Guy Martin was always just one or two steps away from greatness. The likeable road racer from Lincolnshire notched up 17 Isle of Man TT podiums in his career but fell short of tasting victory.
All the ingredients were there: he had the machinery and talent to finish the job but for one reason or another the mutton-chopped maestro never ascended to the top of the Glencrutchery Road rostrum. Observing his undoubted pace from the comfort of my living room, I’d always wonder: “maybe next time?”
Year after year he made the pilgrimage to take on the most dangerous road race in the world, seeking that elusive win: battling big crashes, technical failures and broken bones until he called time on his TT exploits in 2017. A successful TV career beckoned – a new beginning.
There and back again
And it’s a new beginning for the TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge franchise too, as RaceWard Studio takes the reins from Kylotonn for this third outing, bringing with it a reputation for realistic motorcycle simulation.
Its previous game, RiMS Racing, was a love letter to motorcycling, featuring almost granular levels of detail in its depiction of two-wheeled racing. Although it felt unfinished, it nailed the sensation of riding a motorcycle at speed.
And it’s for this reason that TT Isle of Man: Ride on the Edge 3 (ROTE 3) is the most anticipated entry in the series yet, with fans of the first two iterations frustrated by inconsistent bike physics and iffy audio.
So, how has RaceWard fared with its interpretation of one of the most exciting and dangerous motorsport events in the world? Well, if you’re an Isle of Man TT fan this is a game you cannot ignore.
In a surprising move for the series, ROTE 3 is based solely on the Isle of Man and retains open-world elements. Gone are the fabricated roads of Ireland and Scotland, though: we now have a mixture of real and fictional Isle of Man-based circuits, including the historic Clypse and St John’s Courses.
Speaking of tracks, although the action in ROTE 3 takes place entirely on the Isle of Man, the Billown Circuit – home of the Southern 100 – is sadly absent from the track roster. Other major Road Racing events such as the North West 200 and Macau Grand Prix are also notable by their absence, which is unsurprising given their appearance in Milestone’s Ride 4.
Licencing issues aside, the Isle of Man TT (IOMTT) event is a big enough draw in itself for motorcycle enthusiasts, but the open world setting – dubbed ‘Open Roads’ – isn’t quite the Forza Horizon-style experience many were hoping for.
The full 37.73-mile Snaefell Mountain Course is bisected by Manx B roads, country lanes and narrow switchback turns, resulting in eight tracks. These eight can be split into smaller sections, giving a total of 32 layouts available to ride in dry or wet conditions (except the IOMTT course itself, as the event never runs in wet conditions).
Events can be accessed from the main map, but there are not many to participate in. Fast travel means you don’t even have to get your leathers dirty. Journal entries add a little historical and cultural flavour to proceedings but these are simple text and picture displays – no interactivity here. Other events include one-on-one battles against famous TT riders or involve fulfilling certain criteria during a run. They don’t add much variety, however.
Open Roads is an interesting idea but it’s literally just you and a relatively small network of back roads – there’s no other traffic to speak of. And don’t expect to be able to burst through stone walls and travel up Snaefell mountain… that won’t end well.
Players can choose to run in one of two classes in ROTE 3’s main campaign: Supersport or Superbike. Supersports are smaller capacity sports bikes (including select Moto 2 examples), while Superbikes are the main event, boasting over 200bhp and 200mph+ top speeds. Having only two classes is a disappointment, but RaceWard has taken a pragmatic approach:
“We chose to focus our efforts [on] the new, unique game modes [Open Roads], and then to use our physics that we implemented in RiMS Racing,” explained Head of Design at RaceWard Studio, Fabio Respighi, to Traxion.GG.
“So [these] two main missions consumed our efforts. So for now, it’s better to focus only on two categories,” he continued.
This focus on getting the game launched perhaps also explains the absence of VR, but the team has not ruled this out coming in a future update.
There are no options to create your own team and rider, and no chance to alter your bike’s livery, so the TT’s roster of bikes and riders from 2022 will have to do (BMW, Honda, Kawasaki et al are all present and correct). This means TT legends like John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson can be selected, but you’re restricted to their personal motorcycle, leathers and helmet designs.
For my first season in Supersport, I opt for McPint’s Honda CBR600RR and take advantage of the game’s Open Roads feature to ride a full lap of the TT course to warm up my creaking reflexes (much like McGuinness probably does as he enters his 52nd year).
Isle of Man-y crashes
Having played the PlayStation 2 TT Superbikes: Real Road Racing series to death, I’ve committed the entire track to memory – and it’s never looked so good. The ROTE prequels were rightly praised for their depiction of the TT course and its sensation of speed, and ROTE 3 is no different – it looks glorious in action.
That’s not to say the graphics are totally pleasing, however, as there’s frequent pop-in, especially noticeable when you tear along the wide-open mountain section. The Irish Sea’s water textures are very poor too. The game’s graphical foibles are also apparent in its photo mode, where the ability to change shutter speed is unfortunately absent.
This appears to be a relic of the KT Engine as used in Kylotonn’s WRC series, so there’s zero motion blur on your bike’s wheels even when travelling at 195mph along Sulby Straight. Disappointing.
