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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


SBK Superbike World Championship (Playstation 3)

Players can race sophisticated competition motorcycles across exotic tracks in SBK: Superbike World Championship, the latest racing title from Conspiracy. The PS3 edition offers a fine selection of game modes that allow for either arcade-style quick action or deeper simulation modes where you can adjust many aspects of your bike through a season's worth of races. Once you get on the track, SBK offers a challenging experience that requires you to time your corners, anticipate rivals and watch your bike's position. A dozen real tracks, authentic riders and decent visuals make for an exhilarating and polished racer that delivers exciting racing action.

Taking place on more than a dozen different courses including well-known tracks from Japan, England and Canada, SBK Superbike World Championship allows players to compete in the worldwide SBK series with the actual riders, bikes, courses, manufacturers and techniques used in the competition. Before each race begins, players can choose from a variety of different game modes including Tutorial, Time Attack, Quick Race, Race Weekend, Championship, Challenge and Online to name a few. Tutorial mode is fairly self-explanatory and consists of a series of lessons that help you learn the basics. Going through these will help your performance on the track, so they're definitely worthwhile. Time Attack allows you to race for the best time against the clock which means the outcome is solely determined by your skill. Players who don't want an extensive section on tuning or mechanics can choose to play a quick race and jump right onto the track. This is fun if you want to start off quickly without messing around with the menus. This offers arcade fun, but there's also some depth in SBK. In order to reproduce the feel of a real race, you can select the Weekend mode where you can run a series of qualifying and practice laps to earn position before you enter the actual race. Players can also compete in a full season's worth of races in the championship mode, earn bonus points by completing certain challenge modes and can also challenge other players by competing in the online mode. These various options give SBK plenty of depth and variety, which makes for a fun game that delivers both fast action and a surprising amount of depth under the hood.

Once you've selected your race mode, you can then move along and tweak your bike's performance before each race. For beginners, the game provides default configurations for either arcade or simulation modes. You can also go in a bit deeper and adjust different parameters by themselves. Before you do this, you can consult with your race engineer, who will give you tips on performance and handling. Once in the shop, you can choose from a variety of different bike attributes including brake sensitivity, tire grip, gear ratio and chain tension (understeering or oversteering) to name just a few. SBK Superbike's extensive customization features come in handy and the smallest changes can make the difference between winning and losing a race. It's important to pay attention to how your bike is set up, since it plays an important role in how long you need to decelerate before turns and how much torque your bike can handle without crashing over. Players don't need to go through every single aspect of the bike before each race, since the game offers automatic settings for the main situations, which include qualifying and race configurations. There are many different teams in the game as well, including Suzuki, Ducati, Honda and Kawaskai, and each driver on these teams has their own strengths and weaknesses, which in addition to the bike's themselves makes another key difference in how the game performs. With all these options at your disposal, it would be easy to dwell on the menus, but once you get on the track, SBK delivers solid racing action.

Depending on which course you select, you'll find that memorizing and anticipating the curves ahead is the most important thing you can do in order to succeed. Most of the courses feature different types of curves, ranging from S-types to hairpins. A key strategy you need to learn is to break ahead of time, slow down as you enter the curve and accelerate once you're near the end of that section. Getting the hang of the timing is a bit tricky, but you can use the races ahead of you for guidance and get into the race gradually. As you gain more experience, you might want to try a more aggressive racing style, but you'll need to adjust your bike accordingly or you'll find yourself crashing off the track. This isn't an issue in the more action-oriented modes, but in the simulation modes, you'll need to be careful not to damage your bike since this affects performance and too many crashes will total your bike, and end your race. SBK's opponent AI ranges from somewhat predictable to very difficult and the aggression and speed that you face can be changed at the start of each race. While the initial stages are a bit difficult, you'll gradually find yourself moving up the ranks as you gain the skills and experience you need. This makes for a surprisingly challenging racing game that feels much more technical than many other racing titles, though this shouldn't be seen as a bad thing, too many racing games these days put the focus on flashy visuals at the expense of real driving skill. The approach used in SBK: Superbike World Championship requires some persistence and skill on the part of the player, which makes it a throwback to the older style of play where gamers had to earn their stripes.

While the controls are fairly decent for the most part, the bikes themselves can feel a bit touchy and over-sensitive if you configure them the wrong way. This can make for some fairly frustrating races if you don't pay attention. The mitigating factor in this is the realistic performance and feel of actually racing a complex machine that SBK effectively creates. One of the factors that greatly affects performance on the track is the tire grip and what type of tire used. This can have a big impact in how far you slide when cornering and whether you can barely get through a turn or find yourself holding on by the slimmest of margins. Players can configure the PS3 controller to use either the analog or d-pad to steer and can use the shift or standard face buttons as well. During the race, you can choose different camera angles and turn the speed and position indicators on and off. This flexibility makes for a more appealing game overall. While the racing mechanics and bike physics are SBK's main draw, it's visuals are fairly decent and deliver a decent sensation of speed and momentum as you race along the tracks. The character/rider animations are nicely done and the tracks themselves appear realistic and authentic. Overall, it's a smoothly polished racing title with good graphics. In closing, all the elements combine to make SBK: Superbike World Championship a solid performer. This is a fairly decent title that delivers a solid and exciting racing experience. It's not as simple as you might expect, but the added realism and depth creates a challenging and sophisticated title that offers a surprising amount of entertainment and depth under the hood.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B-

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