SBK-09 Hands-On Impressions

We put our superbike skills to the test in a hands-on session with Black Bean's upcoming simulation racer.

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Black Bean Games is due to release its latest instalment in the world superbike series, SBK-09 Superbike World Championship, on June 25. Fans of the official series will be happy to know that the title has acquired the licence for all tracks, teams, and riders from the official World Superbike Championship, as well as new 3D environments, teams, tracks, and game modes. We recently had a chance to check out SBK-09’s revamped features in a hands-on session.

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Like previous games in the series, SBK-09 is a simulation racer. This means it’s not a good idea to launch into the single-player Championship or Challenge modes without visiting the tutorials first. The game’s training mode sees you in a variety of sessions that involve mainly free practice (just you on a track), qualifying sessions (timed), warm-up, and a couple of races to introduce you to the competition element. We won’t lie to you: staying on track is a lot harder than it looks, especially when taking corners or misjudging the distance needed to properly slow down. But after a few practice sessions, we could pretend we were ready to race.

SBK-09’s game modes have been given a slight overhaul since SBK-08. The game offers five single-player gameplay modes, including Quick Race, Training, Race Weekend, Championship, and Challenges, and three online multiplayer modes, including Quick Race, Championship, and Team Championship. We had a look at each of the single-player modes to compare.

Quick Race lets you pick your own team and rider from a selection of celebrated real-life champions--such as Michel Fabrizio and Noriyuki Haga--and teams like Suzuki, Yamaha, Ducati, Kawasaki, and Honda. There are also 13 real-life tracks, including Australia’s well-known Phillip Island, and tracks in Spain, Qatar, Italy, France, South Africa, and the USA. You can also customise the number of laps in a race, the weather conditions (sunny, wet, cloudy, and so on), and even the skill of the AI opponents, which ranges from rookie to professional.

Racing in SBK-09 proved somewhat challenging. Even though turns are well accentuated by the arrival of a green arrow above the track, it was hard work learning to brake at the right time in order to turn without veering off the track (which happened a lot). Suffice it to say, we crashed more times than we care to admit, at least during the first couple of races.

The real challenge was in the Championship and Race Weekend modes, which offer the bona fide superbike fan something to indulge in. You can begin by asking an engineer for advice on the best bikes to use in the different sessions, but if advice is not your thing, you can kick straight into the game’s lavish customisation options. You can change your bike’s settings, tweaking each aspect to your heart’s content. You can pretty much tweak anything and everything, such as suspension, steering, gears, chains, balance, and tyres, as well as get hints on how to perfect each one of these changes.

We also had a quick look at the Challenge mode, which lets you complete a few time trials before moving on to the tricky part of performing special scenarios and tricks. For example, you will be asked to perform a skid, wheelie, or burnout in the highlighted part of the track while still finishing within the set time limit. The scenarios are all variations of the normal Quick Race mode, where you will be asked to beat a number of different riders to the finish line.

Overall, the game’s 3D environments look sharp and detailed, and small things like the bike gears and tyres really stand out. While there was not much scenery to speak of, the little amount we saw looked great.

SBK-09 improves on its predecessors but still needs a bit of polish--the loading times proved a bit too long and the game froze completely during one of the races. However, the game is visually impressive and pays a lot of attention to detail in the customisation options. We hope the other issues will be resolved before the game’s launch later this month.

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SBK-09 Superbike World Championship is scheduled for release on June 25 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PSP, and PC. Stay tuned for more GameSpot previews.

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