When it comes to simulations of motorcycle racing, there's really only one name left in the business. When you buy a game based on MotoGP, Motocross, Superbikes, or anything else that runs on two wheels and has an engine, Italian developer Milestone is likely who will be behind it. With so many titles under their belt, we were expecting RIDE to finally be the crown jewel in their slowly improving portfolio. With no official championship licences, they had carte blanche to deliver motorcycling's equivalent of Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport.
From the outset, it's clear to see that's what they've gone for with RIDE. Players enter the career mode's world rankings table at position 301, and can play any unlocked event that they have a suitable bike for, in absolutely any order that they want. Spread throughout the different sections are races, time trials, overtaking challenges, drag races, endurance races, and mini championships. Success in each one earns you "rep" and that pushes you up the world rankings. As it turns out, the best in the world is deemed so based on nothing but mad props, as they are apparently quantifiable. There are a ton of events on offer across an absolute multitude of different bike classes. From "naked" bikes through to the fastest superbikes, all the main manufacturers are represented and each machine – with the exception of some super-specialised vehicles – is customisable and upgradeable in stacks of ways from improving the quality of oil, changing the type of chain, or switching the quick shifters out. On paper, RIDE is a dream come true for motorbike enthusiasts.
Way back before the second paragraph began though, we noticed that the game initially took an awfully long time to load. Two whole minutes, in fact. We pretty much ignored it, thinking that as long as it was only on the initial startup, it would be more of an annoyance than a problem. We were wrong to do that. Every single time that you try to start any sort of race event in RIDE, you'll be staring at a loading screen that lingers for almost a minute. Then an rendered image of your bike appears, with no options other than to press A to confirm. Of what you're confirming, we're not sure. You press the button and get another 20 to 30 seconds of loading. At the end of a race you're treated to – you guessed it – about a minute of loading to get back to the game's menu system, too. After a race in a multi-event championship, the game has the audacity to spend that minute loading the menu system up, before instantly jumping back into loading the next race. At one point, we waited for three minutes between championship events. Strangely, the pre-event loading times aren't as molasses-slow when it comes to time trials or other events that don't feature opposition riders. We tested on both the Xbox One's internal drive and an external device, and the delays were the same on both. At times, we were racing in events that took less time to beat than the pre and post-event loading times.
When you finally get on the track, RIDE can be fun. If you're a fan of other racing games, the transition from four wheels to two is not going to be massively easy, but it's awfully rewarding once you get the hang of it. The game offers a number of assists to ease new players into things, such as the ability to join the (normally separate) front and back brakes so they're both controlled by the left trigger. A number of different physics models are available too. "Standard" is the most forgiving but make no mistake about it, you're still going to have to have your wits about you. If you just rock on up to a bend and then mash on the brakes, you'll likely be staring at your rider flying across the screen, his bike left far behind him. If that occurs, RIDE does offer a "rewind" system similar to the one found in other racing titles. This can be used up to nine times per race and while it's handy to have, it has problems. If you slide off your bike by turning too hard, you can rewind back to before you started to turn in. If an AI rider then instantly slams into the back of you and knocks you for six – which happens a LOT - you'll find that you can't rewind again for a set period of time, making the system entirely useless. Either give us the millennial-pleasing instant retry at all times or don't include it at all, we say.
Speaking of AI, RIDE's is something of a mess at times. You can play any race of any mode on any difficulty setting without being punished for lowering the level of challenge, but it doesn't really matter. All winning or losing comes down to, is whether or not you've got the best stock bike. If you don't, you'll find the opposition tearing past you on the straights and you won't be able to keep up, even if you've upgraded. If you do, you'll be at the front of the pack by the time you reach the first turn, and you'll stay there.
Regardless of the bike, the overall feeling is that there's no consistent challenge from the AI here. The only real challenge is keeping the bike on the road and mastering the handling model, which becomes trickier to do as you purchase more and more powerful machines. The AI is something of an afterthought and it always feels very much as if you'll either win or you won't and that if you're in the latter scenario, the only point of you being there is to fight for the minor places.
For us though, the single biggest problem that causes what would be an enjoyable enough game with a few design issues to become a poor game that really should only be played by die-hards, is the graphical performance. You won't often find us saying that here if the gameplay is good. However, in this case, the graphical performance significantly affects the gameplay to the point that it has to be mentioned. Generally, the game looks pretty well put together. The bike models are exemplary in terms of attention to detail and the tracks – despite some featuring more than their fair share of pop-up and dated textures – are nice enough to be going on with. But on a very large percentage of those tracks, there's a heck of a lot of stuttering going on. You'll be driving down a straight piece of road, watching frames of animation just go missing in chunks. It isn't that the framerate is necessarily dropping in any consistent manner, just that every third or fourth second or so, there's a very noticeable jump. Sometimes, it's far more often than that. On a straightaway it isn't nice but it isn't such a game breaker. When you're riding into a corner on a type of vehicle that absolutely demands a smooth line, smooth braking, and smooth acceleration though, you've got more than a problem. S-bends are practically unnavigable in any quick way on most tracks, due to the fact that the game judders and splutters and jerks as you're trying to perfect your line, generally causing you to oversteer, underbrake, or accelerate too soon – all of which could cause your rider to fall. Even the required 900mb launch day patch doesn't seem to assist in the matter.
As if to add insult to injury, we tried all through launch day to get an online race going. The game boasts of 18-race online championships featuring a full grid of opponents, and we wanted in. The first issue comes when you realise that RIDE doesn't offer you a list of lobbies when you search. No, it just finds one based on your criteria and throws you into it. When you get there, you're generally sitting and waiting for a race to end. After watching a mini-map of the racers for two laps, the game often tends to just get stuck. You can still navigate and everything responds, but you never actually get to race as the in-progress event appears to continue forever. When we did finally get chucked into a lobby on our own, we waited for a new player or two to arrive, pressed the button to start the race, and then watched as the game hard locked and crashed back to the dashboard. This scenario occurred multiple times through launch day, although we did get the odd online race going. More than a few people are reporting similar issues to the ones we had.
Offline, RIDE has a split-screen single race option for two players and four AI riders. Due to the issues with the graphical performance, the framerate takes a hit that it can't really afford to do, so while the mode is a nice thought, it may as well not be there.
When push comes to shove, RIDE doesn't get the job done. Some great ideas and what was obviously a clear decision to make a love letter to motorcycle fans is plagued by technical problems. What's especially galling is that the game suffered a last-minute delay on Xbox platforms, and still ended up with glaring technical issues. There's the essence of a good game in here - make no mistake about it - but it really is very, very hard to see it with all the problems in the way. We'd like to think that the development team at Milestone is working on patches for the game, but whether that's the case or not with their next attempt – MotoGP 15 – being released in only two months, remains to be seen.