Easy Rider minus the attitude, fun, drugs and balls.
Imagine being part of the Castrol Honda Superbike Racing Team. Getting paid major greenbacks to rev your souped up bike on hundred million dollar raceways. Jetting past the competition under the savagely hot sun, you hit the corners, just barely hanging to your bike. As the wind hits you full force, the only that is keeping you from becoming part of the asphalt is your own tired, quivering body. Sounds brutally satisfying, right?
Now imagine playing Electronic Arts’ newest Playstation racer, which just so happens to be a Superbike Racing sim titled: Castrol Honda-World Superbike Team: Superbike Racing (try saying that 3 times fast). You press down on the X button of your dual analog controller, and begin to experience the graphically plain, pop-up prone environment. As you complete lap 10, the monotony takes control of your mind, and your eyes slowly begin to glaze over. In no time, you are sound asleep.
Castrol Honda is a real meat and potatoes kind of racer. It’s the kind of game for people who don’t like innovation or variety (the Amish come to mind). Though certain sim elements are very detailed, actual gameplay is a severely limited. Races are not fun, and in the higher difficulty settings, some last for an agonizing 33 laps. Electronic Arts has simply ‘over-simmed’ some areas of Castrol Honda.
You are the ace racer for the Castrol Honda team. This means that you are given one bike for the season. Yes, you heard right, one bike. There aren’t any bike upgrades or trade-ins, you are given their bike to race, and only their bike. Maybe real Superbike Racing teams only give riders a single bike, but this is a video game. I’m sure that adding a bike upgrade or bike shop feature wouldn’t hurt the realism — it would only add to the replay value. Even if EA felt this feature wouldn’t be appropriate for Superbike, then why didn’t they at least give players the opportunity to race as other teams? The other teams could have even been fictitious.
At least the game has good sim features. For instance, bike tuning is fairly innovative. Before races, you can decide whether you want manual or automatic transmission, what kind of tires you want for the front and back, and finally what the gear ratio should be set to. The transmission feature is standard, but the tire and sprocket adjustments are rare for a console racer. Soft tires will grip the road better, but hard tires will last longer. There are 20 different sprocket settings, and each have their advantages on the 15 tracks of the game. Certain sprocket settings will make the bike reach varied top speeds at each gear. This adds depth to the game, because in order to do best at each race you must perform trial and error tests for each setting and determine which settings work best on which tracks. Of course, these features aren’t innovative for the PC racing crowd, but because the rest of Castrol Honda is so pathetic, they seem to stand out more.
Where Castrol Honda fails worst is in the most vital category: the racing. Racing in this game is simply a frustrating experience. To begin with, the graphics are disappointing. The frame rate isn’t great (especially in 2 player mode), and character animation is overly jerky. When players crash, they always land in a way that can only said to resemble a turtle that has fallen its back. Furthermore, tracks lack detail, and the colors in the game seem to be veiled.
Of course, a game with bad graphics can still be fun, but Castrol Honda’s game engine prohibits that. Races are unexciting, because the computer spreads everyone out. Racers very rarely come in contact with one another, and races just feel like long time trials. In the higher difficulty settings, racing is too damn hard. The bike is sensitive, and racing well depends on your ability to adapt to the high learning curve. Unlike standard racers, navigating turns is considerably more difficult, and false moves send you flying into the air, adding damage to your bike.
Oh yeah, bike damage is a feature I forgot to mention. That’s right, crash that baby a few times and you’re out of the race. These problems may not seem so bad after you race a few laps, but try the ace difficulty setting where each race is an average of 20-25 laps. Frustratingly difficult.
Besides the detailed sim elements of bike tuning, Castrol Honda is practically featureless. In short, the graphics are bad, the racing is worse. You race one bike on bland courses, against seven opponents whom you never see. Like too many sim racers, fun is exchanged for occasional bits of realism. Give me the fun any day.