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Superbike 2000 (PC) Review


Superbike 2000 is the sequel to Superbike World Championship that was released last year by Electronic Arts. The game also features an Official Superbike license, with 13 official courses, and more than 20 racing superstars such as Troy Corser and Carl Foggarty. Developed by Milestone, Superbike 2000 improves upon the incredible graphics of the previous incarnation, and adds a host of new features and increased realism, all resulting in one of the best racing games this year.

Presentation/Graphics : 97
To use the phrase “jaw-dropping” to describe Superbike 2000's graphics would be to serve the game's programmers a great injustice. Quick glances at other racing games may fool you into believing, for an instant, that you were witnessing the “real thing,” but in Superbike 2000 you actually have to look very closely to realize that you're not watching television – they're that good. The riders are all motion captured and feature a variety of impressive animations from bobbing slightly up and down to balance the bike, to turning their heads to opposing riders and shaking a fist at them in anger. The rider models also feature authentic racing suits for the 20 or so individual riders as well as their custom designed helmets. The programmers even went the extra mile and digitized the rider's faces onto the models (a la NHL 2000) so that on the winner's podium you can actually identify the top three riders just by looking at them. The level of detail on the bikes themselves, of which there are 6 models/manufacturers, is incredible. Almost every last detail of the bike, from decals unique to each rider, to brake pads, to individual wheel spokes, have been modelled superbly. The collision and accident animations are spectacular. Multiple bike collisions are common, especially with this reviewer's kamikaze racing style, and they are all horrifyingly realistic – riders fly into the air with arms flailing, while bikes kick up dust and bounce around so convincingly you'll grimace in pain. High-side and down-side crashes are also depicted with alarming realism.

The tracks are all photo-realistic, combining polygon models for the foreground and immediate background, and then using digitised photographs for the distance. The three distances are blended in so perfectly that the effect is simply astounding. Furthermore, depending upon your system, you can choose to have practically zero pop-up. These features all amount to, arguably, the finest racecourse graphics in a PC racing game ever.

However, what effectively cements the incredible course graphics and excellent bike and rider animations to create the final package are the small details that the programmers attended to. Little graphical details such as the riders' wrists and forearms twisting to accelerate, the minor reflections from the riders' helmets, the dust clouds and asphalt marks left by skidding or collisions, officials standing roadside, and the subtle and selective use of lens flare all serve to give the graphics that extra touch that blows all other racing games away.

If you couldn't get enough of the graphics during the game, there is also a comprehensive replay mode that features several camera angles from which to admire your victories, and on higher difficulty levels, your embarrassing defeats (read: spectacular crashes) .

Unfortunately, the game doesn't receive a perfect score in the graphical department due to three, albeit small, problems. Firstly, while the animations for the riders are, on the whole, excellent, the animations for the rider as he “runs” back to his bike after a crash are horrible. He doesn't really run; it's a waddling motion akin to that of a penguin, and while it's funny the first time, in the middle of a heated race it can become quite annoying. Secondly, although crowds only occupy a very small percentage of most racecourses, they are merely depicted as coloured dots, which is a let down considering the high calibre of the rest of the backgrounds. Finally, you'll need a good gaming rig to run the game at an optimum level. On a P3 450, with 128 Mb RAM, and a Diamond Viper V770 card, the highest resolution I could run the game, with all details on, and a good frame rate, was 800x600. Fortunately, even at that resolution the game is better than any racer I've seen before, and if you have a GeForce; you'll be in racing heaven.

All in all, the Superbike 2000 is far and away the best looking racing game on the PC, easily surpassing Need For Speed: High Stakes, and I would even venture to say it's the best looking PC sports game period.

Presentation/Audio : 65
Naturally then, it comes as a great disappointment that the audio doesn't come near to matching the high standards set by the graphics. The in-game menus feature a bland rock/synth number that tries its best to put you to sleep. If you manage to fight unconsciousness and make it to the game you'll find sound effects that are just barely acceptable. Each of the six bike models has different engine sounds; however, none really convey the sense of power associated with the roar of an engine. Collision sound effects are rather uninspired; sounding more like a fender bender between two minivans in a parking lot, rather than two highly tuned racing machines slamming into each other at 150 mph.

Superbike 2000 also has “commentary” by renowned racing commentator Keith Huewen. Unfortunately, the in-race commentary consists of him merely announcing any accidents that occur. Yet, when doing so he doesn't describe when or where on the track they occurred, or between whom; you're only notified that a particular model has crashed. This is quite irritating, as you don't know whether or not the accident has occurred ahead of, or behind you. Huewen does, however, make intelligent and relevant pre- and post race comments about qualifying times and race results.

Interface/Options : 90
Superbike 2000 sports more options than you can shake a stick at. The three main modes of play are Quickstart (where you can get right into the racing action without having to qualify), Single Race (here you can select single or 3-day Superbike racing events), and a Championship (or “season”) mode. You can ride as any one of 20 Superbike stars such as Carl Foggarty, Colin Edwards or the game's cover boy, Ben Bostrom. There are four different bike models/manufacturers, Suzuki Alstare GSX-R750, Castrol Honda RC45, Ducati Performance 996 SPS, Kawaski ZX-7RR, Yamaha Racing Team YZF R7 OW02, and the Aprilia Dececco Racing RSV 1000. Each rider has a specific bike from the aforementioned six, and the names of the riders can be edited. Various graphics settings are all present, as are those for various controllers, and there is support for force feedback joysticks. Superbike 2000 also supports 3d soundcards, and surround sound.

