I’ve never been a fan of the Ridge Racer (go ahead, I dare you to read that without mimicking Sony’s Kaz “Riiiiiiidge Racer” Hirai) series, as my tastes typically skew toward more realistic racing games like Forza and Gran Turismo. However, there’s one over-the-top arcade racing franchise that I’ve always found hugely enjoyable: Bugbear Interactive’s FlatOut. Equal parts paint-trading racer and demolition derby simulator, FlatOut reveled in the glory of vehicular destruction and featured a cutting-edge physics engine. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when I found out that Bugbear was tapped to develop the latest Ridge Racer game, the first time an entry in the long-running franchise is being crafted by a studio outside of Namco. From what I saw at a Namco Bandai event this week, this may turn out to be a great decision by the powers-that-be.
The first thing I noticed about Ridge Racer Unbounded was the setting, which eschews the pretty outdoor environments prevalent in the previous game for a grittier, urban locale. This is street racing through and through, as players will zip through the narrow corridors of a modern-day concrete jungle. Still, it carries some game mechanics over from previous Ridge Racer games, namely drifting and drafting, which earn you precious Power. As you perform either of these actions, you’ll gradually build up the Power gauge located at the bottom right of the screen. While Power looks a lot like just another boost/turbo ability, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Utilizing Power will give you a massive boost of speed and strength, allowing you to smash through walls to create shortcuts or “frag” your opponents. For example, once my gauge was completely full, I noticed a number of walls on which targets appeared when I was in close proximity. While my fellow racers had to go around a large garage, I was able to smash through a wall and cut straight through it, blasting out the other side in cinematic fashion as I was launched from the third story to the ground below. In the process, I regained valuable time and created a shortcut that could be used the next time around the track. Of course, once the hole was open, my opponents could start using it too.
As I mentioned above, you can also frag your foes, using your Power to wreck their cars instantly. It’s all a lot of messy fun, and by the end of the race there were car parts and hazardous chunks of the environment littering the track. In this way, Ridge Racer Unbounded felt a lot like the FlatOut series, which featured a robust physics engine that allowed for tons of lasting environmental damage. My only issue with it at this point is that there doesn’t seem to be much that can slow players down. I was pushed into a number of low cement walls that I was sure would impeded my progress, but instead I blew right through them like they were tissue paper.
Ridge Racer Unbounded sounds like it’ll be deeper than straight-up racing games, as there’s even an RPG system of sorts. After each race, you’ll be rewarded with points that will go towards leveling you up. From what I saw, each level will net you new cars, although I’d guess that you’ll also be able to upgrade your existing rides. The game also features the ability to create and share your own tracks, although Namco Bandai wasn’t showing this off quite yet. It sounds like a simple process, utilizing a tile system that will allow players to simply and quickly put pieces together. Hopefully this will include the ability to check your created track out in real-time, hopping in for a quick drive before hopping out to make tweaks.
All in all, Ridge Racer Unbounded looks like it represents a completely new direction for the series, one that this racing fan welcomes. There’s no word if Bugbear’s managed to slip in any of the wacky Ragdoll Olympics events that pushed FlatOut to the next level of insanity, but my fingers are crossed that this will be the case. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.