For a medium that allows us to live vicariously through a controller, motorbikes should be perfect fodder. With their small bodies and gut-punch power, bikes are exhilarating and dangerous. Think a crash in a car is bad? Wait till you’re flung from two wheels through an advertising board forty yards away. In real life, it’s a disaster. In TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 2, it’s nothing but a minor setback as your avatar flashes back to life, Yamaha intact. All the excitement of the real thing minus the danger? Sign me up.
Odd, then, that bikes are so often left out in the cold. Take the exhaustive museum-like detail lavished to period and modern vehicles in Gran Turismo. Or the sheer sense of glamor found in a Forza Horizon. Nothing on two wheels has ever had the same treatment. And while TT Isle of Man 2 isn’t the answer (it’s nowhere near as meticulous as Gran Turismo, or as pretty as Forza Horizon) it does sell high-octane motorbiking like nothing else. Dip in for a Quick Race, embark on a Season or jump Online and you come away with the same thought: It’s as if I’m really riding one of these deathtraps.
Two wheels make all the difference. Light and fast, turns come out of nowhere. Keep your eyes peeled and be ready to make small adjustments while resisting the temptation to lunge into bends. In the cockpit view, you can almost taste the tarmac, the sense of speed terrifying, the visor claustrophobic, the popcorn crackle of a gear shift like a scream. Bumps in the road threaten to throw you off course; often you will fall, the bike dropping precipitously, falling away like a wave as it drops under heavy braking, the rumble in the triggers telling you what you already know: that you’re riding on the edge of disaster.
Get it right and you become one with the road in an almost hallucinatory daze before a little thought pricks your concentration. Don’t crash. Suddenly the easiest bend is hard work, the gentlest corner insurmountable. Yet you finally cross the finish line, exhausted and laughing and very much alive. It’s tough, too. There’s a small penalty every time you restart a race and no rewind feature in play. On Medium and Hard, it’s not unusual to enter a time trial and find drivers overtaking you from the back of the queue. In towing the perfect racing line, your computer-controlled opponents can seem like metronomes — to a fault. But crucially, when you brush the margins of the track and spill across the road, you’re quietly aware that it’s you and not the game that’s at fault.
The bulk of your time will be spent in Career mode. Here, you race in events throughout the year with the goal of qualifying for the Isle of Man TT, a real event that takes place on public roads closed for the occasion. Pundits call it the most dangerous race in the world. Little wonder. With 200 miles to navigate, you’ll need to draw on everything you’ve learned — as well as rewards you’ve picked up during the season — to make it through unscathed.
Make it back to the menus in one piece and things start to go downhill. Small details feel like an afterthought. Unattractive text is obtrusive. Menu music is awful. Even the loading screens feel like a budget offering, while the less said about the introductory tutorial the better. Perhaps it’s a budgetary issue, but full-bodied this is not. Then again, there’s a precedence for this, one that plays out on the soccer pitch every year – the annual race between FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer. The former is interested in licensing and pageantry while the other channels its smaller resources into capturing the essence of a particular art form. TT Isle of Man 2 is very much in the second bracket.
Of course, the larger problem is completely outside the game’s control. Namely, that bikes aren’t as popular as cars. Go online and there are very few players doing the rounds, with sparsely populated events even weeks after the initial release. Is it a surprise? Perhaps not. Biking is always going to be a niche pursuit. Cars, with all their history, and all their varied shapes and sizes, are easy to admire. Bikes — be it a 1960s MV Augusta or a modern BMW — simply don’t strike the same chord in a casual fan.
Still, you judge a game on its merits, and no other game in memory has nailed the precarious tight-rope act of navigating a 1000cc bike through narrow winding paths. When those paths widen, as they do on some tracks, you clamp down on the triggers and go for broke. If you’ve ever wondered what high-stakes biking is like, here’s your chance. TT Isle of Man 2 makes you respect the people that do this stuff for a living and few sims capture the essence of their sport with the same precision. Bravo.
This review is based on the Xbox One X version of the game. A copy was provided by Nacon.