Racing games tend to pop up with a reliable degree of infrequency, and another one has just surfaced in the form of RIDE. And this one is extra-fast because the title is all in capitals.
Given that snowmobile, horse and lawnmower riding games are so lamentably thin on the ground (but they exist, all right) it’s safe to assume that this one has something to do with motorcycles. Which it most certainly has, although weirdly even bike racing games like this one are surprisingly niche. Practically all the bike racing titles you’ve probably ever heard of are by the same coding outfit; Milestone, based out of Italy.
Now, as you’ve obviously clicked this review, and read this far, then it’s probably a safe bet that you’ve got some interest in motorcycles in general, and bike racing sims in particular. So with a cocked eyebrow you’re probably thinking “Italian, eh?” Long famous for jaw-dropping two-wheeled exotica it seems they’re also a dab hand at the games too. And the similarities don’t end there. For those in the know, Italian metal has always had a reputation for explosive power and surgical handling paired with a penchant for grumpy electrics and bits falling off in the night.
Now, like most new releases RIDE does have its flaws but please bear with me, as this is a game that deserves a review that ends on a high. For those with busy schedules I’ll summarise here: Just like Italian motorcycle factories, Milestone were too busy making something awesome to worry themselves with sticking useless stuff like wing mirrors on properly.
It’s not an easy game to get into, for starters. Both in terms of its difficulty curve and also the demands it makes of you, the player, to get it working properly. This isn’t a car racing sim – as well as the normal fast/slow/left/right controls you might find on lesser vehicles there are also a few unique to motorcycles. There are independent front and rear brakes, controls to distribute your weight forward or backward over the machine, and yet another one to tuck yourself in behind the windscreen. It’s a deeper challenge than a car racer and needs correspondingly more controls, so if you’re relying on the keyboard for all of this, forget it. An Xbox controller or similar is the only way forward for this game, and it’ll take you a good ten minutes to try different control combinations until you find something that suits your style.
There’s also the question of performance – you’ll need to run this at full HD and a good frame rate to have a chance of seeing and reacting to the wiggles in the tarmac far ahead, and older graphics cards will struggle. But if all is well then the game is a visual treat. The graphics and general sense of the tracks and locations are wonderful too. At the end of a good hard race you can almost smell the heat pouring off the tarmac as you lean in deep to take that final and particularly tricky hairpin. The only place you notice the papier maché behind the illusion is in the slightly sterile sound design. As an example, on a proper bike the wind blast at a hundred and forty miles an hour is like a solid animal force but in RIDE, there’s barely a whisper to bestow the appropriate illusion of speed.
The menus are not only frequent, but take their own sweet time to load. The voiceovers are shonky and the rider aids are initially set at a level that saps quite a lot of fun out of the game, at least until you find them deep in yet another menu and switch them off. The automatic braking is particularly annoying; it’s automatic all right, but not quite automatic enough to keep you from hitting the wall. About the same amount of fun as half an eggcup.
But once you’ve got over all that faff and managed to get RIDE working on song – what an experience it is. In first-person view (the only way to play, if you’re serious) the level of detail and feedback in the ride is a joy. Having owned and crashed a fast bike or two, I can testify that Milestone have got it bang on with RIDE. The stone cold satisfaction of daintily clipping an apex at ninety? Check. The little shuffle from the back as the tyre finds grip from gravel to tarmac? Check. The grim resignation as you realise that the front tyre isn’t going to be able to magic up any more grip and you’re going nowhere but the crash barrier? Sadly, check.
And the icing on an already delicious and satisfying cake is that it’s a properly hard game, in a thoroughly good way. Many modern games exist only to walk you through a story, show you what the designers had in mind, and to do it with only the occasional light challenge thrown in along the journey. But RIDE is more like the gratifyingly hard games of old; games that made you practice, concentrate, memorise, improve. The first half-dozen races you try? You’ll finish in last place. The next half-dozen? You might not finish in last place. It’s a truly unforgiving game. Crashing is punished harshly; you can ride out of your skin for the first half of the race but if you make a slip then the pack you’ve sweated bullets to overtake are right on top of you once again. And then the penny drops – it dawns that if you want to win, you’re not allowed to screw up. Such a refreshing concept in the Call of Duty age, when we’re used to getting as many second chances as we want.
All in all, this is a game to buy and then spend some serious time with. Sure, there’s a lot about it that’s a bit corny but happily the corn is confined to the parts of the game that don’t really matter. It’s the racing in RIDE that’s king.