In spite of a few scratches to its paint job, Ride 4 proves itself to be a decent showroom piece to add to your gaming collection. With real-world venues from across the globe and 176 bikes from the top manufacturers, it definitely has a lot to take in with its total package. Robust customization options and solid gameplay mechanics ensure it's definitely a game worth coming back to again and again, in spite of some flaws that hold it back from being the ultimate biking experience; it scores a bronze medal.
Featuring an array of options, from the physics and AI difficulty, to the suspension and transmission, you'll have what you need to find what will best fit your level of experience, satisfying everyone from the casual to die-hard. If that doesn't convince you to put on a helmet, there are additional assists to help improve your racing experience; racing lines, automatic tuck-in, and others - but, most importantly, the rewind feature allows you to go back and retry areas of the track after a mistake.
As you collect motorcycles, you'll have the ability to add an impressive number of decals to them, giving each a custom look that's uniquely yours. With a fairly decent number of shapes and alphanumerics, if you can break your design into a table of basic geometry you should be able to build it within the 2,000 layers allotted to you. You'll even be able to share your designs online with other players across the globe. These options also extend to the racer's suit and helmet for added player customization. Getting really creative with this feature can keep you preoccupied for hours on end, as you create the perfect designs to show off to the world.
The controls feel about as responsive as one could expect. Accelerating, turning, and stopping all feel great, with wheelies and drifting taking a fair amount of practice to perfect, as drifting too tightly around corners will have you and your bike parting ways. Respect your vehicle around turns, and don't push it too hard, and it will guide you to a 1st place victory.
It feels great to catch up to and pass your adversaries. Even better when you send them flying off their bikes while keeping a hold of yours. Mastering the art of speeding around inclines is a great feeling. Doing it consistently is even more fun. As you become better at the game, you'll be able to disable racing lines, increase A.I. difficulty, turn on realistic physics simulation, and the first-person view. This allows for plenty of depth, in gameplay terms, making Ride 4 easy to pick up but difficult to master.
Of course, in most cases you won't race alone. You'll compete against a maximum of 11 other racers offline, or online, as each of you strives to make it to the finish line. Offline game modes include career mode, single races, endurance races, and time trials; local multiplayer is noticeably absent though, sadly. Some modes require a specific category of motorcycles to participate, however if you lack what you need or haven't unlocked many bikes, you may use the loan feature to freely borrow vehicles (except in career mode), so that you're able to reasonably enjoy all game modes. Online games appear to be nice and responsive, assuming you've got a good, hardline connection. For this review, the game was played with an Ethernet cable and gigabit internet, and racing against opponents in Europe from the US didn't have any perceivable drawbacks. A great, lag-free experience!
Online lobbies may be customized, using a variety of options to put everyone on even footing or to assist your casual friend. Choose which classes of motorcycles to allow, the number of laps, physics level, transmission types, tire wear, and more to customize your lobby. Just keep in mind that A.I. controlled motorists are not available online. Though, the A.I. admittedly has questionable decision-making at times, becoming a hazard to be wary of while racing, often having blunders irrespective of the player's input. It should improve over-time, however, as the A.I. is a new machine-learning, neural network system.
The single biggest struggle for Ride 4 is its previously mentioned time attack mode - as a game-mode on its own it's fine, however it's also a featured event that must be passed across several courses for you to receive your regional license, which unlocks different tiers and categories of races in career mode. It's really challenging - tough as nails for beginners in fact, and you cannot progress through career mode without overcoming this massive barrier. You must complete the track, without going the slightest bit off course, while finishing within a pre-determined time frame, which has been fine-tuned by the developer. There's no choice in which bike to use for these events either. If you're thinking this is all fine because you'll simply use the rewind feature or enable ghosts, both are disabled during these events. While it's understandable as to why the rewind feature is disabled, at the very least ghosts should be enabled so that players can see what others have done right and have a reasonable chance of improving on their own mistakes, rather than needing to resort to community-uploaded videos on YouTube. This is, without a doubt, the game's biggest fault.