The biggest issue I experienced, however, was choppy framerates while running the game in 4K and maximum quality settings. Reducing quality may be the best way to play ROTE 3 on all but the most powerful systems.
The fictional tracks are hit-and-miss too. The full South West Course, for example, will take around 10 minutes to complete (minus frequent visits to the scenery, mind). Frustratingly, the fictional circuits feature a lot of hairpin bends – not ideal for thoroughbred racing bikes – so mastering them is a frustrating exercise in patience.
A rewind feature is also absent and seems like a missed opportunity, as even experienced players will find themselves regularly face-planting the road furniture.
ROTE 3 does feature pitstops, thankfully, but they are largely automated, barring fuel load adjustments. The pitstop animation is pretty neat though, even if the mechanics forget to put your front wheel back on…
While we’re nit-picking, the external bike sounds are weedy, lacking the punch of the largely excellent onboard audio. RaceWard will be attending the 2023 edition of the IOMTT at the end of this month (29th May-10th June), hopefully more trackside sound samples are on the agenda. The team has already confirmed 2023 liveries will arrive as DLC at a later date.
The career mode can be confusing too, with eight Unofficial Qualifying and eight Unofficial Race Events to complete before players are allowed to take on the Official Supersport or Superbike TT Qualifying and Race.
Weirdly, however, corresponding Unofficial Qualifying and Race events take place on different tracks, so you qualify via a time trial – with an accompanying practise session – then jump across the island to begin racing. Oh, and there’s no practise session before the event, so you’re going in blind.
Starting a race isn’t quite as easy as you’d think either, as you need to hold in the clutch using the LB/L1 button. Failing to do this incurs a jump-start time penalty. I fell victim to this on several, controller-snapping occasions.
But the kicker is you can’t slip the clutch like you’d normally see during a real-world TT-style standing start, so your bike lurches forward before the onboard anti-wheelie system activates and the engine bogs down (strangely, the BMW S1000RR 2019 Superbike is the only machine I’ve tested that gets off the line perfectly every time).
Re-mapping the clutch to an analogue axis didn’t work for me on PC with my DualShock 4 gamepad but switching to an old Xbox 360 controller did the trick (we tested this on the PlayStation 5 version too without issue). Effectively using this method is a different matter altogether, though, so I persevered with the vanilla mappings.
When up to speed, you may notice the lack of a slipstream effect: drafting is a huge element of bike racing so this is a glaring omission.
Doing well in events gains you EXP and bike upgrade points, increasing your rider level and allowing you to add better parts to your motorcycle. It’s a rudimentary system, but it allows motorcycle tuning; adjusting gear ratios, suspension settings, tyre pressures and fuel load.
It’s detailed enough to satisfy sim enthusiasts but not too complicated to alienate beginners.
King of the Mountain?
So, we’ve established ROTE 3 has a limited career mode, confusing aspects and modest visuals. But its handling model almost makes up for all its foibles.
The bikes feel weighty to control, with bumps, jumps and wheelies handled exceptionally well by the game’s physics engine. Sure, they’re difficult to control. Very difficult. But the feeling when threading your way past the wall at Handley’s, or tackling the 140mph+ Brandish and Ballagarey corners is simply glorious.
The run from the start line down through Bray Hill towards Quarterbridge at flat-chat makes you feel like a superhero; a superhero like ROTE 3’s handling consultant and real-world TT rider Davey Todd. Todd even used the ROTE series to practise for his TT debut in 2018 and has waxed lyrical about the current game. He’s got a point.
Your bike bobs, dips and dives depending on the road surface, camber and your brake application, making it feel alive and under your control… right up until it’s out of control. Once you’ve got on top of your riding technique and mastered the tracks, the feeling is special – a definite improvement over the previous ROTE games.
It’s not perfect – steering correction can see your motorcycle lurching slowly from kerb to kerb – but there’s less of the floaty feeling you’d associate with other modern motorcycle games. Much of the problem is the game’s iffy dynamic racing line anyway, a feature carried over from the game’s prequel.
Learning the tracks is crucial, but so it should be.
Look to the future
Many players won’t be able to look beyond ROTE 3’s vertical learning curve and scant content, but IOMTT and motorcycle game fans will savour its challenging and rewarding physics model.
There are rider aids to tone down the difficulty, with the ability to alter traction control, ABS, anti-wheelie and electronic braking systems on-the-fly with the D-pad. And they work well, taking the edge off the game’s trickier elements.
An esports series is also promised post-release, including public PvP online racing. Players earn TT Esports points across several events to qualify for the in-person finals at the real-world IOMTT in 2024. Public and private lobbies are available from launch too, replete with cross-generational play (but sadly not cross-platform).
At its core, ROTE 3 is a challenging and immersive title with an unsurpassed depiction of the Snaefell Mountain Course. On its Ride on the Edge debut, RaceWard Studio has impressively nailed the fundamentals of TT riding – hardcore Isle of Man TT fans will lap it up.
But just like Guy Martin’s Isle of Man TT record, RaceWard hasn’t quite made it to the top step of the podium.
Maybe next time?
|Release date||11th May 2023|
|Available platforms||PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC|
|Best played with||Gamepad|
Full disclosure: This game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Here is our review policy.