A couple of years back, when Kylotonn had its first crack at the Isle of Man’s frankly absurd annual road race, the ambition of the whole enterprise made it easy to forgive any rough edges. Here was the 37.73 mile Snaefell Mountain Course, surely motorsport’s most audacious challenge and an anomaly in the modern era, served up in high fidelity and with the scale – and the scariness – intact. It was worth a punt just to experience that achievement, despite the ramshackle nature of the rest of the package. Now the sequel’s come along and smoothed all that out and more, it’s so much easier to recommend. Indeed, it’s probably the best racing game on two wheels I’ve played in an age.
Which isn’t to say that TT Isle of Man 2 is without its flaws. There are compromises, some fuzzy design and several basic features are plain missing – but they’re far outweighed by all the things Kylotonn does right, so let’s start there. Perhaps the biggest change this time out is how much more approachable it all is. Threading a few hundred horsepower down narrow country lanes is a pretty daunting prospect, so it’s only wise that TT Isle of Man 2 eases you in.
It does this with a swift tutorial, though it’s also fairly throwaway. More convincing is how TT Isle of Man 2 builds its way up to the headline event, its career mode pushing you through some more sedate – well, relatively sedate – road races before you’re unleashed on the island itself. What’s truly wonderful is that after a small handful of these you’ll be able to access TT Isle of Man 2’s Free Roam mode, a moderately-sized open world complete with miles of the open roads from which the game’s fictional tracks are made. The maps themselves are kind-of-condensed takes on real UK places – and if you’re picking up some Forza Horizon vibes then you’re not alone, and I’m sure that’s entirely intentional.
Cribbing off what’s arguably the finest racing series we’ve had this past generation certainly isn’t a bad idea, and it puts TT Isle of Man 2 in good stead. That’s not to say it’s quite as glorious as Playground Games’ series – the challenges on offer in free roam are familiar (there are speed traps and timed sections of road, for example) but not as plentiful, and TT Isle of Man 2 certainly isn’t a looker. The introduction of variable time and weather conditions, lifted from last year’s WRC8, certainly helps (though note that wet weather racing isn’t on offer here, just as it’s not an option in the real TT – the riders are mad, but they’re not quite that stupid), but be aware that if you’re playing on console 60fps isn’t a thing, even on beefed-up machines like the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.
The thing that developer Kylotonn has really taken to heart from the Horizon series, though, is accessibility. It’s the kind of accessibility that comes when you have a handling model that makes sense – and what’s on offer here is a lot more logical than the occasionally errant model of Kylotonn’s first Isle of Man game. I can’t pretend to have any real knowledge or experience of what it’s like to ride a superbike at full chat around public roads, but I do know that TT Isle of Man 2 feels close to how I’d imagine one of these things feel. Approximating bike handling always seems like a much harder art to pin down than their four-wheel counterparts, but Kylotonn makes light work of it; there’s a new, more pronounced sense of balance and a satisfying feeling of weight as you lean these things in wide arcs around narrow roads. There’s neat feedback when your front wheel lifts under acceleration, or when you catch a speed wobble before taming it by shifting the weight around. In short, the bikes feel good.
As good as they have in any bike game I’ve played, though that’s not to say this isn’t without its challenges. There’s an achievement for falling off your bike 50 times, and I can guarantee it’ll be the first you’ll unlock, but even then tackling the TT course itself is much less daunting than it was before. Small mistakes still have big consequences – as they should, given the subject matter – and there’s no rewind feature here, though some concessions have been made given how long a single lap of the TT course takes. You can duck out at any point in a race and then resume without having to mess around with menus as TT Isle of Man 2 is smart enough to know to do so automatically.
It’s not all perfect. The career is a noble attempt at adding some structure to it all, and there are some neat ideas – you’ll need a certain number of signatures on your license before you can take on the TT, for example, while there’s a variety of different events to help mix things up – but it’s clumsily implemented and the best path through the lattice of events isn’t immediately obvious. More disappointing is the perks and upgrade system that’s been sloppily placed on top of your progress – an illogical mess that undermines the authenticity you’ll find elsewhere.
There remains a disparity between the grandeur and authenticity of the TT course and the other fictional tracks that are on offer (and yes, once again there’s no North West 200 or Southern 100, with the road racing licence seemingly restricted to the Isle of Man event itself), and it’s worth noting that production levels aren’t the best you’ll come across. The in-game music is beyond atrocious, I’ve encountered several bizarre visual bugs and I’m disappointed by the lack of customisation options for your rider.
But I’m most definitely not disappointed in TT Isle of Man 2, which makes bigger strides than I’d hoped for on an original that I was already smitten with. Kylotonn’s recreation of that grand old course was already proven first time out, and this time they’ve smartly built outwards while simultaneously making a two-wheeled racing game that’s as approachable and satisfying as any other I’ve played this generation. More importantly, it’s faithful to the speed and spectacle of one of motorsport’s wildest attractions. This is brilliant stuff.