Ride 3 review: Do bikers finally have their Gran Turismo moment?
How many truly great motorbike games have there been? Even if you cheat and use the internet to look them up, chances are you won’t be able to count beyond the fingers of one hand. You’ve got your PS2-era Tourist Trophy, that one you get on cross-channel ferries with the sit-on bikes, and my personal favourite, the MotoGP series on the original Xbox.
But recently things have been a bit quiet, save for the odd MotoGP game and Milestone’s Ride series. And this, then is the third iteration of that series – and it feels like it’s finally right up there with the best bike games.
Really? What is it?
Warning: I’m going to mention that little Polyphony Digital driving game more than once in this review. Because in many ways Ride 3 feels a lot like a two-wheeled Gran Turismo (or Forza Motorsport, for that matter). You start out with a modest budget to go out bike shopping, which will afford you a classic 80s two-stroke 125 Suzuki, a modern Triumph Street Twin or a dirtbike of some description. With this humble first bike you then have to race, time trial and out-brake yourself to bigger and better things.
The career mode is laid out as if you’re perusing an encyclopaedia of biking. You enter six-event tournaments, each of which demands you ride a different type of bike. It sounds forced, but it gives you a real appreciation of the differences in riding style required by a wallowy 80s muscle bike vs a modern sports 600. Get a gold medal in each of the tournament’s races and you win a prize bike. Unlike the Forzas of this world that shower you with more cars than you can drive, you genuinely appreciate the extra bike in your garage, simply because it opens up more events for you to tackle.
Tournaments are made up of full-grid races, solo time trials with target times to beat and even the odd night race. This career mode does become a bit of a grind, but it’s easy to bash out a tournament in under an hour so you can dip in and out without getting too exhausted.
You’ll love it if you’re a biker
The line-up of bikes ranges from 125cc dirt bikes to full-on race bikes, with supernakeds, adventure bikes and more in between
Where Ride 3 really excels is when it comes to pandering to a biker’s sense of belonging. That might sound like a load of crap, but I’ve never had a bike game give me the sudden urge to tinker with my bike or go for a ride in the dank depths of autumn.
If you’re a biker then you’ll love the fact you can probably find your exact real-life helmet design in the game. All the gear you can customise your rider with is licensed from the likes of Alpinestars, Shoei, Rev It and so on. I managed to find my exact two-piece jacket, helmet and gloves in the game – let’s just brush over the fact the in-game character models are carrying a few less mince pies.
Then there’s the bike customisation. Oh my. I’d saved up for a Triumph Daytona 675 (a bike I owned and foolishly sold back in 2011), and loved the fact you could then stick a Power Commander on it to get a bit more power from the ECU, or whack track-focused brake pads in for sharper brake response. If that’s not enough then a couple of the bikes can be race modified and clad in track fairings, or you can wang on a set of slicks for ludicrous mid-corner pace.
Finally it feels as if there’s a bike game that nails the old-school Gran Turismo level of progression, but for bike geeks like me.
But what about the gameplay?
To get the most out of Ride 3's handling you'll want to start backing off the assists and learn to slide the back end a bit
Riding a motorcycle is one of those things that’s incredibly hard to translate into a satisfying gaming experience. Ride 3 is no different in that it initially feels clunky and you’ll spend more time missing apexes by a country mile than getting your knee down. But give it half an hour, slow down your entry speeds to more realistic levels, brake early, set yourself up for the corner and you’ll be carving through the corners faster than the (mostly uncrashing) AI.
After an hour or two of getting used to the basic setup I turned the physics realism up, turned off a load of the rider aids (including linked brakes that turns your left-trigger press into a nice spread of front and rear braking) and headed out on my now heavily tuned 675R.
Wow. Suddenly the handling model comes alive when you have less intervention. You need to master trail braking to hold a nice tight line through a corner. Too much left trigger while leant over and you’ll crash. Your gamepad will vibrate when you’re on the verge of putting too much braking effort through the front wheel, so you become attuned to the vagaries of each bike’s braking setup quite quickly.
Likewise, you have to be wary of giving it too much throttle out of corners – when you progress to riding 600cc supersport machines and above you’ll find the back stepping out on corner exit. Again, too much throttle will have you highsiding and headbutting the clouds as you ragdoll horrifically into the scenery – while just enough throttle gives you a nice drift onto the next straight. You can quickly adjust the level of traction control using the dpad. Also, there’s a rewind function that quickly and painlessly lets you choose how far back in the race to reset yourself. It works quickly and sleekly – the Forza series could learn a thing or two from this implementation.
Ride 3’s physics feel solid and give you an incredible sense of speed as you progress up to the faster bikes. The way the front wheel of a 1,000cc sports bike heads for the sky off every little crest of Ireland’s North West 200 road racing track puts a huge grin on your face, as does the sketchy little loss of traction as the road surface changes mid corner on the Tenerife circuit.
For maximum sense of speed Milestone’s added a 60fps option for PS4 Pro and Xbox One X owners – and it’s well worth enabling for sharper-feeling controls and general smoothness.
Bikes to ride, places to be
Mulholland Drive (or The Snake as it's called in the game) is a bit of a YouTube legend. And now you can be the one crashing off the edge
Ride 3’s race locales include your usual mix of international tracks, but also some real-world road-racing circuits and public highways. You can take on the YouTube-famous Mulholland Drive ‘snake’ – now sadly ravaged by wildfire – as well as fictional sections around Lake Garda, Route 66, some unbranded salt flats and Tenerife. The huge bike selection matches this mix of road and race – among the 230 bikes available from launch there’s everything from custom BMW R9Ts to 80s two-stroke things, Panigale V4s and full-on race bikes.
Again, you get a great sense of progression as a result of this broad church of two-wheeled wonders, and hopping from a 125 supermoto onto a 220bhp feels like jumping onto a barely controllable artillery shell.
So should I buy it?
There’s no doubt that Milestone has crafted the most complete motorbike game of the decade. It feels like a love letter to biking packed with so many bikes, tracks and modifications that you can just mess about in it for hours – but it’s not perfect.
The AI bikers aren’t prone to cocking up, and you nearly always come off worse (literally) in a collision with them. The initial round of races are only two-lap jobs, so you spend as much time in the menus as on the bike, at least until you progress to the longer races after an hour or so. Oh, and for all I’ve banged on about passion, the prologue’s speech about why we ride is a bit vomit inducing.
You’ll likely tire of the career mode quickly unless you’re a bike fan – your motivation needs to lie in wanting to ride the seriously quick stuff if you’re to make it past the first few tiers. Mastering the handling with as few assists as possible is where Ride 3’s reward really lies, and it takes time to get the best out of it.
But if you can see past those flaws and love your biking, then you can’t really do better than Ride 3. It won’t convert non-bikers, but it’ll give anyone with a two-wheeled affliction a bit of a tingle.