I remember the good old days of tearing into a tight hair pin bend, scraping the curb and then accelerating out at full-throttle with that feeling of exhilaration and the cheering of the crowds yelling such things as 'Tom! Your tea's ready'. Ah, so the closest I may have gotten to motorcycle racing was a BMX and the imagination of my 10 year old brain, but you cannot discount the joy that was derived from the simple pleasure of going as fast as you can round a series of corners. I've not been an avid follower of motorcycle games, with most of my experience coming from arcade ride-on versions, so during the course of this review I'm probably going to cause offence to those die hard followers of the Superbike fraternity. But in not being a fan I'm falling into the category that the developers are trying to reach, in SBK-07 they are trying to broaden the appeal of the series to casual gamers.
From the moment you put the disc in the drama begins, visuals of the gameplay are delivered with an operatic score to heighten that sense further, and any thinking that this game was purely about the dramatic feeling of Superbike racing is quickly discarded as the loading screen displays a selection of rather attractive pit girls. The gorgeous girls must be an integral part of the Superbike world, as they feature quite heavily, something that on a personal level I'm not complaining about as it is certainly more entertaining to watch a bevvy of beauties than clips of a racetrack or close-ups of bikes.
Once into the main menu there are six race options: Quick Race, Time Attack, Race Weekend being a snippet of Championship mode, Challenges and finally Multiplayer. The first two modes are pretty self-explanatory with Quick Race throwing you straight into the action and Time Attack for those that want to perfect lap-times and master the tracks. The main bulk of the gameplay comes from the Championship mode, however. This is the undertaking of an entire Superbike championship competing for pole position on 11 official Superbike Championship tracks, the Race Weekend mode essentially being one of these 11 weekends. SBK 07 has all the official Superbikes and a host of riders, enabling you to select your preferred combination. It perhaps would have been nice to be given the option to create your own rider so you can see yourself reaching supreme glory, as different driver choices have no bearing on the actual gameplay. Once in the championship mode you take on the weekends in the same order as the real season. Over the weekend you undertake all the necessary sessions from free practice, qualifying, superpole through to the actual race. Although this is certainly realistic, to the casual gamer it does become a bit tiresome as all you really want is the competitive racing not lots of laps by yourself.
Interestingly enough, reading people's views on the game some state that it is too simplistic whereas others say that it is difficult to master, obviously these people having not delved very far into the game as one of the major selling points of the title is the ability to define the difficulty, not just Rookie, Amateur and Professional levels but options to define the realism of the game as well. The default mode is 'Arcade', which will suit the more casual less knowledgeable gamers but for those wishing to immerse themselves in the intricacies of the Superbike world there are a number of customisable options from rider health, braking help, tire wear and even rider weighting (which is their positioning on the bike). After some success on Arcade mode I changed to Simulation and the result was startling, even simple things like staying on the bike become difficult. During the Arcade mode it is pretty hard to become detached from the bike apart from during collisions, whereas in Simulation every corner must be taken with precision to avoid the bike slipping away from underneath the rider. The Challenges mode is a nice addition in the game in that it certainly is challenging, objectives ranging from keeping speed through checkpoints, wheelie-ing certain distances, to chasing down pole position. There is also the Multiplayer mode which is restricted to two-player's off-line. Through the completion of challenges and the winning of races, unique features/bonuses become available. These bonuses take on varied forms from ghost riders to race against, cheats, videos and of course more pictures of the ever-desirable pit girls.
The graphics are somewhat split. The tracks themselves are not highly detailed and can come across as a bit bland. Over the course of the game you can race in four different weather conditions which adds some nice variation, most noticeably in the instance of rain, which not only looks impressive, with nice touches of splashes on the screen, but changes the gameplay where breaking times are increased with the slippery conditions. The graphics of the riders are much better in their movements and body animation looks (to me) very realistic; the Superbike fans reading this might disagree but to my untrained eye everything looked spot-on. Another highlight of the graphics is the crash physics, when first picking-up the game, crashing is something that occurs with frustrating regularity but has the bonus of allowing you to watch the rider's body and bike take-down a number of other riders in what can be some spectacular collisions. Two crashes never seem to be the same, whether it's the bike sliding forwards and slicing the opposition off the track or somersaulting and clipping the head of the nearest contender.
One of the few drawbacks within the game is some lousy camera angles that you can choose from, the standard one being a third-person perspective, the other options seeming largely misplaced. You are offered one view from the rider's perspective but with too much of the bike visible and the camera feeling too far back to be considered a 'true' rider experience. The next option seems better as it takes in all of the track but is mounted foolishly low on the bike so that the view is mainly tarmac and makes it very hard to judge corners. The last option sees you from third-person again, but allows the bike to move more instead of staying dead central, which feels like you're on the bike behind rather than your actual machine.
To summarise, SBK-07 would seem to have all the necessary ingredients to keep both casual gamers and hardcore Superbike fans happy. With the variable difficulty and realism settings you should be able to find the perfect balance to suit your needs. Superbike fans should be pleased with the licensing agreements in place that must bolster the authentic feel of the game, but are sure to have some concerns over the ride of individual bikes or the courses that I cannot simply comment on. Casual gamers should also be safe in the knowledge that the game can be simple, if you want it to be, and does deliver satisfaction when you manage to perfect the overtaking of an opponent into a corner to claim pole position. There are certain drawbacks with the graphics and camera positioning but these shouldn't be too much of a distraction. Improved versions are due to be released on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC which should enable online multiplayer which will enhance the satisfaction of gaining pole. When push comes to shove, Superbike games have a limited appeal with only fans of the sport usually willing to part with their cash, but for those of you that don't know too much about the sport this is a good introduction. Now... where did I put that BMX?