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FIM Speedway Grand Prix 15 Review

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 15

I’ve driven a motorbike before. I’ve even done a wheelie.

Okay, I didn’t mean to do it, and once I’d gotten the bike back under control, I pulled over and had to sit still for a minute for fear of having a heart attack, but I’ve done one. What I’ve never done, however, is ride a bike at over 70 mph with one gear and no brakes around a gravel track, powersliding around the corners. But now we all can, thanks to SoftPlanet’s motorcycling sim, FIM Speedway Grand Prix 2105.

If you’ve never seen or heard of Speedway before let me enlighten you a little. As long ago as the 1920s, crazy people in Australia and the US were riding around oval “short” tracks with the throttle on their motorbike wide open, never breaking and gouging great chunks of earth out of the ground to land on all of the spectators to rapturous applause. The practice of powersliding – or, in Speedway vernacular “broadsiding” – has been around since before the First World War and is one of the most important aspects of the sport. The oval courses are traversed anti-clockwise and participants race over a number of four-lap heats over the course of a day with points going towards deciding who races in each day’s semi and final rounds. Riders get awarded points for each heat, semi and final that go towards their Grand Prix standing and the person with the most points at the end of the season is crowned the champion. Simple.

Unfortunately, FIM Speedway 15 doesn’t do the best job of explaining what’s going to happen to you when you begin the game and it doesn’t give you much help in figuring out how to drive a bike with one gear and no brakes at sickening speed around a dirt track. Yes, there’s a tutorial section where you learn some of the basics but you’ll be learning more from trial and error than you will from any coherent and relevant information given to you by the game: “Grab your pad,” it seems to say, “and let’s just see how you get on, eh?”

There are many things that FIM Speedway 15 doesn’t actually tell you. The start of a race, for instance, is governed by the raising of a few lines of tape that you’ve got to wait to be raised before unleashing your ride but it’s never made clear if the time of the tape going up will always be the same or if there’s some strategy for beating it. As a result, I’m always the last off the mark when the tape goes up and I’ve been disqualified quite a few times for jumping the gun. One of the most annoying things to discover by yourself (other than that FIM Speedway 15 is bloody hard to master and nigh on impossible in simulation mode) is that hitting the tape, going off the track or falling off the bike will end the race entirely (even a training session) and throw you right back behind the blasted tape to start all over again, rather than, say, popping you back onto the track and immediately letting you have another go.

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 15

Punishing doesn’t even begin to describe FIM Speedway 15. I’ve played a few games where failure is punished quite cruelly, but never before in a racing game have I not had the opportunity to replay a race or go to the menu screen and restart it if things aren’t going my way. The first campaign I played I went off on the first race. “Never mind,” I thought, “I’ll just redo that race”. “Oho,” says FIM Speedway 15 with a mad twinkle in its eye. “You think so, do you?”, and just like that it locks in my expulsion and zero point score, and proceeds to the next heat without even so much as a “by your leave”. After that every collision, every false start, every time my front wheel drifted ever so slightly too leftward and off that slippy gravel was a heartbreaking wrench in an embarrassing career fraught with failure and only two podium finishes. The worst part of it, though, is that I was beginning to get rather good at Speedway by the end of my season: I’d routinely beat out all of the other riders only to make a stupid mistake on the last lap; or I’d never get round the first corner due to causing a collision or misjudging the turn and hitting the wall. But FIM Speedway Grand Prix 15‘s biggest limitation is that there’s only a single season to play – there’s no career mode so, no matter how awesome a bike you’ve created, no matter how much you’ve learned in your 2015 season, you’ll have to start right back at the beginning and do it all again if you want another shot at the title.

Riding around an oval track sounds, in principle, rather boring (like NASCAR). But (unlike NASCAR), FIM Speedway 15 manages to absolutely engross the player and will not let go. The visuals are really very nice and, while the dirt isn’t sprayed in quite as dramatic fashion as in real life, they’ve managed to build in some nifty features like permanent ruts and tyre marks in the dirt. Those tyre marks are very important to the gameplay too, as the grippy areas of the track shift dynamically with each subsequent heat (though it’s leveled out occasionally), meaning that you’re going to have to decide what racing line to take: easy through the corners or stick to the outside to maximise speed. You’re always a hair’s breadth away from toppling the bike, too, and causing a collision is incredibly easy when you’ve got four guys (and it is just guys, sorry gals) at close to an 80 degree angle, broadsiding around a corner. The game also lets you watch all of the other heats, too, or skip straight to yours if you’re not interested in seeing how everyone else does. It is definitely worth keeping an eye on your rivals, though, because FIM Speedway Grand Prix 15 isn’t just about the racing – you’ve got to manage your bike properly too, including grabbing a few extra N-m of torque in critical heats to beat out the opposition.

The bike really is king in Speedway and, in FIM Speedway 15, you’re going to have to get to grips with some fundamental mechanics to get the most from your ride. Before each event you’ll have the opportunity to spend your hard-earned winnings either buying new parts – engine, clutch, frame, tyres and oil – or repairing or replacing existing parts after the stage. But it doesn’t stop there: while you’re gearing up for your heat, you can change some of the settings on your bike to adjust it to suit you, the course and your opponents. These settings include tyre pressure (to help maintain speed around the corners and grip on the track), gear ratio (faster acceleration at the cost of max speed), the maximum RPM of your engine and how much torque you get (both of which make you faster but at the cost of greater engine stress) and you will need to use them. Oval tracks might seem pretty samey but section lengths differ on each of the 12 individual (beautifully modeled) courses and you’ll have to plan ahead to make the most of that extended straight or get the quickest start to beat your rivals into that first, tight corner.

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 15

One of the things that you cannot adjust is the game’s commentary track – but I guarantee that you will certainly want to after a few heats. Though SoftPlanet have managed to recruit the “legendary” Nigel Pearson (who is a professional sports broadcaster, don’tchaknow?) the commentary track is, possibly, the driest and most useless thing I’ve ever heard in a video game (with the exception of some of Heavy Rain‘s dialogue). You get the feeling that SoftPlanet were trying to do with Mr. Pearson what Sony/EA/Codemasters did so artfully and wonderfully with Murray Walker in the F1 games except that, in FIM Speedway 2015, Pearson’s commentary is woefully repetitive, pitifully bland and frequently trips over and interrupts itself. It eventually got so bad that, on one heat, I heard something like “First place is Matej Zagar has let himself be cheated by his Ty Woffinden’s hit the air fence!” whereupon I laughed quite a lot and promptly got disqualified for leaving the track.

Another pretty big downfall of FIM Speedway 15 is that, while you can pick from plenty of current riders from the Speedway Grand Prix, the rider that you choose will have almost no bearing on how you perform (in fact, the only thing that they do is change the colour of your leathers and bike) and there’s no way of creating your own player character. There’s no leveling, either, so you never really feel as though you’re growing the character throughout the season, just changing parts on the bike. I get that that’s to make sure that you’re competitive right away but locking up some of the more elite riders until you’d gained so many victories might have added a bit of replayability to a game that I’m really disinclined to go back to anytime soon.

Despite its shortcomings, FIM Speedway 15 is really a lot of fun. Great graphics, some incredibly engaging gameplay and an “easy(ish) to learn, difficult to master” ethic (except for the simulation racing mode, which is all difficult and which – to be fair – I’ve not talked much about here because I am awful at it!) make for a thrilling game which anyone can enjoy; I even pulled a Diggy and got my wife to have a go! The problem is longevity: turns out that, if you don’t provide enough value in your game, those oval tracks really do get pretty boring pretty fast after all – no matter how much broadsiding you do.

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 15 is available on PC.