Milestone are by far and away best known for their licensed properties. The MotoGPs, the MXGP and Supercross series, but they’re also building a motorbike franchise off their own volition. Ride 4 is the next step in the evolution of their broadest of bike series.
It’s absolutely fair to call this an evolution, but it also brings a number of meaningful new additions. The game builds off Milestone’s expanding experience with Unreal Engine 4, where Ride 3 was amongst their first crop of games on the engine, they’ve pushed the boat bike out with lighting and weather, and it features the latest evolution of Milestone’s Neural AI, A.N.N.A..
That leads to some interesting new changes for the career mode. It’s given more of a structure, with players working through a trio of continental leagues, sprinkled with other events, but all leading up to a choice, a point at which you need to specialise. Will you pursue glory in the fictional World Superbike League, or take on the contrasting challenge of the World Endurance League? You can only do one.
You might actually want to pick the Endurance League, because it comes alongside a major improvement to how Ride represents endurance races. The game now features tyre wear, fuel consumption and pit stops to refresh your bike for another stint. That’s such an important part of endurance racing, and goes hand in hand with races now being based of time – from 20 minutes, up to 24 hours – instead of the number of laps, and fully dynamic weather and lighting that can shift from day to night and back again. Even if you come in dead last and that race only lasted 20 minutes, that can feel like a particular achievement for certain caliber of players.
This is also where the upgrades to A.N.N.A. matter. For Milestone’s MotoGP series, all of the riders on track are racing bikes of a similar class, and there’s no in-race refuelling to worry about. For Ride 4 as a whole, A.N.N.A. has had to learn each of the tracks while racing every different speed and category of bike in the game, but on top of that, has learnt how to handle different race strategies, adapt to the different conditions that the game can throw up.
Over 16 million hours of racing has been completed by the neural AI in the process of doing this. Admittedly, a meaninglessly big number, but shows Milestone’s commitment to the project. Even so, in our preview build, we did spot a few mindless crashes between the AI racers, which maybe haven’t quite grasped how to handle big speed differentials just yet. Thankfully the flying riders from these crashes (which were far outnumbered by my own crashes, it must be said) don’t actually harm anyone.
Now, some full disclosure: I’ve come to accept that I’m pretty bad at motorbike racing games. Or at least, the length of time between playing a two-wheeled racer strips away the thinly veiled understanding of how to brake front and rear, when to lean in to turn through a corner and hit the apex, and generally be competitive. I can get there, but it always takes me a long, long time to get up to speed compared to your average racer… with cars. So for my time with Ride 4, I mainly focussed on soaking in the sights and sounds, trying to appreciate the different types of bikes you can, well, ride.
The range of bikes on offer here is truly fantastic, and it’s clear that there’s a real passion for capturing each and every bike in as much detail as possible. 97% of the bikes are now built from manufacturer CAD files or 3D scans, while improvements to their materials library should make everything looks as authentic as possible. Milestone tout over four times the detail for bikes compared to Ride 3. It ranges from classic bikes from the 60s, like the 1966 Honda RC181 (Hailwood), through to more modern bikes like the 2015 Yamaha YZF-R6 or a nice 2019 Harley Livewire. It’s genuinely interesting to me, as someone not terribly familiar with motorbikes, to see just how much the form of these machines has evolved over the last 50 years, becoming sleeker, more angular and stylised. I particularly love all the bikes with a single off-centre headlight. They look very cool.
It’s clear that Ride 4 aspires to be the Gran Turismo of racing in how you’re given a (skippable) glammed-up cutscene panning across various angles of a bike as you buy it. Bikes that aren’t bought in race trim can then be taken and customised, with an extensive range of upgrades and expanded livery editors. There will be a helmet livery editor for the first time in a Ride game, and a suit editor for the first time in a Milestone game, both joining the bike livery editor and tapping into a system to share them online.
The latest evolution of the Ride series shows that Milestone are in this for the long haul. There’s a conceptual step forward here that adds something new and engaging to the series. Capturing more sides of motorbike racing with a truer representation of endurance racing that goes hand in hand with dynamic lighting, weather, and plenty other elements within the game. Really there’s just something magical about starting a race, seeing the sun dip below the horizon, persevering through the hours of darkness and being greeted by the dawn and the final sprint to the finish.
Ride 4 is out for PS4, Xbox One and PC on 8th October, with a PS5 and Xbox Series X | S release following on 21st January 2021. There will be free upgrades to next-gen, with blanket Smart Delivery cross-gen ownership on Xbox, but a limited-time upgrade window on PS5 until 30th April 2021.