Not everyone who plays Ride 4 is going to be resilient or tenacious, trying to grind the same track for what could take several days (from personal experience), just to progress in the career mode. As much as Ride 4 tries to help new players, it's a shame how it really shuts them down so abruptly with the regional license events. It can be unfair, as the actual races the player is being locked out of are easier than the prerequisites themselves. It's as if the player is being forced to sprint before learning to crawl.
The game's menus will also lead to a bit of frustration as time goes on as well. Restarting the event from the on-screen prompt will notify you that any unsaved progress will be lost. What this actually means is you will not receive credits, nor model/affinity points. Meaning if you've earned points and want to keep them you must proceed through, exit the course, and then reload the entire event again. For reasons unknown, after constantly repeating the event you'll eventually be awarded credits and model/affinity points, which is a good thing. However, you should keep this in mind if you're attempting higher medals and are constantly getting bronze - restarting with the circle button will mean you're not actually getting rewarded for all the times you've gotten bronze.
The results screen is also the only chance you'll have to view your replay. It would be nice if the game saved replays for viewing at a later time, as they can be important for helping players improve. The rewind feature is most likely the best for building up your skills though, being readily available to you as you need it, and only requiring a simple input mid-race.
On the topic of the menu screens, one quality of life change that would be appreciated is having sub-set notifications for menus. Finding things such as the livery from the main menu, for example, can be difficult until you've memorized specifically where it is. You may find yourself clicking through every menu category, just to see what's specified in each one. Other games will at least show you the sub-categories as you scroll past, which makes for faster navigation, saving a bit of time.
At least the game's various menus are accompanied by upbeat jazzy, drum and bass, and lo-fi music. The only complaints here are that there's not much of it, and what is there only plays during specific screens, such as only during a transitional/load screen, or only during a replay, or only in the main menu, and no music at all is played during the actual races. This means that, even though there are more than four tracks included in the game, that's about the number of pieces you'll hear in total. The music that is there sounds great, though.
As for the other sounds in the game, they're passable. Mileage will, of course, vary depending on your familiarity with the various bikes and other games in the genre, but not all the motorcycles in the game sound exactly like they do in real life. Crashing against a wall made of a particular surface always produces the same sound too, and if you hit the same wall multiple times in the same crash this takes away from the impact.
In contrast to Ride 4's superb racing physics, ragdoll physics used during collisions don't help to deliver the impact of crashes. Many times, racers will flop and spin through the air, as if they're actively trying to break all their limbs, comically twirling through the air like out-of-control propeller blades. They'll also bounce like rubber off of walls following serious wrecks. Sometimes multiple racers will seemly animate identically after crashing as well. Hands will go through handlebars and feet into the road during turns, and entire bodies through bikes after a crash. Compounding the issue of ragdoll physics is the fact that there aren't many spectators either.
This all not only does a disservice to the immersion but the graphics as well. Shadows can appear to have a small grid-like pattern. Other times, they'll be filled in and smoothed out. Textures, like the dirt areas on the VIRginia International Raceway, will look especially blurry and the grass flat (as if it's been painted), the farther away it is from the camera. Fortunately much of the time this is hardly noticeable, as Ride 4 is a racing game, so things are constantly moving. The game also features time and weather settings, which actually help the game's visual aesthetics. Cloudy weather, rain, and the dark of night are where Ride 4 looks best.
All in all, Ride 4 attempts to help newcomers get their footing, however the difficulty of the regional licenses in career mode ruins what good the game tries to do to keep those players feeling like they belong in the community of long-time fans of the series. It essentially makes the game feel smaller by locking out career mode as if it's DLC that must be paid for in blood, sweat, and tears. That's a shame, as Ride 4 really seems like a passion project done by enthusiasts and it feels great when everything is working as intended. Seeing the in-game courses may even generate interest in their real-world versions. The same goes for the motorcycles themselves. It also has paid and free DLC options planned for the future. Additional bikes are being added through patches, even before the game's official release, showing the developer is sticking by the project. And the option to create custom paint jobs and helmets can lead to hours of enjoyment, especially when it comes to sharing your creations online with others.
Even though there are a few slight oversights, and the strictness in one key area definitely holds the game back from being the best it could be, the level of customisation and the core gameplay ensure that Ride 4 is ultimately a very enjoyable experience.
This review is based on a digital copy of Ride 4 for the PS4, provided by the publisher.
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