Milestone won a race last year. It may have been a two bike race between SBK X: Superbike World Championship and MotoGP 09/10, but in terms of who earned the accolade of "real riding simulator", Milestone proved a premiere racing license doesn't necessarily make for a more realistic simulation. It also takes dedication, experience and – due to the complex nature of two-wheeled physics – a meticulous attention to detail.
But as accomplished as SBK X was, it also suffered from a few design flaws. These ranged from fairly bland presentation and a generally forgettable Arcade Mode to uneven difficulty scaling and excessive loading times between race sessions. They were minor niggles, but they forced left SBK X a few laps short of unadulterated brilliance.
Cut to 2011 and Milestone is ready to show us what a passionate Italian studio can achieve with a few months of fine tuning. The title of its new game, SBK 2011, comes as no surprise. Just like FIFA and Forza, SBK is a constantly evolving series which is released for public consumption at set intervals. The development process never ends. But what does come as a surprise is just how much Milestone has listened to fan feedback.
Our hands-on with the game took the form of three track days designed to showcase the revisions which have been made to SBK's three levels of riding simulation. The first let us take current world champion, Max Biaggi, around an empty Portimao circuit on his thundering Aprilia RSV4. And to make sure we went five laps without amassing a smash hits compilation of high and low sides, Milestone set the simulation to low.
This riding model feels suitably authentic, and compared to last year, there's a stronger sense of easing you into the complexities of motorcycle racing without punishing you too harshly for mistakes.
That's not to say SBK X's entry-level simulation was overly difficult but with a more forgiving mix of riding assists now running diligently in the background, a more balanced level of stabilisation has been achieved - without any drifting into the area of arcade physics.
After a few laps of cornering concentration I instigated a "Who can maintain the longest rolling stoppie" competition on the Portimao straight. Seeing the Aprilia glide on one wheel like this highlighted some graphical improvements.
The bike and rider animations are currently unchanged, as new technologies are still being implemented (including EMotion FX, apparently...). But looking at the new lighting effects and subtle motion blur, SBK 2011 is shaping up to be a less drab racer than its predecessor.
Saying goodbye to the fledgling Portimao, I was then invited to pray at The Cathedral – otherwise known as Assen. With this came a shift up to medium simulation as well as a shift down from Superbikes to Supersport.
I also traded Mad Max's Aprilia for Kenan Sofuoglu's smaller, but no less championship winning, Honda CBR600RR. At least it's what the power of dreams are made of.
Letting the good times roll, I bested a Kawasaki ZX-6RR off the starting grid and hurtled towards the first right hander. As I negotiated Assen's famous hairpin and chicane, it quickly became apparent that the gap between low and medium simulation has been bridged more progressively. In SBK X, it was hard to tell them apart.