Stacked up against four-wheeled racing sims, motorbike racing games have always been at something of a disadvantage. Where you could drop a roll of notes on a store counter and walk out with a racing wheel to get you one step closer to reality in Gran Turismo or Project CARS, you won’t find a comparable motorbike game controller outside of an arcade (or Nintendo Labo, I guess).
One of the most exciting prospects for racing games in general as we step into the new generation of console has been the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller and the way it can enhance the force feedback for those without a racing wheel. Now, with Ride 4’s free upgrade, we get to see what it can do for racing on two wheels.
The goals when upgrading Ride 4’s visuals for PS5 and Xbox Series X were largely straight forward for Milestone. It’s an already familiar tale: where Ride 4 ran at 30fps on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X were able to provide a choice between higher resolutions and higher frame rates, with higher frame rate the default for a very good reason. On the new consoles, it’s a standard dynamic 4K resolution (which is sharper than either option on PS4 Pro) and 60fps, also turning up some of the behind-the-scenes graphics settings in the process.
I am admittedly being quite reductive here. I don’t want to diminish Milestone’s efforts, but this feels like an example of a cross-gen multiplatform game where it’s less about what the developer can do for the PlayStation 5 and more about what the PlayStation 5’s raw power can do for the game.
Having adopted Unreal Engine 4 several years ago now, Milestone sought to use the game engine’s flexibility to its fullest in Ride 4, taking several major steps beyond its predecessor. It enabled them to build in fully dynamic weather, a 24 hour day-night cycle, and then use that to bring full-on endurance racing into the series for the first time. That meant it was also necessary to have tyre wear added to the handling model, fuel usage, engine modes, pit stops, and, of course, endurance bikes with which to race.
The breadth of what the game has to offer is still a real highlight, and all of the 204 bikes look fantastic, though still leaning on regular rasterised reflection techniques like screen-space reflections and so on. If you’re someone that races in first person, you might be disappointed by the low detail environments found in the wing mirrors – the rest of us will only notice this when spinning the camera in the dealership or your garage – but the rest of the game is a big step forward in terms of clarity, no longer sacrificing resolution to get the more palatable frame rate, and revealing more detail in the environments you’re racing through.
Hopping into a race is, as you’d hope, faster than ever before with the PS5’s SSD. From the point of clicking “Go to Track” from the main menu, it took 35 seconds to load a race at Magny-Cours on PS4 Pro (which is already fairly respectable), but this was slashed down to just 8 seconds on PS5. Not industry leading, but good. When scrolling through the long list of bikes, there’s now less than a second wait for them to pop into existence now, compared to the few seconds it takes on PS4 Pro. A minor annoyance is that it doesn’t take advantage of the PlayStation Activities system very well. You still have to sit through splash screens, wait for online access and so on. It shaves off some time, but it still takes around 50 seconds to go from the main PS5 menu to resume your career, for example.
Of course, beyond graphics and speedy loading times, it’s really all about the controller. Ride 4’s use of the DualSense is all about subtlety, trying to convey a wide range of different things about your bike and the track to you as you race. At a standstill, you can feel the idle, irregular-feeling thrum of the engine in your palms, but that fades as you accelerate, making way for each little crescendo as you reach high RPMs and shift gears, letting you feel the change in surfaces as you run over kerbs and onto grass.
There’s a progressive resistance as you depress the adaptive triggers as well, adding weight to the brakes in particular. The accelerator feels a shade lighter in comparison, but that’s in part thanks to how you will hold it partially depressed through corners, during which the traction control of your angled bike sends a pulsing jitter through to your finger. There’s some added kicks and snaps if you bump with competitors or run off track as well.
These are nowhere near the strongest effects that the adaptive triggers can throw out at you, and I really appreciate the subtlety – a long session of play can still give you the finger equivalent of arm pump – but I do wonder if there’s some further nuance and different trigger effects that can still be found here to really sell what the game is trying to tell you. The pulsing effect as you go through a long corner is quite monotone here, even as you vary the trigger pressure and throttle, and as you come out and think you can really floor it, you realise just how close you were to the limits of the trigger’s travel you already were.
Some of that could be a consequence of the game’s overall handling model. Turning to our original Ride 4 review, Tom wrote:
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.
In the long run, the more subtle approach will be the better way to go for racing games using the DualSense controller (and maybe its battery life), and even in this fairly subdued form, there’s still a little spark of added excitement that enhances the experience and can help differentiate how the bikes feel just that little bit more.
There’s a similarly downplayed approach to the game’s use of the DualSense speaker, where even at the highest volume, it’s only used for adding gentle tone to accentuate the sounds coming out of your TV speaker, a neutral tone when if run onto the grass, and a little “vuuuup!” as you reach the top of the rev limiter. As someone that usually rolls their eyes at the gimmicky use of controller speakers, it had me muting the TV and holding the controller up to my ear to try and pick the sounds out. It’s strange that they don’t try the same with the DualShock 4, though.
A fairly well-rounded and solid entry in Milestone’s franchise, Ride 4 makes a similarly well-rounded and solid jump to the new generation. There’s no need to compromise on resolution or performance anymore, with the PS5 able to power the game to look its very best, but it’s really the smart take on how to use the DualSense haptics and adaptive triggers that will enhance how the experience feels.