The Championship mode covers the entire Superbike season over 13 different tracks from Kyalami in South Africa to Sugo in Japan. As mentioned before, each track is spectacularly rendered and the game also features various facts and tidbits of information about each track, as well as pictures and a detailed breakdown of the features of the course.

The game also features a plethora of racing options. There are 4 selectable levels of CPU rider skill, 4 levels of accelerator and braking help, 3 levels of extra braking power, automatic transmission, and automatic rider movement (as you must move the rider up and down to balance the bike while racing). Visual racing aids such as identification of upcoming corners, as well as a useful “Speed Help” option can also be toggled on or off. There are also detailed bike customization settings where you can change tire type, adjust gear ratios, front/rear springs, preloads and damping, as well as adjustable rake and tail.

The menus are all simple and easy to navigate, and if you get stuck, the game comes with a comprehensive manual that even gives racing tips and a short recount of the history of the World Superbike Racing series. The game also features head to head play via a split screen mode, as well as network and Internet gaming.

Gameplay : 90
EA and Milestone have positioned this game as a more realistic alternative to the Moto Racer series, and just a few minutes of play will confirm, indeed, that Superbike 2000 is much more of a complex simulation than a simple arcade racer. To win a championship at the most realistic settings will take more than a few weeks of solid play. Those thinking they can race round the course without touching the brake or adhering to the racing line should think again! Even with braking and acceleration assistance set to medium levels the game provides a decent initial challenge because the very nature of Superbike racing is different from that of automobile racing. Firstly, the races are much shorter than Grand Prix races, most are about 25 laps, so if you fall or skid out of control just once you can kiss a podium finish goodbye. Secondly, while understeer and oversteer are major problems with cars, on a bike you have to be wary of high-side and low-side accidents – throttle control is very tight, and being too cavalier and yanking the throttle before properly exiting a turn will have you flying off the bike. Finally, overtaking has to be approached with much more caution as just a little bike to tire contact can result in disaster.

Fortunately, as mentioned before, there are several rider assistance options, each with selectable levels of effectiveness. These really help ease you into the game, and alleviate any frustration that might have been experienced had they not been present. At the beginning of the game you can have the computer assist rider movement (to balance the bike), acceleration, and braking. As you become more familiar with the physics you can turn them off, and at 100% realism the game provides a stern challenge to even the most seasoned racing veteran.

The CPU rider A.I. is excellent, and also has 4 selectable levels. At the lowest setting they're merely content to take a gentle ride around the track. At the medium and highest settings, be prepared for the race of your life! Riders hug the racing line, they excel at cutting you off, and some racers are even ruthless enough to make the gentlest of collisions with you - sending your bike out of control and hurtling into a tire wall. These guys are no dummies, and my Gran Turismo Method of Crash and Bump OvertakingTM only resulted in mass bike pileups and black flags. Thankfully, even the CPU riders occasionally make mistakes, and it's not totally uncommon to witness two or more bike collisions that weren't a result of your actions.

Despite the heavy simulation aspects, this game is a blast to play and is more enjoyable than most arcade racers. The high difficulty levels can be frustrating – I once low-sided my bike on the final lap while leading at Laguna Seca and almost threw my joystick out the window – but just when you think you've reached your threshold, the game always drags you back for “one last try.” Perhaps, it's the excitement of the narrow margin of error associated with this type of racing, but Superbike 2000 is one of those few games that'll find you with your heart pounding in your chest and sweat trickling down your forehead. Kudos to EA and Milestone for creating a game that plays as good as it looks.

Replay Value: 85
On the surface it seems pretty slim, as there are only 13 races in a season, and unfortunately, no “career mode.” However, the various levels of difficulty will keep you playing for months. At higher difficulty settings the game provides such an incredible sense of satisfaction and enjoyment at just completing a race that you'll be glued to your computer to try and get just one position higher in the next one. For those of you racing gods who finally do manage to win a Championship at maximum realism, there are still extra challenges associated with breaking track records and racing with weaker bikes. A “career mode” would have been an excellent addition, and that's something I look forward to seeing in next year's incarnation.

Overall : 93
If it weren't for the pathetic audio aspect of this game and perhaps a “career mode,” Superbike 2000 would have been the complete package. Despite that, it's still the best motorbike racing game on the PC and a definite frontrunner for racing game of the year. The mouth-watering graphics will draw you in first, then the challenging gameplay will take hold. My only concern is that game may prove a little too challenging for those looking for an arcade style racer, and those who don't have the time and patience to follow the learning curve. However, with every challenging game, there comes that intense feeling of satisfaction and pride when mastering it, and the moment you successfully navigate Laguna Seca's Corkscrew, in the rain, with one hand on the joystick shifting from second to third while carefully applying the throttle, the other hand moving your rider down to balance the bike, Carl Foggarty and Pierfrancesco Chili right behind you, and your heart pounding in your chest, you'll realize you're playing one of the best racing games on the PC.

By: Lavan Chandran 3/31/00
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