I often forget that my eyes are bigger than my stomach. I’ll order a delicious starter, like a bowl of French onion soup, devour it with all the complimentary bread and then struggle to finish the main course. Forget dessert, I’m having a nap while others are chomping down on cheesecake. Strangely, Ride 4 makes me feel the same way.
The fourth instalment of the Ride franchise doesn’t rip up the rule book, change the structure or invent an innovative new way to play a motorcycle racing game. Instead it aims to refine and improve upon a well-trodden formula. That is to say, it’s filled to the brim with real-life bikes, and you get to race them around track after track.
One area that I didn’t think the Ride games needed to focus was on refining the look of the bikes. No matter, developer Milestone has started from scratch and the result is akin to an Uffizi Gallery for motorbikes. You can, and probably will, spend hours scrolling through the vehicular equivalents of Da Vinci’s finest works, your jaw hanging at the sheer visual fidelity.
The visuals must be some sort of illusion. It feels as though David Blaine has somehow managed to get a next-gen game working on your current-gen hardware. Those who know their Panigales from their Ninjas will be beside themselves.
Not to be outdone by the bike-design team, the racetrack department has also excelled. Not only are there plenty of circuits to try your dream ride on, but the choices are superb.
Alongside series stalwarts such as Magny-Cours, Laguna Seca, Nürburgring and Macau sit new additions like Virginia International Raceway, Tsukuba (with the chicane), Interlagos and Snetterton. Twelve are new to the series, and while there are some fictional tracks in the mix, the heavy reliance on real-life recreations adds to the game’s authenticity.
Each track can now be raced with a full day-night cycle, not to mention dynamic weather. A crisp sunrise can (eventually) be followed by a dark and brooding evening until nighttime falls. Through the main career mode, however, you won’t see much in the way of weather or lighting changes. Night races, day races and wet races, sure, but changeable conditions only happen during long endurance events or if you set-up your own single race event and play with the settings.
Speaking of which, Ride 4 adds accurate tyre wear and fuel usage, mainly for said endurance races. These can last from an enjoyable 20-minute blast with one pitstop, to a painful real-time 24 hours. During these events, you switch between engine modes to save fuel, select from differing tyre compounds to balance speed with durability and utilise fully-animated pit stops.
This adds a new edge to the gameplay, but it’s also where things start to take a turn for the mediocre. Think Valentino Rossi in 2020 compared with Valentino Rossi in 2001; it’s living in the shadow of former glories.
A big deal has been made about Ride 4’s machine learning neural AI system entitled ANNA – as detailed in our preview. In reality, the on-track rivals are fine. Nothing more, nothing less. They can defend their line should you try to attack, but they also have little ability to avoid a collision, which turns one slight mistake into a multi-bike pileup.
That’s compounded during endurance races, where AI competitors will sometimes run out of fuel and instead of pitting, just ride around slowly until the race ends. These events also start with your rider running to the bike. A nice touch, but once on the bike, it’s automated until the first corner, meaning you can’t even try and gain an advantage during the opening phase of the race.
The main career mode sees you start out in either an American, Asian or European league, consisting of multiple events that include races, time attacks and overtaking challenges. You then unlock the ‘World League’ which is the bulk of the game. Unfortunately, the time attacks, which make up a decent percentage of events, have track limit regulations that are ridiculously strict.
I understand that running wide or cutting a corner will be an unfair advantage and thus need to be penalised, but it’s far too restrictive. During a race event, you are given a time penalty for doing so, while a single transgression will fail your time attack attempt. Instantly.
You can’t continue to do another lap, even though there’s a rolling start, you must wait for the menu to load and then select restart each and every time. Worse, using an exit kerb or getting half a wheel near grass on a straight line is an instant fail. Frustrating at Cadwell Park, the Nordschleife causes aneurysms. On the flip side, all it takes to win a career race is the addition of some new bike parts and you’ll easily top the podium.
The main sticking point for me is Ride 4’s handling. Even with the race-spec superbikes, corner turn-in just isn’t sharp enough. You never feel like you can attack an apex. Even with the assists all the way off, the rear will never slide progressively on corner exit either. Understeer, understeer and more understeer. This is safe and predictable, but also a bit bland.
I feel as if the brief was to keep it approachable, as if the game were a moving motorcycle museum instead of wanting to be a simulator. This clashes slightly with the rage-inducing rule stringency and lengthy braking zones which take considerable acclimatisation.
Online, the game doesn’t push any boundaries either. A lobby list is all you get, with some form of esports planned for an update. Internet-enabled leagues, championships and driver ratings are all notable by their absence. There isn’t enough incentive to invest time playing via the network, though it is at least backed by dedicated servers.