Platforms: PC, Xbox One and PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One (Publisher’s screenshots used)
Review code provided free of charge by Milestone for review purposes.
Milestone have been plugging away at the racing genre for years now, churning out solid title after solid title that never gets heaps of praise or insane sales, yet they have managed to establish a reasonable fanbase. And that’s because while Milestone’s games often lack polish the underlying handling tends to be quite decent, thus they have become a reliable force for good in an increasingly inconsistent industry. Last year they broke away from doing licensed titles like WRC and MotoGP to deliver a wholly originally IP titled Ride, which as its name suggested focused on the beauty that is motorcycles. Skip forward a chunk of time and Milestone are seeking to follow-up on their work. Having missed out on the first Ride, how do I feel about its successor?
The handling model in a racing game is everything. Without a good system in place all the pretty graphics, piles of tracks, great audio and vehicles matter about as much a leaf on the wind (watch how I soar). Thankfully Ride 2 gets its handling right, delivering a pleasingly solid two-wheel racer that leans toward being fairly forgiving so that newbies can open the throttle up full when coming out of bends without throwing themselves off of the bike, at least until they get to the biggest, most powerful machines which are twitchier. Likewise you’re free to get away with braking quite late into corners, especially if you choose to let the game combine the front and rear brakes into a single button/trigger, although I’d highly recommend doing both yourself. There’s less feedback via the controller than I’d like which means you don’t feel as connected to the road as you could, but nevertheless throwing a bike around the bends at high-speed is very pleasing. A game can never come close to replicating the feel of a motorcycle, but Ride 2 arguably does one of the best jobs so far.
If you’ve come from a lot of racers where cars are the big attraction then get ready for a fun learning curve as you get your noggin’ wrapped around the wacky world of leaning early into corners to hit the apex, but don’t worry too much because there’s the usual adjustable options such as automatic braking and anti-wheelie control. Plus if you somehow do manage to throw the bike and rider toward the scenery like some sort of circus cannon gone wrong there’s a handy rewind feature that lets you turn back time and then act like nothing ever happened. But you and me know the truth, don’t we? Losing in that easy corner. Embarassing.
The one big caveat to the racing is the A.I. riders who populate the tracks and who should, in theory, be providing you with some tight wheel-to-wheel action. Aside from looking incredibly stiff on the racetrack thanks to a lack of animation they seem almost unaware of your presence, sticking to the racing line with a desperation bordering on fanatical obsession and happily cutting you up in the process. They don’t provide good, tough racing so much as they provide a moving obstacle to ride around. These guys aren’t smart enough to cut back or set up overtakes a corner or two before. They don’t exactly play fair, either, getting bursts of speed where none should be coming from. I can’t count how many times I was racing an A.I. opponent who took a bad line yet somehow came out of the corner like a rocket had been strapped to their back. Their top speed also seems to have been buffed, letting them blitz past you on the straights. But the truly odd thing is how these A.I. benefits are inconsistent, with some races being damn near impossible to win because every other bike is magically faster than yours, and others being a breeze. It’s like Milestone realised at some point that the A.I. wasn’t capable of providing a real, thrilling challenge and decided to give them super powers instead, but then changed their mind at the last moment without enough time to sort it all out correctly.
The career is fairly typical stuff, although that hardly feels like a criticism since it’s hard to see where racing games could really change things up in this regard. You’ll start with a basic bike, enter into an event, hopefully win, claim the cash and then repeat until eventually you’ve earned enough reputation to be the number 1 racer in the world. A “season” is composed of eight races from whatever categories you want, be that naked machines, sports bikes or even supermoto. These are all limited by a system that assigns a PP rating to every bike, and should your machine exceed the event’s max PP rating it simply can’t be entered. Once you’ve done eight standard events you’ll get an invite to complete in a special race that nets you big prize money and a free bike should you be first to cross the finish line. There’s some small attempts at injecting some variety into the mix with time-trial races and even some events where you have to navigate cones laid out around the tracks. Plus there are team events where your finishing position depends on where both you and your teammate finish, and you can hire new riders using in-game tokens, which the game kindly never bothers explaining how to get them. There’s also championships to take part in, and team vs team races, too.
While the career may never attempt to deviate from the standard formula Ride 2 certainly can’t be knocked for a lack of content. Since there are very few motorbike games on the market it seems almost all the major manufacturers were more than willing to let Milestone use their machines, and thus the roster of bikes to play with is sizable, ranging from some beautiful classics to modern beasts from the likes of Aprillia, Ducati, Yamaha, MV Agusta and Bimota. The track list is equally expansive with over thirty courses spanning fifteen or so locations, including things like the Northwest 200. Having said that the inclusion of the Northwest 200 really makes me want to Isle of Man TT track to be included. All said and done you’ll spend a lot of time in the career mode if seeing and doing everything appeals to you. On top of that you’ve got the standard options for entering into a quick race or a custom race, too.
