By Tomas Barry 20.03.2017 2
Veteran racing developer Milestone aims to fulfil motorcyclists' cravings for a serious racer that does justice to the sport. With no sign of any competition since the original Ride, its follow-up sequel, Ride 2, seems well positioned to consolidate the franchise and put itself a few laps ahead of any potential competition. Enthusiasts of motorcycles have been dying for a stellar racer for a long time, now. Not since the days of Tourist Trophy on the PS2 has there really been anything that cuts both ways, in terms of realism combined with playability. Some titles, such as SBKX, filled a void to an extent, but hardly covered themselves in glory.
Considering Milestone's track record developing racers, having held the WRC licence and more recently produced the very well received Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo, it seems the team is a safe pair of hands to make something that's rich in detail, challenging, but also fun and accessible. As usual with its racing projects, Ride 2 is packed to the brim with content in the way of bikes, parts and courses. It features 200 bike models, thirty different tracks, all of the most relevant motorcycle manufacturers (eighteen), 1200 customisable parts to swap, and a whopping six hundred liveries.
The original game was greatly appreciated amongst fans of two wheels; however, as with some other projects from Milestone in the past, it unfortunately seemed to lack the budget to fully realise its far-reaching aspirations. It lacked a certain polish and fine-tuning that, if present, could have elevated the overall impression substantially. Despite no single element really letting it down, the sum of its parts led to a solid, faithful racing experience, but not an unforgettable motorcycle racer. Thankfully, Ride 2 makes some strides forward in this respect, addressing significant issues that made the original rather disappointing.
From a visual standpoint, Ride 2 looks significantly better compared to the washed-out and uninspiring visuals of the original. The bikes look great, with all the small details present, but the environments are significantly more vibrant and ultimately, far more convincing and immersive than the previous entry. With that said, there's still an unusual filter tint, which makes the saturation seem a little off, despite extensive fiddling with settings. Overall, while the graphics have definitely improved within the franchise, and are adequate to reach a nice level of immersion in that sense, they still fall short of current racing game standards.
It also features a much steadier frame-rate than the original Ride and Milestone's other recent biking project, Valentino Rossi, which automatically makes it the best and most playable outing yet. While the PS4 version doesn't quite hold the frame-rate as expertly as the PC version, being capable of 120 fps, it does manage to hold the racing standard of 60 with no qualms. Perhaps there's a slight drop when there are a lot of riders around, but it's nothing too bothersome. While, this time, the bikes don't appear to float just above the track, the physics engine hasn't exactly been revolutionised. There's still something distinctly odd about the movement, particularly how you can recover from bumping others in front or behind during phases of turning and braking. It's still possible to barge into other drivers in ways that would without a doubt cause an incident in reality, and while every game has a limit for immersion, in too many ways Ride 2 falls short in this respect. It's not noticeable if you play fairly, but when these frailties show themselves, the lasting racing experience comes down a notch.
Another example is the inclusion of a first-person camera, otherwise dubbed helmet mode. While this shows knowledge of current racing preferences and popular trends, as it's the ideal perspective for realism's sake, it's just not thoroughly adequate for hours of playtime because of little flaws. When taking some particular corners, the camera shifts in a subtle but unhelpful way. Though hard to describe, the result is a little unnatural and definitely unnerving.
While Ride 2 does feature a lot of modes, choices and brands, the lack of any official riders, teams or tournaments seems to put the game at a slight disadvantage. In its absence, the emphasis is on the user, as their own driver, climbing the ranks. The problem is, from the very start, the tutoring and lessons are arduous and boring. The onslaught of team talks from the menu-narrator is just a little too taxing, particularly when the action on the track doesn't feel as gratifying as it should. A driver climbing the ranks for a career mode is a simple premise, but it shouldn't need anything more. The various walk-through elements are altogether too patronising to endure. In the initial boot-up introduction, driver is placed in a race with all racing assists on, regardless of any existing difficulty settings set in previous series titles. This means that in the introduction to Ride 2, you don't have to brake. This, of course, ends up being as shallow an exercise as it is pointless, which unfortunately kind of sums up the game experience overall quite aptly.
Don't be mistaken, it will provide a good sense of speed, some thrills and excitement, and definitely must be recognised as the best bike game around currently. On the other hand, shockingly, the two hundred bikes hardly feel any different to each other, which totally deflates the value of such a range of choices. Then there are other more minor annoyances, like the tedious amount of load-screens, and the general preference shown for quantity over quality. Some racing games can put out exquisite DLC car packs, which racing fans will lap up because the cars offer so much contrast. Ride 2's questionable physics engine and lack of translation of race dynamics make it neither a great arcade racer, nor an admirable attempt at a racing sim.
Just like other Milestone projects, the whole project feels thoroughly under-funded and perhaps, once more, is a bit rushed. It's not that any particular aspect is criminally lacking, and as such, fans of the sport will certainly find reason to flock to this experience. However, it must be said that what starts out as a suspicion of lack of depth, is all too quickly validated wherever you stop to really scrutinize and unpack Ride 2. Overall, it's a decidedly hollow experience, which is fun for a while, but this title will definitely not stop motorcycling fans dreaming of their perfect racing game. This is not it.
Particularly as the original released so recently, and bearing in mind the very high standards of driving games currently, it just seems that Ride 2 could have hung back for a spell. Granted, updates are coming thick and fast, which adds even more content and also amends some of the early grievances cited with the driving experience. In addition, Milestone should once again be commended for setting its ambition high, but overall, this is another driving experience from the developer that spreads itself out too thinly. Perhaps switching gears and specifically focusing on one discipline within a field of racing might produce a more eclectic driving experience for the next project, since Ride 2 represents one in a string of decent racers that could have been great ones. One thing is certain: Milestone is capable of and has produced drastically better and more authentic racers in the past. As previously indicated, those gems also tend to be the games that received the most breathing space.
I thought Milestone was meant to be like the experts at racing games, but are they only good at rally racers then, or just hit and miss in general?