As the sales of slavish motorsport simulations wilt, SBK X has looked to the kart racer as its saviour. But an accessible, frivolously unchallenging arcade mode does not a good kart racer make. SBK's much trumpeted attempt at mass-appeal only manages to strip away any feeling that you're riding a bike.
Having jettisoned all the usual complexities of biking, the only cursory acknowledgement of tactics rests on the mode's addition of an incongruous boost ability. But all the blue shells in the world couldn't compensate for the weak sense of connection to the road, with the untippable bikes cornering like dinky toys – lightweight and lacking momentum and power.
It's an entirely different physics system at work in the simulation mode, which is the game's real meat, and where SBK X is at its best. Here the bikes feel like they have some heft behind them, and there's a greater sense of exposure and danger as the tarmac speeds beneath you.
There are three flavours of simulation mode to choose from, with the lower levels offering driver assists and the higher levels necessitating careful thought about the weight distribution of the rider and the position of his body while cornering. But there's not as much fine-tuning to the user-friendliness as we've come to expect from SBK's four-wheeled sim contemporaries. It might be nice, for example, to have sim physics and the choice of whether or not to see the racing line, which is relegated to the inane arcade mode here.
Nonetheless, SBK X's three-tiered simulation mode caters for a pretty wide spectrum without sabotaging challenge, and it introduces a new and welcome level of detail. Courses now evolve as the bikes smear rubber across the surface, while rainwater dries over time. But given the claims being made for the latest crop of racing games, in which rubber fragments litter the course's borders and wheels displace water sitting on the road surface, Milestone's simulation might quickly fall behind the pack. The game's environments are already graphically underwhelming, despite greater depth to the track scenery than in previous iterations.
Off track, there's not much to do. Customisation niceties are kept to a minimum. A career mode guides you through the game's 14 tracks and scores of bikes, but placed alongside its peers, this is a pretty featureless frontend for your progression. There are minor irritations which speak of a lack of care – you can't look at the control configuration without quitting out of a race, menus have mislabelled button prompts and the game periodically refers to you with forename and surname in the wrong order. But beneath this is still a solid simulation, even if the arcade tweaks to the series backfire.