An effective effort at making a Gran Turismo for bikes, Ride doesn't do quite enough to convert non-believers.
Gran Turismo for bikes; an idea so beautiful in its simplicity, it's a surprise no-one's done it before. Well, actually they have. Some nine years ago, in Polyphony Digital's only excursion from its mainline series this century, the developer made Tourist Trophy, a PS2 curio that recycled the tracks from Gran Turismo 4 and gave players an assortment of two-wheeled weapons with which to carve them up. It's a concept that's lain dormant ever since, until this revival from Italian studio Milestone.
Milestone isn't exactly Polyphony - it certainly doesn't have Polyphony's budget, and Polyphony most definitely doesn't have Milestone's workrate, the Italian developer churning out two to three Moto GP and rally branded games each year - but they're kind of kindred spirits. Both create games that can be scrappy and rough around the edges, but they're held together with a passion for their subject matter that can prove infectious.
So it is with Ride, which sees Milestone moving away from the superstars of the Moto GP circuit towards more everyday fare, its 114 road bikes featuring the kind of rides you'll hear terrorising suburban high streets on a Sunday afternoon. Like Gran Turismo before it, Ride is all about fetishising its subject matter, poring over its bikes with an attention to detail that's never really been seen in Milestone's previous games. These bikes all look absolutely gorgeous.
If you've a kindling of desire for two-wheeled exotica then Ride has got what it takes to ignite it, the kind of game that can kickstart a love affair with the aggressive styling of a Suzuki GSX-R 1000 K5, or with the boxy beauty of a Honda VFR 750 RC30. Each bike can be rotated and admired in photo mode, and can be tastefully - or otherwise - adorned with accessories and appendages in Ride's suite of customisation options.
They're love affairs that can be consummated, to a degree, out on the tarmac, where the pliable handling model of Milestone's other bike racing games is appropriated to good effect. Bikes have never leant themselves as well as cars to video games, the vagaries of managing weight transfer, front and rear braking as well as steadily applying all of that horsepower proving difficult to communicate through a controller alone, but Milestone's always had a fair handle on making it work (even if the high water mark on console remains, for me, Climax's brilliantly analogue interpretation for its Moto GP games).
Ride's bikes, from its tamer 'naked' machines to the more terrifying track-tuned beasts, scale to suit all tastes. With a handful of assists on and with both brakes joined together they're eminently chuckable, while riding without a safety net proves a handful that's pleasing to master as you struggle to keep both wheels on the ground. There's a rhythm to bike racing games, and to Ride, that's unlike anything else, where you're always riding two corners ahead of the bike, gently swinging it this way and that. Get caught up in it and it's supremely satisfying.
Ride has a canny knack of getting you sucked in as well. Your career takes you across a world tour, split up Gran Turismo-style - it's impossible to escape the influence here - across various events tailored for specific styles of bikes. You have your own avatar that you can deck out in an assortment of officially branded kit, and while it's hard to create a character that doesn't look like it's been pulled from a bog, the granularity with which you can model your riding style, from elbow angle to the positioning of your head, is astounding - and it shows that Milestone's eye is on the right kind of detail.
There's a caveat to all this, of course, and it's a rather large one. Ride's budget begins and ends with its bikes, and beyond that it all falls slightly apart. While the structure has been taken wholesale from Gran Turismo, it's not done much to learn from that series' many mistakes - your motivation comes as you climb a fictional world leaderboard, but victory tends to come from simply buying the best bike and strapping on the most after-market parts rather than through any skill of your own. Elsewhere, its attempts to ape the big hitters of console simulation fall embarrassingly flat - a Forza-style voiceover before each main event suffers from hideous delivery and even worse writing.
The track list presents something of a missed opportunity too, and not just in how the sparse, hollow nature of each environment seems not too far removed from the PS2 backdrops of Tourist Trophy's day. There are some treats to be found here, underused gems such as Almeria Circuit, whose dusty, flat switchbacks provide an offbeat rhythm or Potrero with its finger-twisting turns and big, throaty breathing spaces, but Milestone's fictional road circuits around the likes of North Wales and Sierra Nevada feel second rate. With its bent towards more everyday roads why not lean on the wonders of the North West 200 or the Isle of Man TT rather than fictions that feel flat and unimaginative?
All of which feeds into Ride's bigger problem. There's not quite enough here to satisfy bike lovers, and certainly nothing to make bike lovers of the merely curious. Ride isn't a failure, but nor is a particularly great game, and like Milestone's previous efforts it's a noble attempt that just falls shy of its targets - even if it does often succeed in scratching an itch you might not have known was there.