Legendary Italian studio Milestone, starting from the legendary Screamer Rally series and delighting us with several licensed WRC and MotoGP titles, on top of working on dozens of titles with machines on wheels in general. While many would argue their days of glory are long gone, even at their worst they usually offered solid racing games on 2 or 4 wheels. The RIDE franchise is no exception: an all-around bike racing franchise offering a vast selection of styles from closed tracks, urban and country-side racing alike. We reach the fourth chapter, a cross-generation one no less. Will Milestone’s new racer… ahem… ride to success?
The previous installment’s campaign had a little bit of a story progression of sort, with magazine covers hiding career choices and different series. RIDE 4 seems to offer a more linear approach, in which players can choose between a couple different series at any given time, making sure they get a medal (a golden one, possibly) in a variety of challenges. These go from time trials and ability tests to actual races against “real” opponents in the form of rather aggressive AI riders, who don’t hold anything back when it comes to attempting overtakes unlike what happens in most racing games. This often became an issue in fact: taking a turn slower than ideal often saw the computer opponents ram into me at high speed, without even attempting to slow down or correct their line, resulting in us both crashing to the ground and losing several positions. Frustration can arise in time trials too, where putting a wheel a millimeter off the track, regardless off the speed and the possible advantage, voids the entire event.
A bit of frustration is inevitably a part of a challenging game, and RIDE 4 certainly offers some difficulty. While there’s a great variety of rider aids, including two different levels of physics complexity, at no level the bike feels particularly easy or stable to drive. Going too fast into corners and trying to correct course, hitting a bump and so on rightfully results, more often than not, in crashes, with speed and angulation that require much more commitment than you’d see in car-based racing games. The game captures the essence of what motorbike racing is about: before you make sure you win the event, you need to find the right balance to avoid sliding horizontally on the asphalt.
Career mode puts players not only through a variety of styles of events, but also through plenty of radically different backs and tracks. The latter include timeless classics of both 2-wheel and 4-wheel racing like the Nurburgring and Brands Hatch, and it’s these tracks that I’ve found to be excellent benchmark to test out the wide array of bikes, as I could test out which ones are more glued to corners and so on. In many racing games, vehicles feel inherently similar, but I’ve found good variety in handling and characteristic when it comes to RIDE 4. There’s of course a time penalty system, applying time punishments when players wander off-road gaining an advantage, though I’ve found this system to be inconsistent as it is based on the amount of time spent outside of the turf, rather than on the amount of effective time gained.
Visual identity also plays a big role in Milestone’s latest racer. Bikes can be customized by adding and changing visual elements, from the chassis to mirrors, on top of being quite fully customizeable in terms of colours, with paintjobs that can be applied with a level of complexity that isn’t too far from something like the Forza Horizon games. As for the riders, a huge variety of licensed gear can be bought from suits to helmets, the latter of which can once again customized to the players’ liking. There’s even an in-game browser to share your own creations and, naturally, to download those of other players. Be fast, but don’t forget to look good while doing it!
Generally speaking, RIDE 4 has more or less everything we’d expect from such a racing title. The aforementioned lengthy campaign, putting players in the shoes of a young rider, buying new bikes to compete in higher tier categories to climb the ladder and become a racing legend. Customizeable individual events can be played outside of the campaign too, even offering the tough as nails Endurance races: lengthy competitions with even pit stops to boot. There’s also a wide array of multiplayer options for online races, allowing any discipline, track and bike combination to be used against players across the globe. Unfortunately, local play through split-screen is not an option.
Definitely worth dedicating a bit of time to the game’s technical background as well. A bit static but rather realistic graphics greet players, running in 4K with HDR at a solid framerate on the Xbox One X, one that can be admired even better thanks to the in-game photo mode. It’s also one of the first games released that is branded to be “Optimized for Series S|X”, as Milestone’s racer uses Smart Delivery to download the optimal assets regardless of whether it’s played on a standard Xbox One, a One X, a Series S or X. Therefore, the game is ready for the next generation of Xbox consoles, launching next month, and we’re certainly curious to see how the upgrades and improvements fare compared to what we’re currently playing. Loading times are definitely on the longer side for certain events, so that’s one area we’d love to get a comparison for on the new systems’ lightning quick SSDs.
All in all, RIDE 4 is a jack of all trades, one where, however, neither element shines for originality or extreme polish. The driving model is satifying enough and finds a good balance between arcade and simulation, the customization options are notable, there’s plenty of content both for single player and online modes, and the title looks fairly good too. It does lack a driving factor, a unique aspect that makes RIDE 4 something more than a competent and fun racing game, turning it into an unmissable experience. Fans of the 2-wheel races will certainly find the adrenaline they seek, but those looking for the next big thing or the first taste of next-gen can safely drift somewhere else.