It just shouldn’t exist, really. The Isle of Man TT, a yearly event that turns the island’s roads into the world’s most daunting race track, is an anomaly – a relic of a bygone age when motorsport was raw, untamed and shockingly lethal. An epic course that thunders between the towns of Douglas, Ramsey and Peel and climaxes on the climbs of the Snaefell mountain road, it makes the Nordschleife look like a seaside karting track; modern day legends such as Michael Dunlop and John McGuinness, their elbows scraping the hedgerows of islander’s front gardens as they speed past at 180mph, are heroes of a different order. Or reckless fools, if you want to look at it another way.
It’s been paid tribute to in numerous ways over the years – you can start with George Formby’s 1935 film No Limit, if you wish, but I’d recommend the brilliant documentary TT Closer to the Edge and Rick Broadbent’s colourful account in That Near-Death Thing – but never really done justice in a video game. AM3’s Manx TT Superbike – the follow-up to Sega Rally – put the race through Sega’s lysergic 90s arcade racer filter, while Polyphony Digital’s team were spotted driving the island a few years back for a project that’s still yet to surface, but now, at long last, we have the real deal: a laser scanned reproduction of the Snaefell Mountain course, all 37.73 miles and 264 corners of it.
And it is a glorious thing. Set out from Douglas, across Bray Hill and out into the wilds; go forth to conquer corners with such bucolic names as Ballacrye Bend, Kerrowmoar and Brandywell. It’s a country ride that’s been fully weaponised; long and winding canopied roads giving way to small villages with their Spar supermarkets and please drive responsibly signs, all passing at eye-watering speeds. Towards the end of a lap, which takes just under 20 minutes to complete, there’s the Snaefell mountain itself, visible from some miles away and looming ever larger until you’re on its climbs and ascending into the heavens. The sense of place is impeccable.
TT Isle of Man does a sterling job of bringing it all alive, which might come as a mild surprise given that the two-wheel heritage of developer Kylotonn stretches to the risible Motorcycle Club. This, though, takes cues from its more successful recent WRC outings, taking the approachable handling of those games and transposing them to the superbikes on offer here. It’s pretty effective too, and while it’s not be quite the measure of the more seasoned developer Milestone’s efforts the tools are there to make handling the TT course a pleasure – and, if you peel away the assists, there’s a savage heart there too.
If the sense of place helps sell the fantasy, it’s the sense of speed where Isle of Man TT really excels. Watch as your rider pulls themselves closer to the fairing and you can’t help but lean in yourself, peering over the fly-smattered windshield as you place more weight on the front wheels as they buck and float over the dips and rises of the isle’s roads. This isn’t the first game to attempt to replicate the bare-knuckled sport that is road racing – as recently as Milestone’s own Ride 2 we had a take on the North West 200 – but it’s the most effective by far.
There’s more to this game than just the Isle of Man TT itself, of course – but it’s beyond that main event that it all begins to fall apart more than a little. Credit to Kylotonn for bolstering the track line-up with some fictional tracks – there are jaunts across the Hertfordshire and West Sussex countryside among others, as well as a tight street circuit in Wales that races headlong through multi-coloured freight containers – all of which are just fine, but are all a little bloodless when placed next to the mighty TT course.
Maybe it’s fitting, too, given the makeshift nature of the TT, that the front-end is so haphazardly cobbled together, but to call it functional would be overly generous. It’s a mess that underlines what is a meagre package (and when even the loading screens are prone to tearing, you know this isn’t really big ticket stuff). The bike list is slim, with only superbikes and supersports represented (sidecars are coming as part of a free future update), and the career is a thin excuse of a mode, while the AI’s so ineffective you’ll be thankful that for the most part Isle of Man TT utilises the staggered starts of the event itself where it’s simply riders and their machines pitted against the clock and the road.
This is a middling bike game, wrapped up in a pretty awful package, but at its heart is one of the most magnificent spectacles you’ll find in any modern racer. If you’ve any love for racing games, forgive the hay bales and rough markers that have been hastily erected, and just luxuriate in one of the finest achievements in the genre to date. This shouldn’t really exist, but I’m so very grateful that it does.