Ridge Racer has been a pretty big franchise for Namco Bandai, with it appearing on a multitude of consoles since its debut on the PlayStation One. But with so many iterations out there, the formula has become quite stale; the recent handheld versions did little to champion Ridge Racer's cause. It's for that reason that Namco Bandai decided to broaden the net. They enlisted a new developer, Bugbear Entertainment and tasked them with taking the franchise in a new direction. The result, is Ridge Racer: Unbounded.
Before we get too carried away, yes, Unbounded is still a driving game and yes, there's still plenty of drifting action. However, the game has a much more "realistic" vibe now. Instead of driving through nice vistas and rural towns that contain the biggest corners you've ever seen, now you'll be driving through city streets, trying to inflict as much carnage as possible.
When you first start off, you're greeted with Shatter Bay, a fairly generic looking place that will serve as your hub. From here, you'll have nine individual locations you can drive in, each of which is unlocked through your progress. The idea, is that they offer a different part of the city, but they all feel quite similar despite this.
There are a few different types of race that you can experience and each has its own unique appeal and challenge. Time Attack is all about getting from start to finish as quickly as possible, while you've also got Shindo, a form of street race. Further to this, there's Drifting and Domination.
The different modes offer a nice amount of variety and the fact there's a reward system associated with each race that does mean there's a little extra bit of spice. If you don't meet certain objectives, it becomes harder and harder to unlock future events.
When it comes to the driving itself, here's where things are mixed up a little. Drifting and boosting are core parts of the Ridge Racer universe, and they've been retained for this version, just in a slightly different guise.
In previous Ridge Racer titles, drifting was a pretty simple art to execute, but it was also a core part of the experience. In Unbounded, it's a little more complicated. To perform a drift, you have to use the handbrake and brake in tandem with each other and if you get it slightly wrong, things won't turn out so well. Apply the brake too soon and you'll end up going too slow to drift, apply it too late and your drift will just see you slamming into a wall.When it comes to boosting, it does give a nice increase in speed, but its primary purpose is often to cause destruction. If you so much as touch another car while boosting, they will almost certainly get fragged. You can also use this to blow up set pieces on the track. This might be smashing through a brick wall to create a shortcut, or destroying a massive oil tanker to cause a shockwave frag. It creates some nice elements, although it's not so fun when opponents start fragging you.
Unbounded is a very unforgiving game in this sense and it's primarily due to the game's two core features - the boost and drift. If you're on the wrong end of someone else's boost, or you mess up a drift, you can easily find yourself way down in the race rankings. Sometimes it's best to just start again, because it can be tricky to make the time up. It doesn't exactly scream arcade racer, as the game's demeanour might suggest it should.
This is perhaps where Unbounded goes wrong, because Bugbear has attempted to implement the two staples of the franchise in a different way, but the execution doesn't feel all that natural.
Graphically, Ridge Racer: Unbounded is a mixture of success and failure. The basic product looks good, with solid car models and tracks that are very detailed and destructible. However, other elements cause it to lose its sheen. Collisions and car damage just look poor, especially in comparison to what other developers have been able to accomplish and it makes the frags look pretty lame.
Perhaps the game's biggest draw comes with the multiplayer aspect, and being able to create your own tracks, which you can share with other people. As you play through the single-player campaign, you will unlock more and more track pieces and these can be pulled together to make pretty interesting courses. They can't be made too complicated, but when you've got quite far through the single-player, there's a lot of variety in even the long straights. You can also go quite granular, adding individual obstacles to specific sections of the track.
Ridge Racer: Unbounded is perhaps not the revitalised experience Namco Bandai were hoping for when they took on Bugbear Entertainment, but it's certainly not a dismal failure either. In fact, it's competent in quite a few ways, with the core driving experience providing a good challenge and the track creation tools providing nice replay value. There's just no getting away from the fact that this type of game has already been made many times before in recent years, and there are better options out there.
|It's nice that Bugbear tried to carry over the series' core elements.|
|Track creation is pretty cool.|
|When you nail a drift, it's pretty sweet.|
|Some of the game's visuals are very ropey.|
|The variety is there in terms of quantity, but it all starts to feel rather samey.|
|The execution of drifting/boosting doesn't feel that natural.|