Ride is Italian developer Milestone’s first original IP after almost two decades of creating licensed products and it is something of a love letter to motorcycle enthusiasts. Pitched as Gran Turismo for bikes, does Ride manage to ascend to those dizzying simulation heights?
You’re hammering through the Potrero track and remember that in the upcoming section of sweeping, right-to-left track there’s a corner you can hit at absolutely breakneck speed but only if you nail the corner before it. That’s Ride in a nutshell. There’s a surprising amount of mental calculation that needs to be running in the back of your head at all times – planning ahead, disciplining yourself, knowing when not to over-commit and learning the sway of the track are factors that will be rewarded with a rush of gratification as you tighten up out of the corner, scraping the barrier on the left. Alright, that’s two corners down – have you done your homework on the next one, though?
I found myself having the most fun with Ride when I was playing it by myself, with no AI riders to cluster up and batter me about on the corners. The very best thing Ride manages to accomplish is allowing you to pretend you’re the owner of a horde of gorgeous, meticulously crafted motorcycles. Taking these realistically handling machines onto race courses and public roads so you can hoon about on them is satisfying and it reminded me of the way Gran Turismo creates the same rather reverent illusion.
You might have guessed from the way I mentioned it above but I found competing against the computer something of a chore. Jumping into any event will throw you in against bikes that vary rather wildly in the get-up-and-go department so the moment the lights turn green some will scream away from the line at close to light speed while others dawdle behind. If you’re looking for more of a challenge then you’re going to need to raise the difficulty level quite substantially, and even then it feels like the AI keeps hedging their bets and taking far more timid racing lines than you are. Not that it matters because the moment they come out of the corner, they’re straight back to light speed and are overtaking you again. Even when I took first, I rarely felt satisfied by the competition.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of other race types on offer like drag challenges and overtaking challenges which are exactly what they sound like. These modes will be of particular interest to those who like to tinker with their bikes and better prepare for a given event.
The amount of events on offer recalls Gran Turismo once again – there are so many of them and they’re all nicely catalogued so you can find them right away. The motorcycles on offer run the gamut from run-of-the-mill road bikes to some truly exotic show ponies, there’s a world leaderboard if you’re into that sort of thing and every category has a bronze-to-gold ranking scale to denote you mastery over a particular series or category. Ride wants to put as few barriers between you and its many race types as possible – there’s no licenses to earn here. If you’ve got the right class of bike then you’re free to enter any race it’s eligible to compete in.
Milestone have gone all in on the brand licensing in Ride as well. There are bikes on offer from fourteen real world manufacturers like Triumph, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Ducati with a total of 114 bikes that can be bought or won throughout play. The bikes themselves are clearly where Milestone have sunk the vast majority of their time because the models are all painstakingly recreated from their real world counterparts and lovingly rendered in-game. They really are a sight to behold and motorcycle fans will spend a lot of time poring over the models and picking out the really tiny details that Milestone have left in there for them to find.
The game’s many environments, however, don’t stand up to the same level of scrutiny. The best looking tracks – Sierra Nevada leaps readily to mind – really stand out against the vast majority because they all have a rather airless, manufactured look and feel to them. The repetitive textures are painfully obvious when you hit your top speed, the crowds look like the sort of cardboard standee, two-frame gifs we left behind in the PS2 era and all of the backgrounds look flat and uninspiring. By running the game in 1080p, all of these deficiencies are made even more obvious. When you compare the visuals on offer here to something like Driveclub or Forza Horizon 2, it makes Ride look a bit last-gen and, if you’re picky like me, it can really pull you out of the moment.
Despite their shabby look, the tracks themselves (plucked both from the real world and the imaginations of Milestone’s designers) offer a pretty stiff challenge on all counts but, and this is possibly the most important move Ride makes in its design, is that it won’t destroy your will to live like other racing sims can. It’s so much more accessible than other games in the sim genre like MotoGP, SBK and <wrc< i=””> – all made, funnily enough, by Milestone. All of those games are known for being punishingly hard to get to grips with and it’s a big reason that Ride’s World Tour mode is one of its best features.</wrc<>
The game eases you into the shallow end with what are called Naked bikes. These are low-powered, kiddy-pool bikes that are reassuringly tough to come off of. Playing a motorcycle racing sim that is realistic without being infuriatingly pedantic about it is such a refreshing change of pace and I feel like I could recommend Ride to non-enthusiasts based on that alone. You still have to respect the corners and be ready to slow your roll, but as long as you’re ready for that then you’re ready for Ride. And if you do manage to fall off, the Rewind function found in most other racing titles is here too so you can wind the clock back a corner or two and try again. Once you start getting into the higher powered classes like superbikes you’ll find hanging on a much bigger challenge but by the time you start to claim those bikes as your own you should have figured out how it all works. It’s smart design and I hope it wins Milestone a lot of new fans.
There’s also a bunch of assists found in most racing games these days that can be turned on and off like auto-braking and dynamic lines among other things but please, please turn them off. It sounds complicated – manual gears, two different buttons for braking that control the front and rear wheels and manually tucking your rider close to the fuselage for lower wind resistance on the straight actually feels amazing and serves to draw you into the simulation even further. Obviously, that may not be for you but for me there was no other way to play the game after trying that.
I wish the overall quality of the game wasn’t quite so uneven but it’s obvious that this is a game about bikes made by people who love them very much. This is a congenial experience – Ride doesn’t anything massively wrong but it doesn’t feel like it’s got any seriously aspirations to enter the big leagues either. With Milestone currently working on MotoGP15 for release later this year, we’ll have to wait and see if they can top themselves.
Review Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Gorgeous bikes, really accessible, great handling
Lowlights: Lackluster visuals, long load times
Developer: Milestone S.r.l.
Publisher: Five Star Games
Released: March 27, 2015
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4