[2 March 2011]
The racing genre is usually defined as either simulation or arcade, but Deep Silver’s SBK X: Superbike World Championship attempts to satisfy both of the normally segregated audiences by leaving the choice up to the player.
The idea of letting the player choose has turned into a standard mantra in the gaming industry. Different genres define choice in different ways, such as letting you dictate the dialogue in a conversation or giving you the toolset in order to create an outcome as personal as possible. SBK X’s version of choice comes in the form of allowing the player to determine what type of game that they want to experience by forcing a decision between playing in these two differing styles, arcade and simulation. While the overall aesthetic of the game may seem similar after choosing the mode that you would like to play in, the outcome will affect the overall experience.
Everyone knows that arcade racers allow you to do things as unrealistically as the games defined set of rules will allow and simulation attempts to illustrate the realistic and time consuming minutiae that go into the sport. Choosing between these genre definitions also dictates the type of racing options available, based on those same preconceptions.
Arcade mode gives you the option to choose between a story mode, quick race, time attack, or quick championship, while simulation mode gives you the option of substituting story mode and quick race with career mode and weekend race. Each of the options also includes a selection between many of the top racers as well as the respected companies that they race for, allowing for minimal personal changes to attire. The real attempt at personalization comes in the form of deciding between story mode and career mode.
Choosing story mode or career mode will prompt the player to personalize their own racer, and after quickly skimming through the very shallow character creator, the real differences start to stand out.
The story mode, based on the arcade mode selection, is a very cut and dried affair; you are a new driver trying to win a championship. Each race from the story mode is broken into seasons and chapters that will grant you reputation based on the criteria that your team has set for you to fulfill. The mode doesn’t take as long as you will initially think to play through because each race has been dramatically altered in order to create a more dramatic set piece. For example, participating in a race for two laps with brakes that are going out. Many of the races like these last only a couple of minutes because you only have to go around once or twice on the track and many times it doesn’t matter if you win. It only matters if you accomplish the tasks that were set as a result of the dramatic circumstances surrounding the race. While the intention here seems to be to create scenarios that should generate tense excitement, they ultimately fall flat because there isn’t any investment in the character himself. Of course, this is arcade mode, and as any arcade loving racer knows, story really doesn’t matter.
Players looking to actually make an investment into a story should look into the career mode that is only available from the simulation selection. Career mode is a wholly different type of experience because you are forced to make critical decisions that will ultimately affect the outcome of your race as well as your overall standing with employers. Before you even ride you are given the choice between different companies that want to sponsor your dream of obtaining a championship. After signing away your life it’s time to meet the engineers, who will step you through the process of manually or automatically altering your superbike. Each engineer session is timed and each choice effect that time, making decisions a critical step in formulating a plan for the upcoming races. All of these personal investments really add to an experience that simply can’t be obtained in the story mode, but all of this is moot if the investment isn’t worth it.
Each of the modes in SBK X offers a different style of racing, but is either of them fun? Arcade mode offers boost and a very lenient driving mechanic, while simulation takes away the boost and forces you to study each race in order to determine the most optimal driving experience. While both modes are drastically different, neither of them are any fun. Arcade mode, based upon the boost option, is all about speed but rarely does that speed come into play because of the constant turns on each course, taking the ability to boost away. Simulation is so demanding that even when the bike is finely tuned, you need to race almost perfectly in order to keep up with the A.I., and once you make one mistake, the mistakes start to pile up as you try to make up for lost time. Of course, there is the argument that SBK X is a subgenre of a wider genre, which is created for a niche audience who will appreciate the level of detail that has gone into making a superbike racing game.
Many titles like SBK X have catered to their specified audience, but with the increase in costs to make a game on today’s higher end consoles and PCs, there is an attempt to capture potential new audiences. Many of those new audiences have expectations that have to be met in order for them to invest the time or money and that usually comes down to the overall choices that a game has to offer. Deep Silver attempted to create that choice by catering to the preconceptions that other players had of a genre that seems able to encompass both styles of play. While this is a noble attempt, there isn’t an attempt to enrich the experience that both players are after.
Choice usually results in a personal investment because those choices are reflections on your personality and person. These types of investments help capture an audience because they help blur the line between reality and pixels, and unfortunately, SBK X does not live up to those expectations because of the limited investments created by the developer and allowed to the player. Ultimately, SBK X: Superbike World Championship fails because the commitment to create a choice-driven experience doesn’t live up to the personal investment that should be involved in making a choice.