There's a part of me that's always fancied riding a racing motorbike around a track, hurtling down the straights and leaning into the corners with my knees millimetres above the ground. But then the sane part of me realises that I would almost certainly kill myself and that this would probably not be A Good Thing.
Ducati Challenge on the iPhone/iPad offers the best of both worlds - the chance to hurtle around a racetrack on Ducati bike without any element of personal risk (other than RSI if you play it too much). At least that's the theory.
Unfortunately, it's a theory that proves about as reliable as the one that suggests the Moon is made of cheese. Whilst Ducati Challenge is a good idea in theory, the execution leaves much to be desired.
The game has a fairly traditional racing structure. You get on your bike and ride around a series of circuits in an attempt to prove you are the best rider. Finishing in the higher positions will unlock additional tracks which offer further challenge.
One of the (many) things I found very disappointing about Ducati Challenge was the graphics. Although the actual tracks themselves are reasonable well-designed and imaginative, allowing for a combination of flat-out straights and testing bends, the rest of the graphics are rather minimalist. There is virtually no roadside furniture (beyond the odd sign and a few stands devoid of any noticeable crowds) which makes for a very boring looking game. The main bike and rider are animated well and quite colourful, but apart from that, everything is made up of greys, greens and relatively muted colour. Ducati Challenge would have been slammed for primitive graphics back in the days of the 16 bit machines; when compared to today's games, it just looks really poor.
Worse still, it impacts on the sensation of speed. Since there is no scenery to rush by, there is no real feeling of speed in the game - surely the single most important things in a racing game? Riding along at (say) 40 mph is virtually indistinguishable from supposedly racing along at 140mph and this drains the game of any real sense of excitement.
Even more inexcusably, the game sometimes freezes (presumably because of the demands being placed on the processor.) This is pretty poor in any game, but in a racing game it is catastrophic. Racing games require silky smooth graphics that endlessly flow, creating a real feeling of speed. Every time the game freezes, it totally destroys any sense of speed and with it, any sense of atmosphere.
Initially I thought this could be my fault. I originally played it on a now-relatively ancient iPhone 3GS and the game is optimised for the iPad or later phones. However, once I got my hands on an iPad I went back and played again, in the hopes it would be better. Sadly, whilst the freezing was less of an issue, the other criticisms still stand. In any case, the developers clearly stated that the game will run on the 3GS, so it's reasonable to assume that the basics will work OK. It's a bit like watching a film on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray. Yes, you will notice the difference in quality on later formats, but you don't expect the VHS version to play at half the speed or miss out key scenes due to technical restrictions.
Sound is equally weak. There are the usual innocuous tunes which I can take or leave, but the real disappointment is the in-game effects. I expected a massive throaty roar from the bike as you engaged the throttle and the excited cheers of the crowd as they roared you on to victory. What I got was a pathetic little whine that made the powerful Ducati sound like a little moped and a few pathetic bits of white noise that may (or may not) have been meant to represent cheering.
Ducati Challenge also handles like a dead dog. There are a few control methods available, but the default ones (tilt controls for movement and two panels which for throttle/braking) are no better or worse than any of the alternatives. They work OK, but not wonderfully and just occasionally, they feel a little unresponsive and difficult to judge. There were a number of times when I lost crucial seconds because the game didn't respond in time, or it was difficult to gauge the degree of tilt needed to successfully navigate the bend.
Controls can also be somewhat invasive. Whilst you can control braking manually, if the game feels you are approaching a corner too fast, it will automatically hit the brakes and slow you down. Whilst this is a helpful feature for newcomers (and, in fairness, it can be turned off) it's frustrating for those of us who are used to racing games and have developed our own particular style and approach over the years. I tend to have a very aggressive approach to driving (in games, at least!) and don't want to be told when to use the brakes.
The long term challenge is also pretty limited. Although it comes with three modes (Easy, Medium and Hard) consisting of a number of different tracks, they are fairly limited and are not actually that hard to complete. There also aren't that many. If you persevere with the game, you will soon find that you have raced seen all the tracks and there is not much reason to go back. Yes, there are achievements to be unlocked and the lure of beating your best time; but to be honest, the chances are you'll prefer, instead, to move onto other, better games.
It's a shame that there are so many negatives to Ducati Challenge because there is a really promising game buried under there. Done right, racing games are brilliant fun offering instant playability) with long term fun. If you're prepared to overlook the many flaws, Ducati Challenge is not a total dead loss. There are times when it is actually quite fun to play. Most racing games are car-based, so it's refreshing to see one that features a motorbike; tracks are well-designed and you do get a feeling of achievement when you sweep past a rival biker. It's just that the flaws and niggles all add up to make this far less enjoyable than it should be.
I really, really wanted to like Ducati Challenge. Sadly, it appears the technology is just not up to creating a true 3D racer on the iPhone. A potentially promising game is destroyed by a lack of speed and lacklustre controls. It's also over-priced because at £1.49 even if you download it, the chances are it won't stay on your phone for long.
© Copyright SWSt 2012