers ride commercially available bikes. Italian developer Milestone released SBK-07 last year, making its debut with a solid simulation of the sport on the PlayStation 2, but the follow-up is set to be even more ambitious. Set for release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later in the year, SBK-08 Superbike World Championship is set to tweak the formula, update the graphics, and add a much-needed multiplayer mode, and we went to Milan to see how it's all shaping up.

SBK-07 was an arcade racer and a sim rolled into one, and this year's game will offer even more options to play around with.
SBK-07 was an arcade racer and a sim rolled into one, and this year's game will offer even more options to play around with.

From the look of things, the developer's main aim is to harness the power of next-gen machines to capture the look, sound, and feel of the Superbike World Championship. At the same time, it wants to make the realistic simulation more accessible, and we saw plenty of new additions that Milestone hopes will help bridge the gap between the arcade and simulation elements of the game. There are five preconfigured realism settings that range from the basic arcade mode to extreme simulation, with control difficulty scaling accordingly. You'll be able to tinker within the different levels to find a play style that suits you best, while the in-game engineer will give you advice on any bike modifications. His suggestions are affected by the real characteristics of the teams and bikes, and after each race you can access telemetry data to check on your performance and assess the impact of changes made to your bike. It's a deep system that not only allows you to tailor SBK-08 to your ability, but also encourages you to customise it, moving from basic arcade style to greater simulation in gradual steps.

The Pit will act as the game's hub, and it's here that you'll choose your team and rider and customise your bike before races. As you'd expect, all the teams, bikes, riders, and liveries of the 2008 season are present, and you'll be able to customise just about everything on your bike from tyres, brakes, and suspension to engine characteristics. Once your tinkering is done it's time to start racing, with championship, time attack, and quick race modes available in our preview. You can play any of these modes at any difficulty level, and while the arcade mode is less intensive than the simulation modes, you still have to focus on your racing line and braking distances. You'll need to make sure you're approaching corners at the right speed and then accelerating out, while the artificial intelligence riders will fight you for every inch of track. They've all been modelled on their real-life counterparts, so notoriously bullish riders on the SBK circuit will also be aggressive in the game. The game's proprietary physics engine gives bikes a realistic mass and momentum-- ploughing into the back of another rider at high speed will result in a spectacular crash. We saw one such example, watching as our bike cartwheeled into the barrier and our rider hurtled through the air. It's clear that even with limited playing time, winning races in SBK-08 is all about learning control and consistently working your way to the front.

 As well as an updated game engine for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the game will add online multiplayer for up to 16 people.
As well as an updated game engine for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the game will add online multiplayer for up to 16 people.

After winning a couple of races in arcade mode, we braved the extreme simulation level. Its level of realism should give dedicated fans of the genre the high-level challenges they crave, and although we quickly limped back to arcade mode, we felt encouraged to tweak bike elements and gradually move up the difficulty levels. As with the last game in the series, we like the level of customisation that's available, allowing gamers to gradually build up to the level of difficulty that they want to play at. The finished game will feature 12 tracks from the 2008 season, including Brands Hatch, Monza, Losail in Qatar, and Brno in the Czech Republic. All the tracks have been accurately modelled down to the last curve, and getting to know them will be the key to winning races.

Although SBK-08 isn't quite complete, the graphics are already looking quite impressive. All of the bikes and riders featured full detailing, while the realistic environments changed dramatically depending on the weather. SBK-08 has four different weather conditions including rain, and all of them will affect bike handling. The game handles the 22 riders onscreen without dropping below 30 frames per second, while motion blur and real-time shadows help bring bikes and tracks to life. On the camera side are several chase and rider perspectives, and we particularly liked the frightening intensity of the over-the-handlebars view. The sound of the bikes in SBK-08 is also well sampled, and petrol-heads will be able to tell how many cylinders each bike has from the sound of the engine alone.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer portion of the game was not being shown at this stage, but the developer already has an idea of what it wants to include. You'll be able to jump into quick races on Xbox Live or over the PlayStation Network, choosing between arcade or simulation mode. The developer couldn't confirm exact numbers for players yet, but the aim is to have up to 16 players online. There's still work to be done on SBK-08, with minor graphical and sound elements not yet in place (no sign of the sport's famous brolly girls, for example). However, it's all looking promising and the developer is hard at work finalising the online code. The game is scheduled for release in May this year.

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