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Castrol-Honda Superbike
Racing (PSX) Review

Background Info

For all the racing games available for the Playstation, precious few are centered around the sport of motorcycle racing and fewer still are designed as simulations. The arcade-styled Moto Racer series has had this sub-genre pretty much to itself and that's surprising considering the popularity of biking among the Playstation's core audience. The system lacks a great motorcycle racer on the scale of a Gran Turismo and, while Castrol Honda Superbike Racing (CHS) has its virtues, it's a long way from being the game that fills the void.

Presentation/Graphics : 65
The first thing I noticed about the graphics in CHS is how much the views and riders resemble the Moto Racer games. The look and movement of the riders is virtually identical. Graphically, the similarities end there. While Moto Racer 1 and 2 have, for the most part, a very polished look, CHS is anything but. The game moves smoothly enough but there is abundant pop-up and the white seams that characterized early generation PSX racers are everywhere.

The game's 13(!) tracks are set in locales spanning the globe, and many of the environments are quite attractive. With more attention to the graphics, they might have looked spectacular. While I wouldn't describe CHS as being ugly, the graphics look decidedly dated. And this far into the Playstation's life cycle, that's pretty hard to accept.

Presentation/Audio : 35
As with the graphics, the audio package in CHS lacks polish. The sound effects are limited mostly to engine noise which, thankfully, isn't as grating as in many other racing games. And the music? Well, there isn't any! That's not entirely true; the same pseudo-metal soundtrack from the intro is repeated over the menus. Trust me, you've heard this stuff a thousand times before. Remarkably, there is no in-game music. I usually turn it way down anyway, but the thought of a long race at the higher difficulty levels with no music at all isn't very appealing. On second thought, if it were the same theme from the intro and menus I'd rather do without.

All of this is wrapped in a package that lacks dynamics, surround effects, and clarity. To top it off, there is a persistent snap crackle and pop in the background that sounds like a scratchy vinyl record.

Interface/Options : 85
The game opens with a live-action intro set to a hard driving soundtrack that is reminiscent of the opening to Moto Racer 2. From there it's on to a menu system that's very basic in appearance but functional and intuitive. Everything is right where you'd expect to find it and that makes locating and setting options easy. Load times aren't particularly fast but, unlike Moto Racer 2, they're tolerable.

The default control interface is pretty standard for most racing games these days and that allows you to jump right in without having to reconfigure everything beforehand. However, for the life of me, I was unable to figure how to map shifting to the shoulder buttons of a NeGcon controller or to adjust its sensitivity (despite the apparent presence of a calibration option).

Gameplay : 82
CHS offers the usual assortment of gameplay modes including Practice, Single Race, and Championship. There is no time trial mode per se. Instead we get Trainer mode which is like Practice but with a pace rider that shows you the best line around the track. I would have preferred a time trial mode with ghost rider, but that's me.

There are 13 tracks available in CHS and they're well designed and challenging. It's great to have this many tracks, but a championship season consists of races on every one of them so you'll be at it for a while. Rookie level races consist of three laps but by the time you reach the highest levels you're staring down 60+ laps. At a minute and a half to two minutes each, that's a whole lotta racing! What's more, unless you want to start every race in last place, you're required to run a six-lap qualifier. Why it's so long is beyond me. The qualifying laps add about 10 boring minutes to each race event and needlessly prolong the game.

In CHS you assume the role of one of two members of the Castrol Honda Superbike Racing Team (surprise!). The kicker is that you're limited to one bike, the Honda RC45. You'd better like it because, as far as I could tell, there are no others in the game. I fully expected other bikes to open up as rewards for performing well in the championships, but nope. Maybe I didn't do quite well enough, but there's no mention of other bikes in the manual either. This brings up another point, there doesn't seem to be ANY reward for slogging your way through a championship and finishing in the top three. All of the tracks are available from the get-go so there's no incentive other than the fun of racing.

Fortunately, the racing itself IS quite fun. The control using a Sony Dual Shock Analog controller is excellent (the game supports vibration feedback but it's very weakly implemented). I had less success using a NeGcon because the default set-up isn't as sensitive as I'd like and I couldn't find a way to adjust it. CHS is not a game that will appeal to pedal to the metal types. It's much more of a simulation and success requires finesse over raw speed. Learning the best lines around the tracks and determining optimum shifting and braking points is essential if you hope to stay out of the dirt and keep you bike in one piece. The game features a pretty good damage model and the results of reckless driving are noticeable in your bike's performance (though not graphically). Also in the simulation vein, it's possible to tweak your bike by adjusting the final drive ratio and selecting front and rear tire compounds.

What drags things down a little is the game's sense of speed, or lack thereof. It's passable, but the difference in feel between 50 MPH and 150 MPH is negligible. This can make cornering tricky because it's difficult to accurately judge your speed going in. I've been on a bike going 100+ MPH and I'm here to tell you that it feels a LOT faster than the sense of speed conveyed by CHS.

Difficulty : 90
Here's where the game shines brightest. There are six difficulty levels to choose from. As you move up the ladder the races get longer, the competition more fierce, and the danger of damage to your bike more acute.

There are several options (such as steering assist, damage, etc.) that allow you to customize the difficulty to your skill level. The options, including race length, are pre-set based on the difficulty you select but can be modified to suit you. It's therefore possible to run a race of less than 100 miles at Pro level (whew!), turn damage off, and so on.

Unlike way too many other racing games, the AI in CHS is programmed to run a clean race and beat you through technique rather than by running you off the road. What a refreshing departure. This allows you to concentrate on learning the tracks and improving your technique.

As mentioned earlier, the tracks are very well designed and provide just the right level of challenge without resorting to cheap design tricks. It took me a little while to get a feel for things but once I did, I really enjoyed driving these circuits.

Overall : 71
Taken strictly as a racing game, Castrol Honda Superbike has too many shortcomings to appeal to the casual racing gamer. The graphics, sound, and mediocre sense of speed will be too much for all but the most die-hard superbike racing fan to overcome and, even then, CHS should be a rent-me-first proposition.

With so many difficulty levels and options available combined with the number of tracks and length of the races, it would take an awfully long time to play through this game from one end to the other. However, I can't imagine doing it myself. The sum of the parts just isn't compelling enough to make it worthwhile. It's too bad, really, because beneath the unpolished exterior lurks the foundation for a really good motorcycle racing game. Maybe next time.

By: Pete Anderson 6/9/99

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