Ride 4 Review
I have to make something clear at the beginning of this review. I am far from an aficionado when it comes to motorcycles. As such, Ride 4 makes it clear very quickly that it isn’t a game made for me — and that’s ok. A simulation game to the nth degree, the latest iteration in what has become an almost annualised series for developer Milestone focuses on this aspect above all else.
As soon as rubber met tarmac it became clear just how much effort the team behind Ride 4 had put into simulating the experience of racing high-powered motorcycles. For a novice like me this means an almost unholy union between power and speed that feels unwieldy at best and a completely obtuse concept at worst. Practically fighting to keep my bike on the track was the first step. After that, well, imagine a series of crashes, hilarious ragdoll physics, and twelfth place finishes. Ride 4 is not a game that is going to hold your hand. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again (and again, and again, and again…). Devoid of any kind of proper tutorial or even a worthwhile tool tip, I often didn’t know what I was doing wrong and just had to figure it out — an experience that was more likely to end with me quitting in a fit of rage than anything else.
So yes, this game takes no prisoners and, in hindsight, its ‘learn by doing’ approach is not unexpected. I’d count Ride 4 amongst the most hardcore of simulation racers, a genre where intricacies and accuracy rule above all else. If you take a corner badly — and boy did I do that a whole lot — you’ll spin out and likely crash into a mangled heap of leather and physics. However, practice does make perfect and after a few hours I had just about learned the basics. That’s to say, I could get through most of what is put in front of me without falling off my bike.
Manoeuvering your bike around sharp corners and weaving through hairpin turns feels weighty and, when done correctly, incredibly satisfying. There’s a great physicality to the gameplay that did well to mimic what I’d expect motorcycle racing to feel like. A great deal of care and attention also appears to have been put into the game’s physics, meaning that not only do the huge variety of bikes imitate their real-life counterparts in the looks department there’s a lot of variation in how they play too.
Unfortunately, this required me to unlearn a lot of what the game was telling me to do. Trusting my own instincts proved to be much more successful than trying to precisely follow the racing line, for example. There is zero room for error in the way these superbikes look and play, and it’s as if that sentiment was doubled down upon once you get on the track. Leniency just isn’t in the nature of a game like Ride 4. It demands excellence from the very beginning. A quick race is all well and good, but it’s likely to take even a very competent player a few goes around before they’re finishing in first place, even on the lowest difficulty.
Like everything in Ride 4, it comes down to realism. You’re unlikely to whip round the Nurburgring in double-quick time your first go around in real life, and that’s the same here. However, if you were finding it too easy — or maybe even too hard (just saying) — there’s a helpful difficulty slider that allows players to dictate just how tough they want the AI to be. Significant development time has purportedly been poured into the improvement of the AI and, despite my inexperience with the series, I felt this to be the case. Despite turning the difficulty down, I was left no slack. Any chance the AI has to get at you and take the lead, it will. I suspect that more seasoned players will see the true benefit of the newly implemented ‘Neural AI’, a system which learns from the player in order to get even better. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I was the right test subject for this particularly nuanced improvement.
The same can be said for a lot of the game’s systems, really. Veterans of the Ride franchise or other, similar, racing simulators are likely to appreciate the game’s little details. Unfortunately, Ride 4 never really gave me the chance to grow my understanding or appreciation. That’s to say that there has not been a great amount of consideration to anyone who may fall outside the catchment of ‘hardcore racing sim fan’. You may ask why this matters (and you may have a point), however the complete lack of onboarding for new players in Ride 4 is astounding. There is no sense of a tutorial in the game for novice players, or any kind of dedicated practice mode for players to hone their skills. If you’re bad at Ride 4 there is very little the game does to help make you better. There’s no real opportunity for new players to become what the game wants you to be outside of good old fashioned trial and error.
Sure you can point to options like the ability to turn on auto-braking, the racing line that shows players how to approach areas of all the different tracks and even a ‘rewind’ feature that gives players the ability to take that tricky corner as many times as they like. These additions, amongst other assists, can make the game tolerable for a novice player. However, they do little to help in the long term, and new players will likely find themselves unable to take these ‘training wheels’ off. Frustratingly, this even halted my progress on more than one occasion, making it practically impossible to meet challenge goals. Combined with a dedicated tutorial mode, these settings would allow for a slow and steady transition into more capable virtual riding and alleviate much of the frustration and lack of understanding. It would make Ride 4 more accessible to outsiders.
