Last year I felt sorry for American bikers. Not only did crippling noise and emission regulations result in their YZFs having less top-end compared to our pokier (and probably shinier) European counterparts, but for some reason nobody bothered to publish SBK-09 stateside.
This seems a shame. Partly, of course, because the SBK 2009 Riders Championship was won by an American. But mostly it's because the US missed out on a solid racing sim from Milestone which, despite being rough around the edges, still impressed with its two-wheeled realism.
Let's hope they get SBK X this year, then, because from a simulation perspective this is Milestone's most well-rounded racer to date.
Having had my fill of arcade physics after months of MotoGP 09/10, the first port of call is the Simulation mode, where Arcade elements have been stripped out entirely and replaced with more streamlined Simulation Settings that can be set to low, medium or full, with additional options for automatic gears and rider weight.
This results in a mode that doesn't try to please everyone but instead focuses on realism. In terms of racking the simulation up and taking Noriyuki's 200bhp 1198R out for an entire 14-track season - perhaps finally bagging the unluckiest rider in history a well-deserved Riders Championship - Milestone has made tweaks but kept the formula impressively realistic.
Visually the bikes communicate a believable sense of traction that suggests their 160kg frames are gripping the track via an area that's roughly the size of a DVD case.
With the simulation set to full, the art of braking before a corner, turning in, following the apex and then slowly twisting the throttle as you shoot onto the straight - before trying to repeat a similar yet different manoeuvre a few lengths down the track - is made all the more convincing by believable consequences.
If you're over-ambitious, with the bike lent right over, you'll have a fraction of a second to react before suffering an embarrassing lowside. If you lock the rear wheel by braking aggressively mid-corner, only to release it with the bike practically sideways, well, you've only got yourself to blame as your rider is catapulted skyward.
Nonetheless, when you quickly shift the rider's weight down to control a spinning back wheel on the verge of losing traction, that sense of elation, as you push the bike to its limits in a gamble that pays off spectacularly, is what makes Milestone's approach to motorcycle physics a cut above the competition.
That's not to say it's perfect. When titling the left analogue stick it often feels like the onscreen rider isn't leaning the bike fast enough. But considering the limitations of the controller interface - and the difficultly of replicating a system that in real-life requires full-body movement - the degree of immersion and authenticity is impressive, something which can also be said for the extra content and features.
Traditionally SBK games have been about the Superbike class, with teams like Ducati Xerox and Suzuki Alstare lending their blisteringly fast designs to the realms of virtual racing. But for SBK X players can also compete in the Supersport and Superstock classes.
So in addition to 16 highly modified widow-makers, we get a further selection of 38 race bikes, including the Supersport Triumph 675, and Superstock spec Gixxers, R1s and Fireblades which, save for light modifications, represent what can be bought for real money. At least by those of us who don't play videogames for a living.
This substantial class injection also comes with a more in-depth Career mode which - in addition to Quick Race, Championship, Race Weekend and Time Attack modes - adds considerable longevity for those who plan to get their money's worth.
Rather than pick from the race roster - which, incidentally, has a few 2010 inconsistencies like Michele Pirro riding a Yamaha when he should be on a Honda - you can create a custom rider by tweaking some basic details and choosing from a limited selection of faces.
You then embark upon an eight-year career, which begins in the Superstock. Rather than hiring and firing staff, as is the case in rival MotoGP 09/10, the season remains rider-focused. You move between Free Practice, Qualifying and Warm Up sessions, aiming for better lap times and testing new parts and bike configurations, before heading out for the race itself.
The level of customisation is very impressive, with everything from suspension to steering fully adjustable. If rebound dampening is above your level of gear-headedness then you can also consult your race engineer in a Technical Meeting - essentially a list of multiple-choice questions - to iron out any kinks you may have with the default setup.
Beyond this there's an additional Race Options menu designed for motorcycle maniacs who want as realistic a racing experience as possible. After upping the race length to 100 per cent and maxing opponent skill level - as well as turning on race penalties and tyre wear - Milestone also offers masochists the option to switch on bike and rider damage.
Having both these on makes high-siding suitably disastrous, because not only will your bike's engine, braking and suspension systems be impaired, sometimes irreparably, but if your rider takes a severe enough tumble they may be retired from the race altogether.
When racing in the excellent cockpit view with the Simulation Settings and Race Options set to brutal, SBK X is one of the most punishing console racers available. However, if you ease into it on medium simulation with the AI set to amateur, winning an SBK season in the Career mode is still a steep challenge, albeit one that's more achievable for players who don't have real track-day experience.
Which brings us conveniently to the brand new Arcade mode. If you thought MotoGP 09/10 took liberties with its power-sliding, stopping distances and crazy lap times, you haven't seen anything yet.
Playing SBK X in Arcade mode is how I imagine the bike from Akira handles. There are no options for adjusting the riding experience and the Simulation controls - notably weight distribution and separate braking - are swapped out for simultaneous braking and a boost button that works like a nitrous injection. There's even a dedicated wheelie button.
Arcade has an aptly named Story Mode, which requires no input from the player other than to complete chapter-based objectives, such as placing ninth or higher after a rolling start, or beating another rider by three seconds across two laps.
Many of these can be completed in around five minutes and don't provide much of a challenge, but as an alternative to the demanding Simulation mode and its telemetry data charts, the less serious nature of Arcade can often provide a welcome break.
Although the Simulation and Arcade modes could feasibly be on separate discs, SBK X's most interesting feature is the improved Xbox Live functionality. Here we lose the Team Championships from SBK-09, but on the flipside we retain Quick Race and standard Championship in addition to the new online Time Attack. Player capacity is now 16, and the net code is more stable.
There's also a new ranking system that goes from 0 to 100 - with a spiffy new animal badge for each 10 ranks you climb. Unfortunately this system also keeps a running total of online crashes which, for some players, may be greater than their race tally.
Milestone has done an excellent job of accurately replicating each manufacturer's bike in minute detail. From the grilled fairing and Ohlins forks of the BMW Motorsport S1000RR, to the Brembo callipers and under-seat Akrapovic's of the Yamaha Sterilgarda R1, every inch is meticulously detailed.
The 14 tracks - which for some reason still includes Donington and not Silverstone - are similarly well-observed. All the corners, corkscrews and hairpins feel spot on. If there's a criticism of the visual side of the game, it's that bike damage could do with being more graphic, but it's not the end of the world that it isn't.
There are two sides to SBK X, really. The Arcade mode is probably too laid back - if you just want to dabble with bikes without putting much thought in, MotoGP 09/10 is a more gratifying game - but the Simulation is extremely flexible. In fact, it's the most exhaustive and complete motorcycle simulation currently available - and so, for those for whom that means the world, this could be the best buy of the year.
8 / 10