Of course you’ve got the option to take to the track against real people, too, but there’s no dedicated servers meaning you’ll be connecting directly to other players, which is patchy at best. Even finding a race at the moment can be tricky. Sadly there’s no options to embark on a full-blown championship like you can with the latest F1 title, but if you can get a good bunch of people together it’s a lot of fun to see whose the quickest on two-wheels.
But now we get to the bad stuff, because really the handling model is the only thing Ride 2 does really, really well. Outside of the races themselves everything else is either bog-standard stuff or entirely underwhelming. Both the audio and visuals are a prime example of this, with Ride 2 sounding and looking like something from the mid-to-early Xbox 360 and PS3 days rather than a modern 2016 title. Everything aside from the bikes themselves is flat and lifeless, lacking sorely in detail. The crowds are just blobs sitting alongside the track and grass looks like green paint. While a lot of this comes down to a simple lack of detail on trackside objects, some of the blame has to be apportioned to the lighting engine, or more specifically a lack of one. But the real offender is the audio quality which sonically neuters so many bikes, removing any semblance of snarl from their engines. Something like a KTM Super Duke shouldn’t sound so flat and docile, like it’s a timid pet rather than something that would probably quite enjoy tossing you into the scenery at the slightest provocation. There’s no denying that the engine noises are better than they were in the first Ride game, but that doesn’t make them good. There’s little in the way of sound effects to speak of either, so don’t expect to hear the rush of wind or the roar of the crowd enhancing the experience. What you will hear is a random thumping sound every now and then which seems to be the poorly done sounds of a crash playing at random intervals. Why? No idea.
Thankfully that’s it for the glitches and bugs. Ride 2 is a refreshingly polished game at launch, although the load times are rather slow.
As you progress through the career you can upgrade your bikes with whatever cash you’ve managed to acquire, perhaps tossing on some slick tires, changing out the suspension, slapping on some better brake discs or tinkering with the engine. It’s a sort of linear progression, though, by which I mean if you head into the engine menu, for example, there’s just two options and one is clearly better than the other. The only thing that limits you is that upgrades increase the PP rating of the bike, so slapping a load of upgrades on might mean it can’t be used in certain events. This can create a nice little moment where a bike that’s already close to the max PP rating turns into a puzzle of sorts. Do you spend that last remaining bit of PP room to improve the handling, or maybe bump up the acceleration a touch? The downside is that upgraded bikes almost always seem to be much quicker than bikes which started at a specific PP level, which is a bit surprising. You can spend some cash to pick up a bike that is right on the PP threshold for a specific event, but if you purchase one that’s much lower and then whack on some upgrades it’ll generally be much better. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate design choice to make you find a bike you love and stick with it, or if it’s a balance issue that needs to be addressed, but personally I fall into the latter camp and believe it needs to be tweaked. Visual customisation is a lot more limited, letting you only do a handful of things like removing the wing mirrors or swapping them out for news ones, or picking between a few different liveries. Likewise options for making your rider are fairly basic.
Before a race you can also sit and tweak your bike’s settings, albeit again in relatively limited fashion. Depending on the bike and the installed parts you can play around with gear ratios, adjust the suspension and alter the rake angle. That’s about it.
This review sounds pretty heavily negative, so let me set the record straight; Ride 2 is an absolutely solid racer that benefits greatly from the fact that it’s about bikes and therefore is going to appeal to a lot of people who rarely get to see their two-wheeled loves in videogames. And even with its lackluster presentation and brain-dead A.I. there’s plenty of fun to be had. As a big fan of things like the Northwest 200 getting to blast round the track on a Yamaha MT-01 was pretty freaking awesome, as was taking a Dr. Martini modified bike and screaming around some flowing bends. It’s just a shame that Milestone are still struggling on their presentation. Much of that can be put down to a lack of budget, I suppose, but that doesn’t help negate the fact that the visuals and audio don’t make this feel like a package that should be retailing at the full £40. I suppose that’s the curse of medium-sized studios like Milestone; they don’t have the resources to produce something more lavish, thus it’s hard to justify a full price-tag purchase which in turn means they can’t make their titles look better. Catch 22. That alone might just be worth you running out and paying full price, just to help support a good developer trying to make great racing games.
But as always price doesn’t come into my verdict because what is good value for money to one person isn’t to someone else. So as a complete package how do I feel about Ride 2? It’s good. Not great, not amazing, not bad. Good. If you’re a hardcore racing fan and especially if you happen to be a bike lover then rejoice because Milestone have done what they always do; put together a competent racer that’s just lacking the spark and presentation to make it into the big leagues. Maybe one day, Milestone, maybe one day.