Developer Milestone got off to a decent if not overly spectacular start to its SBK series last year, but one thing was missing: a next-gen version of the game. This has been rightfully high on the agenda this year, and we took a work-in-progress build of the Xbox 360 version around the track a few times to see how it's shaping up.
First things first: SBK 08 is a simulation. The game offers numerous settings to tweak the realism, but even on what amounts to its most forgiving handling settings the game is hard. If you've never played a bike sim before you're going to need to get used to the way the bikes corner. These high-powered beasts don't slide around bends like cars do and you absolutely need to be 100 per cent prepared for every corner, as corrections during the turn aren't nearly as easy to make as when driving a car.
The final game will include 12 real-life tracks likely to be familiar, at least in name, to anyone who's followed motorsport over the years. If the likes of Monza, Donington and Mangy-Cours don't ring a bell, then perhaps SBK 08 won't be for you. We're talking real race tracks, not fantasy courses or city tracks as THQ introduced in its previous few entries in the MotoGP series. For hardcore SBK fans these 12 circuits will be more than enough and offer plenty of challenge.
Milestone has seen fit to include some tutorials, which help give novice riders an insight into how best to take corners and handle the bike on the track. As with all sim racers, these alone take some practice to get right, but they're essential if you want to be competing in races and setting fast lap times.
Core to the game is the championship mode, which plays out as you'd expect, with qualifying before the main event and points scored in races tallied up over the season. In addition to this and the assortment of quick race and time trial modes there are a series of challenges. These ask you to complete certain objectives under set race conditions. While unlikely to offer as much replay value as competing in a full season, these should offer gamers something else to do if the championship is proving too tough.
Presentation is something last year's PS2 game didn't really excel at, and so far SBK 08 seems to be heading in the same direction. On the Xbox 360 the game looks far superior to the last year's game, but compared to THQ's MotoGP series SBK 08 is clearly lacking some next-gen sheen. Thankfully the game does hold a fairly steady frame rate and the sense of speed is good. Hopefully the game will receive a late lick of paint ahead of its late June release.
Something we haven't been able to test is the online functionality. The game is set to support online racing for up to 16 players and this could give the game a decent following among the SBK fan base. How this works and if the game can compete with the best sims on the market will have to wait for our review. Look for our final verdict as the game's June 20 release date approaches.