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SBK 08 Superbike World Championship

For: PSP

Leaning towards respectability

Product: SBK 08 Superbike World Championship | Developer: Milestone | Publisher: Koch Media | Format: PSP | Genre: Racing, Simulation | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: Europe
SBK 08 Superbike World Championship PSP, thumbnail 1
Incredible to believe but there are guys (girls are far too intelligent to do this) that go around recording engine noises. You can see them at race meets down by the track with their tape recorders, dictaphones or MP3 players poking microphones towards exhaust pipes. In truth, most motor racing fans probably feel a thrill whenever they hear the earthy rumble of a Ferrari starting up or the mechanical overtures of a Ducati 1098, but it's the microphone guys – though admittedly weirdly obsessive – that know the true difference between a satisfactory and sensational racing engine.

So where's all this leading? To put it simply, SBK 08 Superbike World Championship shows great competence in key areas but it ultimately fails to provide the thrills and spills we'd expect from such a potent licence. The microphone guys would be disappointed.

While much of the game works with a mechanical level of ability and assurance there's just not much finesse and craft about it. If the devil is in the detail, then Mr Beelzebub went on a pretty long vacation during the game's development.

Let's take the engine notes of the bikes as our first example. While it's true that the bikes do make moderately different sounds, and they range from Ducatis to Yamahas, they lack the kind of throatiness the microphone guys thrive on. Imagine if Pixar made an animated movie based around an asthmatic vacuum cleaner (hey, it could happen) – it would probably sound like the bikes in this game.

Visually, too, SBK 08 is certainly adequate but little more. There's some decent detail in the bikes and riders and when you do crash the crunching animation and flipping bikes make for wincing viewing. But the environments and trackside detail are blander than a Westlife cover version. Architecture is angular and breeze-blocky, grass is monotone and skies are grey or blue – take your pick.

On a more positive note, there are plenty of options once you get stuck into the racing. You can take a quick race, launch into a full race weekend, try out some challenges or start up a full championship season. We'd suggest earning your spurs in the challenges is the best way to go to begin with as you get to learn all the subtleties of handling.

And for us the handling model is pitched just right. You can go for an arcade style with all the driving aids on or opt for simulation. The latter takes into consideration aspects like your rider's weight distribution, damage, traction control and grip is beautifully judged – difficult to begin with but satisfying once mastered.

In fact, it's to Milestone's credit that it included any kind of simulation model at all. Most PSP racing games strictly adhere to an 'arcade' feel that generally doesn't ask much of a gamer's intelligence, never mind skill. But here, on its most demanding settings, you will have to be conscious of niceties like tyre wear affecting grip, both front and back brake application and realistic inertia. But what's more telling is that these elements never feel pernicious, they're always on the right side of challenging.

But, critically, races do lack drama. Largely this is a consequence of the lack of finesse we mentioned earlier but it's also due to the riders bunching up. Whether you're racing in a quick three-lap event or a full championship weekend complete with practice sessions, poles and podiums, you're generally in one of two positions: at the back trying to catch up after a crash or at the front attempting to maintain the lead.

There are other structural issues that just plain bugged us. Try out one of the many stimulating challenges and any minor mistake, usually touching the grass or hitting another rival, results in you instantly being thrown back to a 'Try again' screen. This would be fine apart from the fact the accelerate button is the same as the quit button, so often you'll find yourself quitting out of the challenge by accident, which means enduring a block of tedious loading screens to get back in again.

Mr Beelzebub was definitely on a sun lounger when that one sneaked through the gaps.

There is depth to SBK 08, though, and with six difficulty settings, all the major tracks and stars from the HANNspree Superbike World Championship plus decent unlockables in the form of tracks, images of grid girls and video clips giving you some incentive to play on beyond mastering the early races. There's also a welcome four-player online mode, although it was impossible to asses its merits considering no one is on the servers. Indeed, trying to join many PSP infrastructure games these days is like caching a bus in Alaska. Possible but protracted.

So if you'll allow us to return back to our original analogy, we don't think the microphone sound file guys would think too highly of this. Not just because the bikes in the game sound weedy in themselves but because, despite some good handling engineering and potential long-term value, it all feels slightly too sterile.

With more aggressive, personality-based AI and more attention to detail it would have been essential. As it stands, it's at least respectable.
SBK 08 Superbike World Championship
Reviewer photo
Mark Walbank | 20 June 2008
Fans of the sport will enjoy its demanding handling model, but it leaves something to be desired in terms of energy and thrills
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