Ridge Racer Unbounded review
It’s kind of funny how much can change in a month’s time. We had just finished off (or rather, sworn off) Ridge Racer for the PlayStation Vita, a half-finished effort that had its moments, but still couldn’t escape the “same old” doldrums that had been haunting the drift-crazy racing series for years. And just like that, it’s as if Namco swooped in to answer our prayers, laying on us the unpredictably wild Ridge Racer Unbounded, a game that’s a far departure from the usual low-speed territory. Sure, some of its inspirations are borrowed — or downright stolen — from other destructive racing games, but Bugbear Interactive, the team behind the Flatout games, crafts them heartily into the Ridge Racer formula. And what a game it is.
Rather than going through the usual uninspired Ridge Racer series, you’re careening through Shatter Bay, a city that’s been built merely for the thrill of driving at top speed. Throughout the game’s campaign mode, you’ll take on events that have a “drive through mostly anything” flair, where crashing through lamp posts, bridges, gas stations and cement blocks scores you points. Never mind the fact your car miraculously survives all of this — speed is the name of the game. You’ll also gain occasional speed bursts (via drifting, tailgating and other stunts) that enable you to drive through opponents or highlighted points on the track, which can turn a shopping mall or a government building into a launch pad. Destruction is a huge part of the game, giving you points to help unlock new content throughout Shatter Bay. Like any good racing game, you can also shoot for a first place victory in events to earn a bonus, so be sure to keep that in mind.
The campaign is divided into a number of events. Domination is the best of the bunch, no-frills races where all the tactics described above are employed; Shindo races are genuine speed contests without the emphasis on blowing stuff up, good for traditional Ridge Racer fans; Drift Attacks require you to go crazy on the tire squealing; and Frag Attacks let you hunt after opponents like the sheep that they are. Hardly a good sense of variety, but there’s enough to keep you busy.
In general, the controls are great. Assigning the drift function to a button is the smartest move in the world, compared to finagling between gas and brake to get it done right. Still, some skill is required to make sure you don’t spin, so practice accordingly. The rest of the car controls are quite responsive, especially when you’re boosting, giving you that destructive edge to cut through obstructions. It’s a joyful feeling.
Being able to play on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network against friends is a nice touch, and it’s here you’re introduced to one of Unbounded’s greatest assets — the track creator. Though some elements take some getting used to (especially building tunnels — oy), it’s quite intuitive and inspires you to create tracks however you please, then share them with others. It sure beats the six or seven tracks littered throughout Ridge Racer on PS Vita, that’s for damn sure. And being able to unlock additional assets, along with cars and tracks, with points is excellent.
While Ridge Racer Unbounded may not be the most original looking game on the planet (hints of Split/Second and Blur pop up everywhere), it’s cool to see Bugbear put so much emphasis on creating somewhat new territory for the franchise. Shatter Bay is a striking place to race through, both indoors and out, and the frame rate remains consistently high, even with all the crazy action happening. What’s more, the dramatic replays are sensational, especially when you come off a jump through a building. We like the light-up indicators too — little hints that show you what you can and can’t drive through.
As for the music, it’s mostly made up of new dubstep-style tunes, though there are some classic Ridge Racer tunes sprinkled throughout for good measure. It’s a decent mix, but we would’ve preferred more of the classic style of tunes in the game than the new stuff. The engine noises are good, and the ambient destruction noises are quite suitable. Boom, boom, and repeat.
Kudos to Namco. For the second time in the past few months (following Ace Combat: Assault Horizon), they’ve managed to relaunch a franchise to the point of it being fresh again. Ridge Racer Unbounded is a crazy ride, one filled with explosions, fast-paced competition, and plenty of skillful stunts. The presentation is sharp, the gameplay is tight, and the online functions, particularly the track creator, will keep you busy. This is a good time to Unbound your wallet and invest in this racer.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]