Before you carry on reading, do you really want to play Ride 4? This is a serious biking game for serious two-wheeled enthusiasts. Have you got the dedication needed to master the handling and performance of over 175 bikes where each react differently on the 30 tracks available? Can you put in the toil, sweat and probably lots of tears across the hours needed to perfect the lines and manage the knife-edge balance of a 1000cc Ducati to bring in a decent race result? Are you able to steel your resolve and try again after each failure? If the answer to any of those questions is no then genuinely this game is not for you, and that’s a shame because making it slightly more accessible would have delivered probably the greatest motorcycle racing game ever.
It might be the next numerical game in the series, but Ride 4 is not simply a slight expansion of Ride 3. No, it’s a full ground up rebuild for the models of the bikes and riders, as well as including a day/night cycle and weather system, deeper customisation, and endurance racing that brings strategy into play. Some pieces carry over like the ANNA AI system, though that has had more hours of training to enhance the competition, and some of the tracks return with visual upgrades; yet there’s so much that’s different it’ll feel like a new game rather than the next in sequence. Considering that all the changes have been made in the two years since the last game, and that the Milestone team have had to deal with strict COVID-19 lockdowns in Italy for a quarter of that time, and the fact the game is shipping at all is impressive, let alone at the quality standard that’s on show. Previous titles have had the moniker “it’s the Gran Turismo for bikes” and with this it feels like it lives up to that name.
Career mode starts with testing a bike on a short track to establish the controls and a basic skill level, and gives the chance to alter the assists and settings to where they’re comfortable for hitting the target lap time. It’s this early in the game, the very first event, that hints at how punishing Ride 4 is going to be. It’s not the chance of high-siding it and flying off the bike, because that’s going to happen quite often – it’s the ultra-strict adherence to track limits. Touch a white line and it’s lap time invalidated. Run over a kerb, lap time invalidated. Go too deep in a corner and lose time running off the track, lap time invalidated. It’s forcing the need to learn the racing line and track layout so it becomes about pounding around until the time is valid, then work on improving it to at least qualify for the next phase. Success brings the choice of starting region: Europe, America or Asia; and it will lock to just that one decision, so choose wisely. The structure from here is fairly familiar with blocks of events to complete and win medals in, and more medals bring more access. With a very tight focus in the early stages it subtly acts as tutorial and training, though there’s nothing present that actually states how to ride a bike.
The first events are additional time trials, and I’m focusing on these more than I should because it’s here that will make or break someone’s decision to continue with the game or not. Each region starts with a selection of time trials on key circuits aimed at familiarisation… and they’re hard. Very hard. Unlike the initial test, an invalid lap means instant failure and disqualification and has to be started again. Even running a tad wide before the lap starts means failure, and that can be really frustrating on somewhere like Mugello where there’s nearly quarter of a lap of riding to the start line. The stringency is so tight that it makes the kerbs and edges something to be feared, which of course it going to impact overall lap time. It’s not like there’s really any margin for error in those either, and getting to the slowest requirement takes dedication and focus. Add in to some trials the challenge of gates that need to be hit at minimum speeds and it becomes an exercise in patience as much as skill. It is having an unseen benefit in consistently teaching how to ride bikes of various power correctly, but it doesn’t half feel like a chore. There is nothing else to do in career until these are complete too, the actual racing is locked off until they’re done.
For those expert bike racers out there this will seem like a breeze, for others it will be a barrier to entry, yet perseverance brings rewards. The rest of the regional events are race focused with just the 11 AI riders to beat, and exhibition races open too to give the chance to leap onto different machines, providing they’ve been bought. That doesn’t mean the competition in Ride 4 is a push over, even on the easiest setting ANNA’s offspring are quick and are able to brake harder and turn sharper then you could ever dream of. This is where the tuning comes in and becomes an essential part of pre-race setup. Descriptions of settings are detailed enough that novices can make changes quickly, and saving/loading setups for a single bike is easy. Options differ depending on machine complexity, and are either opened up with installing new components (like adjustable suspension) or by going for a different class in the Sports, Naked, Supermotard categories. Really though the key to success is learning the braking zones and turn in points because no matter the difficulty that’s where the other riders are better. Top speeds aren’t their specialty and whizzing past on a straight is like taking candy from a baby, but it’s disheartening to have them take the place back by slipping by on the next corner and accelerating into the distance through a series of bends, like in the opening complex of the Nürburgring.
