The would-be Gran Turismo of motorcycle games reaches its third instalment, but is the series any closer to realising its dream?
See a virtual motorbike in action and, chances are, its from a Milestone developed video game. For more than 20 years the Italian studio has been a racing genre mainstay, cutting its teeth on EAs short-lived Superbike series before moving onto SBK, WRC, and, of course, MotoGP. With MXGP and RIDE also under its belt, Milestone has gained itself a motorcycling monopoly.
However, where MotoGP is an official companion to the real-world championship (MXGP doing the same for motocross) RIDE exists as its own entity: an annualised racing sim that isnt bogged down by the stringent checklists which can come with most tie-in video games. Its Milestones flagship and one the developer hopes will become a two-wheel counterpart to Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and Project CARS. Needless to say, if theres one thing RIDE 3 doesnt lack, its ambition.
The emphasis here is on the motorcycles themselves, as it should be. RIDE 3 boasts an extensive lineup of over 270 officially licensed bikes split between seven categories and with more than 70 added since last years instalment. Each one has been carefully recreated in-game, Milestone presenting you with a slick showreel of close-ups each time you add a new bike to your garage. Back at base, youre free to personalise your rides with performance-enhancing upgrades and custom liveries which can then be shared online.
For new players, the initial onboarding phase can be awkward. RIDE 3 drops you into your first race with no explanation of how to play, from the most basic controls to any helpful racing concepts. The game lacks proper interactive tutorials and assumes you have a rapport with the series, with its handful of bland training drills doing little to fill in the blanks.
But its not too much of a hurdle, fortunately. RIDE 3 is easy to pick up once you get a feel for the core handling and how it varies between the seven different bike classes. Its not overly technical and presents a bevy of options you can dive into, tweaking aspects such as assists, auto-braking, AI balancing and so on – depending on how challenging you want the game to be.
As a racing sim, theres also the option to fine tune each bike to your own specific needs, whether adjusting the suspension, gears, or steering. This will be bewildering to casual gamers yet another opportunity for racing fans to demonstrate their know-how.
RIDE 3s career mode is where youll be spending most of your time. Its crammed with content, staggering it in such a way that you get to experience almost every combination of bike class, track, event type, and performance level (with other variables such as weather and time of day). The way its been diced up also means you can cherry pick which races you want to take part in, instead of following a prescribed path from your first race to the grand final.
Its a welcome improvement but, overall, theres nothing very exciting about this mode. No cinematics teasing upcoming events, no commentators weighing in on your performance, no challenges or any other distractions to help add some much-needed flare. RIDE 3s career is a bit too straightforward and will only hook those who are able to gloss over its repetitiveness and enjoy the simple thrill of grinding out points to unlock more content.
For obvious reasons, Milestone isnt able to hit that same, dazzling level of polish weve come to expect from Polyphony Digital and Turn 10 Studios. Although it looks good for a B-tier racer, RIDE 3 is visually inconsistent and doesnt exactly push the Unreal Engine to its limits.
On one hand, no-one can question how great its motorcycles look up close, with the game also benefiting from stylish yet functional menus that are somewhat of a stealth highlight. Out on the track, however, RIDE 3 doesnt impress quite as much. There really hasnt been much of a leap since RIDE 2, aside from running smoother on PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X.
Glance away from the immediate road ahead and all youll see just how dull and featureless most of its environments can be, with blocky terrain, bland textures, and laughably unconvincing foliage; not to mention the tormented, faceless crowd members flailing from behind the barriers.
The audio – or lack thereof – does little to help. With no music during races, youre left to soak in the isolated noise of bikes revving at top speed; a constant, grating drone far less appealing than the monstrous purring of a supercar showdown.
Considering the studios size, the budget in play, and the quantity of games it churns out every year, these cutbacks arent shocking but prevent RIDE from being the definitive motorcycling sim that it could be. Although Milestone effectively rules this niche corner of the market, making so many games in this genre, so regularly, means that the changes every 12 months just arent substantial enough, unless all you want is a batch of new bikes to obsess over.
In Short: While it packs in more content than its predecessors, RIDE 3 feels soulless and nonessential if you already own last years instalment.
Pros: Features the series largest lineup of lavishly detailed motorcycles. A slightly restructured career mode also makes the game more approachable thanks to its freer progression path.
Cons: An exhausting, repetitive career mode that just isnt interesting or rewarding enough. Aside from its gorgeous bikes, RIDE 3s visuals range from passable to downright poor.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Release Date: 30th November 2018
Age Rating: 3
By Jim Hargreaves