When I was asked to review RIDE 4, my immediate worry was that I would have missed out on all the story from the first few games, and I wouldn’t know who anyone was. Luckily, it turns out that none of the RIDE games are linked in any chronological fashion, so I was free to get on with the task of trying to tame the various two-wheeled beasties that Milestone Studios have included in the game.
I have to hold my hands up here, and say that I haven’t properly played a motorbike racing game since Super Hang On in the arcades, or maybe Road Rash on the Sega Megadrive. I’m much more at home on four wheels, both in real life and in my virtual racing career, as I like my machines to still be where I left them when I return, preferably the right way up!
So, on with the game. Looking back at past iterations, the visuals found in the RIDE titles that have come before this one have always been a strong point, and the fourth entry in the series is no different. The bikes are shiny and beautiful, faithfully represented in the virtual dealership, each with their own little foibles to get used to. The tracks look photo-realistic too, and if you’ve ever spent time learning the layouts of circuits in any other racing game, you’ll know exactly how these play out. Interestingly, you do have to approach the tracks differently on a bike, as I discovered on the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit. In a car, the kink halfway down the back straight can be taken flat out, with nary a touch of the brake. On a bike, it seems almost like a 90 degree bend, with much braking required to avoid being fired out the other side of the bend on your face.
It does appear that our avatar is pretty much the Terminator though, as some of the crashes made me wince, and yet up he bounces, straight back on the bike, ready to carry on. My best crash, if you’re asking, involved hitting a roundabout on the NorthWest 200 in Northern Ireland at about 200 km/h. The bike must have 50 feet straight up in the air. And yet all was fine. Thankfully.
Now, we’ve seen that RIDE 4 looks utterly great, and the roars of each bike all seem to be present and correct, ranging from the “bee in a tin can” of the smaller bikes to the roar of the full-on racing machines.
Alongside all this comes a host of modes to partake in. The standard mode, and the place I’ve spent most of my time, is Career mode, as you’d expect. You know the routine by now: you are a rookie driver trying to break into the big time, and have to prove your prowess via a series of competitions taking you from nothing right up to the World Championships. The leagues you race in, like the European League, require you to fulfil a certain number of criteria, whether that be by winning races, beating Time Attack lap records, or even going through gates at a certain speed to clear them. They are all challenging – and that is putting it mildly.
There are also options to just go and race; pick a bike and a track and this mode does what it says on the tin. Multiplayer is all present and correct as well, and with the possibility to either join lobbies of others, or create your own with your own bespoke set of rules, the online component of the game works very well. And for beginners like me, the ability to turn off collisions is a godsend, as the last thing I want is a gang of angry bikers on the other end of the headset. Endurance mode is another feature this time around and features a new category of bike, and the longest of races, forcing you to think tactically about managing your tyres and fuel load, making pitting an essential part of the process. Oh, and there’s also a dealership and bike customisation menus, where you can spend your hard-earned pennies on either a whole new bike, or where you can choose to upgrade and pretty up an existing one.
There’s a lot of content to go at in RIDE 4 and everything looks rosy. But how does the game play, I hear you cry? Well, in a word, brutally. My first clue that this was going to be a challenge was in the very first Time Trial, when I was given a bike and sent out to see what it could do. Well, all was going swimmingly, until in an attempt to line up for the next bend, I allowed half of my rear tyre to go over the edge of the track. “FAIL!” said the game, and I may have uttered an expletive or two. Yes, in Time Attack mode, you cannot leave the track by even a single millimetre of tyre, and this causes some issues. I like to explore the limits in a driving game, push the envelope, see what I can get away with, and the answer in RIDE 4 is that you can get away with nowt. Learning to drive within the limits of the track is obviously what the game is trying to teach, but having a whole lap thrown away because of a bit of a wobble on a corner is pretty galling.
Luckily, in race mode, the track limits don’t matter anywhere near as much, but driving over kerbs and into gravel is a sure fire way to get a one way ticket to Crashville. Collisions with other drivers also have a habit of ruining your day, and more than once I wished I’d a length of chain or a club tucked into my trouser pocket; I guess that brutality was left back in 1991. Again, the game has definite ideas about where it wants you to drive, and any kind of free-form thinking is quickly punished. To be fair, I imagine that racing in real life is pretty tricky, so this is only a true and accurate representation of what goes on in real life.
So, are there any bad points to RIDE 4 on Xbox One? Well, for me, what these bikes need is another couple of wheels, maybe a comfy seat and a roof, to make them much more drivable. But seriously, other than that, as a representation of the speed and danger of bike racing, RIDE 4 is pretty bang on. The races are hard, the Time Attack is brutally unforgiving, and the online component holds its end up, with no difference in the way the game plays. For fans of two-wheeled death machines, there is a lot to like here and Milestone have, once more, made a good fist of the various difficulties of bike racing. With preset levels of realism to play around with, even veteran bike game racers will be able to find a challenge here.