Videogames make lots of things possible in a virtual world that would in no way ever be possible in reality. Even simulation games, no matter how real they may seem, are never quite able to approximate the real world. For instance, while I may be outstanding as a superbike cyclist in SBK X: Superbike World Championship, were I to actually get on a superbike in the real world, I would end up with numerous broken bones and an utterly destroyed sense of pride.
Truth be told, I got said destroyed sense of pride the first time I played SBK X in its simulation mode, where I not only wound up dead last, but did so in embarrassing fashion. That was the first thing I attempted in the title and it convinced me instantly that I needed to step back and go to the game's arcade section where not only is the driving more forgiving, but you're given a handy dandy racing line as well.
SBK X packs a whole lot of different items into the single title, there are the aforementioned simulation and arcade modes, and a multiplayer section (up to 16 people can compete online at once in several different race types) as well. Simulation allows you to create a career in which you'll have eight seasons to work your way up the ladder. You create a rider, choose a team, and compete in race after race after race. There are smaller objectives as well and, of course, the ability to tweak your bike setup to best accommodate you. It's a relatively full career mode, provides hours of enjoyment, and the fact that the game doesn't solely hinge on it certainly helps the overall title as well.
Arcade mode lacks the ability to play through a career, instead opting for a story track. Here, rather than going through grueling practice sessions and qualifiers, you are given a short mission goal (pass another driver, move up "x" places, etc.) and thrown into the middle of a race. You can earn bronze, silver, or gold cups for each mission and thereby unlock more races and move up from the most junior level, Superstock 1000; to Supersport; and eventually Superbike classes.
The arcade mode, as you would expect, is far more forgiving than Simulation (which, to be fair, has three "levels of realism"), and it is a lot easier to get up to speed in Arcade. But, if it's realism you're after, the simulation mode does allow plenty of different tweaks to the bike and a whole lot of control over your ride. Of course, if you're like me, "a whole lot of control over your ride" is going to mean that until you get up to speed you're going to be a disaster. Whether that speaks well or ill of the game is up to you to decide, but know that you're not going to pick the title up, jump into simulation mode (even on a low difficulty setting), and blow your opponents out of the water. If you opt to play on the most realistic setting with a full length race (you can run races at a percent length of the real-world length), you're going to be in for a true challenge. The story mode eliminates a lot of the choices given to you in Simulation's career section, but makes it significantly more easy to feel good about yourself without just handing you a bunch of wins.
SBK X is a licensed title, the only licensed Superbike World Championships title in fact, and features a number of racers and also their riding styles (which you can use in creating your own character). I wish I could speak to its actual realism in terms of the on-bike experience, but the great potential for broken bones has always stopped me from getting on any sort of honest to goodness motorbike, and to get on a racing bike and compete in any sort of actual race seems absurdly foolish. What I can tell you with some certainty is that if you spend hours and hours playing SBK X, not only will you be thoroughly engrossed and honestly consider hopping on an actual bike, you'll also become ever more certain of the fact that doing so would cause you grave bodily harm.
This is a fully engrossing racing title with elements to satisfy both those out for a pleasure race and those who truly want to get down to the nitty-gritty of the sport. The graphics are good, but certainly not knock-your-socks-off outstanding. Honestly though, when you're racing a bike at full speed in the complete simulation mode, you're not going to have to watch anything but the road ahead of you. If you're looking for a challenge here and a wealth of depth to the various modes, you're going to find it.
Now if only that in-game experience could possibly translate to real life…
SBK X: Superbike World Championship is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Lyrics, Mild Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on: PC and Xbox 360.
Article first published as PlayStation 3 Review: SBK X: Superbike World Championship on Blogcritics.