Only last week I was joking in my Guitar Hero Live review about waiting five years for a new music rhythm game to appear, and then two of them coming around the corner almost simultaneously. Well, funnily enough – the same thing has just happened with street motorcycle racing games.
It's been almost ten years since the last one was released in the form of Polyphony's classic PS2 racer, Tourist Trophy. Now two have appeared within weeks of one another: Firstly there's Milestone's Ride, and now Evolution Studios has just launched a standalone expansion to DriveClub featuring a small stable of 12 high-end superbikes from KTM, Bimota, Yamaha, Ducati, Kawasaki, Honda, and BMW.
DriveClub Bikes uses the same 78 tracks and follows the same format of the somewhat ill-fated game that launched just over a year ago with a series of server bugs and issues that plagued the heavy-on-social-features racer and made it quite unplayable for some. Since then, DriveClub's underpinnings have been reworked and overhauled to ensure it functions smoothly and without issue, and it's been quite a pleasure revisiting the game and seeing it run without the glitches I experienced the last time I played it.
For those unfamiliar with the workings of DriveClub, the main event is Tour, and in this mode you unlock bikes by progressing through a series of races. Firstly there are six individual competitions to beat, each of which features three challenges that have to be completed, such as coming first in a race, or lapping within a target time limit. As well as straightforward races, there are shorter challenges where you have to perform particular stunts on certain sections of the track such as popping wheelies, doing stoppies, or exceeding a certain speed. Whatever the race format, stars are garnered for hitting every target, and earning 12 of them over the six races unlocks that series' Championship mode – a four-race event that has its own set of challenges within it.
As you progress through Tour mode, new, more powerful bikes are unlocked, and you move onto the next set of six races and their associated championship, where you can ride your latest acquisitions in anger. There are seven different race series in all – and when you consider the fairly high level of challenge they feature, that's a pretty comprehensive offering.
Beyond the Tour mode, like in DriveClub's car side of the game, you can set up challenges for other players, or indeed attempt to best challenges set by other players. You can also participate in multiplayer races, and set up your own personal races where you can choose the track, time of day, and weather conditions so you can practice whatever takes your fancy.
Whenever you're racing, DriveClub Bikes throws down dynamic leaderboard challenges, such as trying to hit a maximum speed or holding a line as best you can on a short section of the track. These mini-challenges are completed very quickly, and you're instantly ranked against other players. It's a neat feature that I really liked about the original DriveClub when I reviewed it. Even if you're not doing well in a race, you can still feel like a winner when you notch up a particular leaderboard challenge and break another player's record.
The racing itself is very fast indeed. The bikes featured are all blisteringly rapid in real-life, and that's reflected in the game. The handling is arcadey and not particularly realistic – they’re very twitchy and flick from side to side almost like the Super Hang-On bike of old. Because of this, the game requires a high degree of skill to control, and almost cat-like reflexes to ensure you don't go weaving down the road constantly hitting the sides of the track. That happened to me for the first few races, but once I became used to the lightning fast way the bikes lean into corners, and the finesse required to steer them down the sometimes thin and twisty tracks of the game, I slowly began to make headway.
Fortunately, the game is very forgiving, and you can smash into things and go off the track without always wrecking your ride. Of course, you can crash and completely wipe out, but it does take some ham-fisted riding, or completely misjudging your speed into a corner for you to come off your bike.
That said, the level of challenge in DriveClub Bikes is quite high, and you really need to know the tracks well to be able to be able to progress through the game. DriveClub veterans will definitely have a slight advantage here – although riding bikes has a very different feel to driving cars, and even with a good working knowledge of DriveClub's numerous tracks, a lot of practice is still required to be able to win consistently.
In terms of criticism, I feel the same way about DriveClub Bikes than I do about the original DriveClub in that the game doesn't do a particularly good job of making you feel rewarded for your progression. Bikes are just doled out without much fanfare, and you progress through the racing series in a very perfunctory way. I was hoping that this might be changed this time around, but no – it just follows the same formula as the original game.
Also, some of the tracks can be a little on the dark side, and the way that the lighting effect transitions from dark to light and from light to dark – such as when you're going through a tunnel or riding into the sun – is sometimes a little overplayed to the point of being off-putting. Again, learning the tracks ultimately solves this, since you can anticipate where you need to be once you know a track by heart, but it can be somewhat frustrating when you're still in the learning process and you end up hitting a wall because you couldn't see it quickly enough due to the game's lighting effects being either too dark, or blindingly bright.
On the positive side, the game now works as it should, and the social features and multiplayer aspect of the game function perfectly – at least they did for me when I played it. I'd also forgotten just how good the game looks – the tracks and scenery are quite spectacular at times, and the weather effects are highly realistic. The new bikes continue that high standard, and are very nicely rendered, and the customizable rider in particular looks very natural indeed.
For those who love bike racing, DriveClub Bikes offers a high level of challenge, and plenty to get your teeth into. I did find the going very frustrating initially as I re-learned DriveClub's many tracks and got to grips with the very twitchy handling, but once I started to ride within my limits and got used to braking distances and when to lean into corners, I began to really enjoy the action. This is a tough game, but it is fun once you get used to its incredible speed and responsive controls.
Just remember that DriveClub Bikes is not really a sim, but more of a sophisticated arcade game. Its social features and dynamic challenges help keep the racing fresh and interesting, especially now that it works as intended, and the Tour mode has plenty of depth, even if working through it doesn't always feel as rewarding as it should. And who knows – if you haven't played DriveClub before, the Bikes side of the game might even persuade you to buy into its car aspect – which these days is slick and a lot of fun.
It's the same format as DriveClub. Stylish, and very practical to use.
While the game only has 12 bikes, there's a lot of racing on offer, and completing later races is very challenging.
The exhaust effects are good, but not outstanding. The music sounds like it's been drawn from DriveClub.
Still a great-looking game, even if everything bar the bikes is now a year old. Speaking of which, the bikes themselves are nicely rendered, and the rider looks very lifelike.
A fast, twitchy and highly challenging racer that's essentially a sophisticated arcade game. It's a lot of fun, and, most importantly of all, it works as it should - delivering excellent multiplayer and social challenges. A good expansion to DriveClub that offers a whole new way to play the game.