In the five years since Milestone launched the Ride franchise, the dedicated racing developer has cultivated a very specific audience for Ride — an audience that undoubtedly knows what they want from this very niche series. At this point I imagine they’re thinking ‘well, you’re not buying a Ride game if you’re not an enthusiast’. As conjecture-filled as that statement is, my experience with Ride 4 makes me wholeheartedly believe that to be the case. Again, that’s ok and the audience (probably) wants it that way too.
In researching for this review, I read up a lot on the previous game in the series, Ride 3. Steps had been taken to make the game friendlier to new players. A milder campaign trajectory was met with increased personality and customisation options, alongside similarly slick racing simulation gameplay, to look and feel like its more high profile peers. Ride 4 strips almost all of that character away and in its sterile, dated menu design, the game tells me everything I needed to know — the player base just didn’t care for these over-designed extras. What they want is a concentration on quality racing, and that’s exactly what they’ve got.
There is an element of customisation in the game. Naturally players can choose from a selection of bikes, all of which are unlocked either through completing races or in-game currency. All of the top manufacturers you would expect are here — Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha and so on — and this extends to almost every customisable aspect of your bike, and how you kit out your rider. In fact, brand loyalty plays a part in gameplay too with bonuses available for continued use of a particular label — almost like a gear set in an RPG. Choosing how you and your bike are outfitted becomes one more tactical choice amongst many as you battle your fellow riders in the game’s lengthy campaign.
The absence of charm is most prevalent in Ride 4’s core game mode. A dense collection of races and challenges, all with their own rules and requirements. It’s likely to be a significant time sink for anyone dedicated enough to tackle everything the game has to offer. Unfortunately, it’s not all that exciting.
Each league and cup is presented very similarly, strung together by a little more than a series of bland menus — owing to the game’s firm focus on racing above all else. This would be admissible, except for the fact the campaign is so linear. Each new cup or set of challenges is locked behind a set number of points, accrued through completing the previous section. A lack of ability to deviate from this path meant that this felt like a mode to be endured as opposed to enjoyed. If ever I was struggling — it’s been well established that I often was — then my progress came to a screeching halt and a mind-numbing grind set in. Given the amount of variety in the bikes and tracks within Ride 4, this rigidity seems out of place.
Outside of the campaign, players will find a very basic suite of gameplay modes. Standard races sit alongside time trials and a new Endurance mode. Basically, it offers everything you would expect from a game like this. Of course, the variation comes in the form of different tracks and bikes. And whilst I particularly enjoyed the difference between racing the streets of the lengthy North West 200 and trying to conquer the turns on Phillip Island, I still didn’t feel like there was enough variation.
Endurance races are the new addition to be found in Ride 4. These hours-long tests of concentration, skill, and personal mettle are not for the faint-hearted. Once again this shows Ride 4’s dedication to its most hardcore players. The multiplayer suite repeats these options. And whilst it fares well, it lacks more modern online matchmaking in favour of an archaic lobby system.
All of this makes it sound like Ride 4 is a very basic experience. And, to some degree, it is. However, as I’ve had to remind myself throughout, this always feels like it's by design, even down to the game’s visuals. That said, Ride 4 has had a clear graphical upgrade when compared to its predecessor. Every bike in the game is rendered in incredible detail almost down to the last rivet and decal. It also makes good use of HDR and the boost of a PlayStation 4 Pro, but it’s not the visual showcase that many of its peers are. Watching a bike careening around a wet track at night does look fantastic. Even more so when viewed through the game’s photo mode — available at any time via the pause menu. However, there are still plenty of flat textures to be found if you come to a halt. Then again, that’s the last thing you’re supposed to be doing in a game based around throwing a motorcycle around a track at hundreds of miles per hour.
As with everything in Ride 4 the developers at Milestone have put their time and effort into the things that they believe their fans want to see. Their vision is minimalist and their concentration on their core player base may ostracise newcomers, but they’re a studio dedicated to motorcycle racing games so it’s hard to fault them for wanting to do the important things as well as possible. Alas, that means leaving a lot of the tangential things that can broaden the scope of a game by the wayside.
Ride 4 is a hardcore simulation racer for hardcore simulation racing fans. If you’re interested in motorcycles and motorcycle racing, you’ll likely get plenty out of this package. Anyone who just fancies tearing around a track and not taking things too seriously should probably steer clear.
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