There’s always been this strange theory that if an experience is truly bad, then it’s actually good. Of course, there are those games that are magnificent, original and scintillating, but there’s a certain amount of enjoyment in a ‘good-bad’ game, where you can laugh about it or tell your tales of woe. It was weirdly pleasurable penning the recent Dakar 18 review for instance, I found it cathartic to let out my emotions after playing such a turgid mess.
The ultimate sin is to be neither good nor bad, to live somewhere in the beige middle. Ride 3 is right in that zone. It’s dull.
It’s almost difficult to describe how bland this video game can be. Staring at a blank Word document, cursor flashing, it struck me that Ride 3 isn’t especially bad at anything, nor does it bring a single new idea to the table. Neither offensive nor inspiring, it’s the Post Office of virtual motorcycle racing.
The easiest way of describing Milestone’s latest racing game – their fifth this year alone and 13th since the first Ride game in 2015 – is a Gran Turismo game for bikes. A lazy comparison, certainly, but it has an element of truth to it. Except, it’s not like the online-focussed GT Sport, but more like a Gran Turismo 5 or 6. In fact, back in the day, the fabled Polyphony Digital did actually create a bike racing game on the PlayStation 2 called Tourist Trophy. Ride 3 is a modern-day equivalent.
The Ride series is primarily about the collecting of motorbikes. You enter races, earn money and then buy new bikes. These are officially licensed models, up to 230 for this third instalment, which can then be upgraded and personalised. If you’re interested in real-life bikes, the potential to buy them all and see your favourites replicated will be appealing. Developer Milestone clearly has a deep set passion for the bikes and uses the loading screens to provide you with detailed development histories. It’s handy, because the loading times are frankly glacial.
The main mode is the career, racing against faster and faster bikes in races between three and 30 laps. There are also a few different race types that crop up, such as a Time Attack, Drag Race, Endurance and Track Day – where the aim is to overtake as many motorbikes as possible within a time limit. All standard stuff. The design of the career is lovely, based around the theme of a biking magazine and with some pretty graphic design work for each section. Sadly, the gameplay progression through each tier is too derivative. Win races, earn stars, unlock more events; you’ve seen it all before and upgrading your bikes don’t feel like it’s ever a necessity.
The on track action is also a mixed bag. Visually, the game is a big improvement over its predecessor, with track and bike detail taking a step up. There is actual polish now and the greatly reduced reliance on infinite barriers or invisible walls creates a freer feeling. As with everything in Ride 3 though, there is a but.
The handling is benign, which is great for beginners. As soon as you get used to the game, however, there’s little challenge. Understeer is the default action, so frustrating front-end push is the order of the day. I want a Suzuki GSX-R1000 to feel like an almost untamable beast, not a fast scooter. I’m not suggesting the physics should be turned into a full-on simulation, but feeling and seeing the bike move around under the rider nearer to the limits or over bumps would ultimately be more satisfying.
The choice of tracks is genuinely enthralling. There’s a great mix between technical and twisty fictional tracks such as The Snake in California and new real additions such as Cadwell Park, Daytona, and the Isle of Man Southern 100. This time the ‘but’ is with the realism of the circuits. They sure do look attractive, but accuracy is missing. I had a similar complaint with MotoGP 18. Despite the drones and laser scanning methods Milestone are using to recreate tracks, it just isn’t working. Some bumps, camber angles and curves are just off-kilter, robbing you of authenticity.
Then we come to the online modes, which work, but that’s about it. In an age where games have moved on past offering just private and public lobbies, Ride 3 is left in 2007 without ranks to progress through or precise matchmaking. In fact, for public online races, you can’t even search through a lobby selection screen. Rather, you are automatically dumped into the first lobby available and against various skill levels. There just isn’t enough incentive to play online and I did notice performance issues. I’ve been kicked out of lobbies and had rival racers juddering around and appearing out of nowhere.
In the photo mode, you can’t play with the shutter speed to get those cool-looking shots with a sense of speed. There’s also a strange attempt at a bokeh effect, which simply doesn’t work. It makes the whole bike in the foreground blurry, like when a portrait mode selfie has gone wrong and people’s noses and foreheads are blurred but they upload and share it anyway. There is now also a livery editor, which feels a little tacked on, perhaps included because that is the latest trend.
The performance of the bikes and uninspiring career structure mean that the game quickly becomes a grind. In the first hour or so of gameplay, you are overwhelmed by the choice of bikes, tracks and artful menu design. But long-term, your excitement is quickly replaced by tedium. Which is a shame.
On paper Ride 3 offers a lot of variety both in terms of quantity of bikes and track options. It’s possibly the most refined Milestone game to date and you could spend 20 hours playing through the career and have a perfectly acceptable experience, but you’ll be left wanting more. It does little to innovate or move the genre forward. In many ways, Ride 3 is like eating a 14 piece KFC bargain bucket all to yourself. Initially it’s satisfying and feels like great value for money, but about halfway through, indigestion starts to make you question why you didn’t just get a Zinger burger instead. Sometimes, less is more.
Version tested: PS4
Also available for Xbox One and PC