There's nothing quite like the experience of hopping on a bike, opening up the throttle and letting rip. The wind tearing at your hands and whipping at your face as you roar down the back roads. In many ways, the third instalment of the Ride franchise gets close to that feeling but left us with a few qualms to boot.
What we have here is a bike racing experience that edges towards realism over arcade sensibilities. You start off by creating your avatar, who to be frank must have storage space the size of a jumbo jet hanger to store all of the motorbikes you end up buying. There are a plethora of bikes to ride, ranging from the Kawasaki Ninja ZX 6R to the Triumph Daytona 675R. Apparently, there are 230 bikes from 30 different manufacturers day one. We did note the lack of Harleys, but maybe they wouldn't have fit in with the rest so we understand their omission.
You have to think about all the usual bike related attributes like weight, torque, speed, acceleration, etc. If you get stuck in you'll really learn a shed load about bikes, from the information in the loading screens where you can read about the history of your chosen ride, to the stats screens at the dealership that gets into the nitty-gritty.
Before you get started racing, though, there are a fair few tutorials on how to handle your bike. These explain the important things in life like cornering and braking, which may just stop you from careering off the track and plunging into the tyres. There is a strong emphasis on the word "may", however.
The first couple of hours were a steep learning curve. We spent so much time skidding, falling and flying off the bike and track. We were clipping other bikes, our rider kept hitting the ground and he got run over a copious amount of times. We said earlier that this was more sim than arcade, but luckily the realism didn't spread too far as we would have committed accidental homicide more times than in a game of Lemmings.
A few hours in and our experience got a lot more enjoyable. This was not only because we had learned the various mechanics of the bikes but also because we had started to memorise the tracks. There are 30 circuits to race around, ranging from Donnington Park to Magny Cours, and many of them are stunning to look at, with lots of attention to detail in terms of backgrounds and textures. In fact, we blame some of our early crashes on the visuals, and it was nice to be able to visit Japan and Germany, and even Brands Hatch.
The single player format was really cool as Milestone continues to explore new ideas in terms of presentation. It came in the style of magazines, where each issue contained the story of a manufacturer, track or specific motorbike category (for example, Japanese bikes). In the magazines, there was a number of challenges, and depending on your results, you receive stars that accumulate to open up higher tiers of races. Getting all the stars in a particular magazine unlocks an iconic bike for you to race on. Clock all the stars in several magazines and you unlock special challenges.
There is literally so much to see and do here, and it feels like a really in-depth racing simulation, although to unlock and complete everything be prepared to grind pretty hard. It's not just limited to simple laps of circuits either. You can take part in drag racing which tests your gear changing, and race yourself in time attack. Aside from the huge single-player mode, there's also a multiplayer option that can be played privately or publicly, a weekly challenge to do things like time attacks, and a single race for you to just try out your bike in different modes.
While a lot of your early single races are in the daylight, sooner or later you'll find yourself racing at night or in the rain (and the rain was a particular highlight for us). While your bike slips more on the track, water effects trickle down the screen, obscuring your vision. While it was a little frustrating, we were forced to remember that this was quite realistic with regards to our experience on bikes.
The water on the track meant you couldn't accelerate coming out of corners opposed to when the surface was dry. And with details like that, Ride 3 gives you so much to think about, that lovers of bike games won't get bored any time soon and they race around on some of their favourites. What's more, the look and feel of the machines is matched only by the audio. More to that point, while there is music in the menus and during loading screens, the races were all about the in-game sound effects. We loved hearing them roar as the bike moved from gear to gear, however at times we longed for a bit of in-game music.
Ride 3 might be leaning towards realism, but one mistake can cost you the race. One skid off the track, one tumble, and it's all over. Unless of course, you don't mind using a rewind feature that lets you undo your most recent mistake, a nice touch for casuals that makes it more accessible for those newcomers who may still find themselves making tons of mistakes.
While Milestone is aiming for realism, it doesn't always strike a great balance during races. The other bikes always seemed much faster than yours, to the point of it being frustrating. You usually started in 8th and got stuck in the pack. Getting through into first was tricky, and when you're limited to two laps it can get a little stressful. Get too close to another bike and get clipped and you'll fly off. They can take a tumble as well, but the other riders seemed a lot more stable than you.
We finally resolved to lower the AI difficulty and we started winning more. Even then it was hard to get up front, but once we did, we got so far ahead that it became a little lonely on some tracks. Of course, improving your bikes does help, but it took us a lot of tinkering before we found the right AI settings to give us a nice balance between fun and challenge, and we think more could have been done to help players find that sweet spot where you feel like you're really competing. Once we found it, the adrenaline started pumping and we really found our groove.
All in all, what you have here is a fairly accurate bike racing sim that offers plenty to see and do. It looks decent and sounds stunning, and has lots of bikes to collect, ride and tinker with. That said, the challenge is too punishing at times, the lack of local multiplayer was a bit sad, and the loading times a little long. However, Ride 3 is a really good option if you're looking for a bike sim as once again Milestone has delivered an accomplished two-wheeled racer.