It does just come down to practice though, and with enough laps, keep an eye on the tyre wear, and understanding that exceeding track limits in races doesn’t stop the action like in time trials (but does incur time penalties), it’s possible to conquer the AI and get into some of the more interesting features – night racing and changing weather conditions. Ride 4 adding water into the mix is going to make things more treacherous, and when there’s only two wheels in contact with the tarmac, and rubber surface area even more limited in the corners, throttle control and lean angle are even more crucial. It really adds a new dimension and whole set of considerations. Depending on the number of laps it’s possible to see things go from wet to dry too, so adapting to changing grip will mean the difference between staying planted and sliding off into the gravel. Heading out at different times of the day and seeing the visibility ebb and flow depending on the conditions isn’t just pretty, it affects reaction times as track side markers only get picked up in headlights, and it just feels more dangerous not being able to see as clearly. Fortunately the developers aren’t completely sadistic and there’s a rewind feature that can be hit at any time to take the action back a decent distance and let you try again. In the vain of being forgiving there are three physics modes to choose from – simplified, advanced and realistic – that takes some of the strain out of keeping the bike under control. The first two are configurable with the assists too so it’s possible to tailor to a particular feel with the only hit being on the XP and cash bonus awarded at the end of an event.
With each event group having a pass target to earn the cup, and a special reward for maxing out the score, success means earning access to the next tier – the World League. Man, that’s an eye opener for where Ride 4 goes. Given the amount of time spent in the Regional and thinking it takes a long time to get through standard race and exhibition events, you expect it will be more of the same, and it’s not, not by a long chalk. There’s a huge amount of content to work through from there, including being able to head off and tackle the other regional series that you locked yourself out of at the beginning. This is a beast of a game and one that will fill any spare time you have for months. Stock events continue, letting your modded off-the-peg machine get into the mix, but Superbike and Endurance enter the fray allowing for a taster of the top echelons of the sport before deciding which one to specialise in at the next tier. Invitational events pop up, some based on how your affinity with certain manufacturer’s are going, and then Rider Activities let you loose in test scenarios and other time based challenges. It’s head spinning when that board unlocks and you clock there are 90 cups to earn before moving on. Not that all 90 are needed, but completionists will have a field day with it. Deep does not fully describe how much there is to get into, and how much it will push your skill limits.
All the while you’re focusing on getting the bike to stick in the corners you’re helped along by how smooth the game runs and how detailed it is. The work that’s gone into the 3D modelling and track recreation is superb, and you understand why they’ve had to redo all the assets to deal with the lighting and weather effects. The atmosphere it creates and the sense of speed conveyed almost makes it seem tangible. Try a few laps in the helmet cam and you’ll start leaning in your chair as the engine note drops to a putter to sweep around a bend, then ramps up to a screech as you fight to keep the front wheel on the track. Head out in the rain and when you’ve got your knee down in a corner you’ll notice the water pooling in the gullies and verges. It is properly thrilling when it all comes together – the visual design, the solid mechanics and the full audio presentation. HDR and very smooth framerates are available for those with the right spec consoles, and there’ll be upgrades for the next generation too. Ride 4’s quality of visuals is impressively shown off with the helmet, livery and suits editor too, giving a massive amount of customisation for you to use yourself, or put them online for others. There were a few really impressive ones during the review period, and it won’t be long before the community has tonnes of them ready for use. Sadly, the multiplayer servers weren’t available though so matchmaking is a bit of an unknown there, but I expect the racing will be chaotic and challenging when it gets up and running.
Verdict time then for Ride 4, and there are two ways it can go based on the same summary points. It is a hardcore motorcycle racing game that offers up a ridiculous amount of gameplay for those that have the patience and time to build their skills and learn the intricacies of each ride and circuit. The excellent realisation of the different disciplines combines with the clear passion for bringing the real life experience to gamers, from a studio that are arguably the experts in the genre. Then there’s the addition of strategic racing with tyre management, fuel consumption and pitstops opening a new set of factors to consider when going for the win. An almost flawless execution adds the cherry to the top of a well stuffed biking pie, that’s in danger of bubbling over with the planned free and paid DLC over the next year. That specialisation from Milestone in cooking it up is also their weakness – it is a tough crust to break through and only the most dedicated will get to enjoy the filling.
A PS4 review copy of Ride 4 was provided by Milestone’s PR team, and the game is available from the 8th October for around £45 depending on platform. Free upgrades to the next generation of consoles is planned for early 2021.