Game: Ridge Racer Unbounded
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
The Ridge Racer series of games have some die-hard fans, I couldn’t go into an arcade in my youth and not be greeted with the sound of “RIIIIDGE RACER!!”. It was part of the soundtrack of my childhood, as I’m sure it was for many other people. The series has stuck to that same recipe over all these years and people have enjoyed what they’ve been given, but it’s about time things changed; Ridge Racer Unbounded is the answer to that call for a change.
Developed by Bugbear Entertainment, the developers best known for the Flatout series, and focussing around the idea of street racing and earning respect on the streets through your skills as a driver, this is about as far from the other Ridge Racer game as is possible. Is the change something that’s welcome though? Or should Namco go back to the tried and true formula as soon as possible?
STORY: When the story starts you’re a new recruit to a group of underground street racers known as “The Unbounded”. Your task for the majority of the game is to increase your position within the group by winning races against the other racers. In order to increase your rank you’ll have to perform certain goals within each races, usually these goals are to finish in a certain position or better, but as there are other types of races that you’ll be taking part in throughout your career within the game, there will be other goals for you to focus your attention on. In this respect, Ridge Racer Unbounded is very similar to MotorStorm Apocalypse, tasking the player to rise up with the ranks of an underground racing team, but thankfully, that’s where the similarities end and Ridge Racer soon ends up being its own game all together.
The story is fairly well told when it all comes down to it. Told through the use of motion comics with a couple of CG aspects thrown in for good measure. The story isn’t the most spectacular one you’ll experience this year, but for a racing game you could do much worse.
GRAPHICS: Ridge Racer Unbounded is one of the best looking racers I’ve ever had the joy of playing. The lighting effects alone will get people coming back for more. Watching the sun set over Shatter Bay as you’re racing at over 100 MPH, sliding around corners and fragging your enemies is one of the most graphically pleasing things that’s been seen this year. The only time that any of the visuals start to look a little bit odd is when you get a little too close to the cars, which tends to happen at the start of each races, other than that you’ll be treated to some fantastic looking visuals throughout the rest of the game.
The cars themselves aren’t licensed cars, so don’t expect to see Ferraris or McLarens racing around the track, but there are plenty of cars that are available to choose from, all of which are beautifully designed and look just as good as the aforementioned counterparts. Only the most hardcore of gear-heads will miss their favourite cars being available but if you’re a fan of the Ridge Racer series at all, this is something that you’ll be used to, and the replacement cars aren’t something to sniff at anyway.
SOUND: When playing a racing game, there’s only one thing that people are going to care about when it comes to the sound, and that’s the sound that the engines produce when you’re speeding down the street as fast as you possibly can. In Ridge Racer Unbounded, those engines sound absolutely amazing, I often found myself picking particular cars when a race was about to start based purely on how good the engine sounded. As I mentioned earlier, these aren’t licensed cars, so while certain cars have a certain engine sound, the cars in Ridge Racer Unbounded just sound like pure, unadulterated power, which is magnificent.
The other aspect that deserves to be mentioned about the sound within the game is the soundtrack. The Ridge Racer games have always been games that provided a soundtrack which complimented the style of the gameplay, and Unbounded is no different. This time around, the game is filled with dubstep, perfectly complimenting the street racing aspect of the game; whether you like that style of music or not.
GAMEPLAY: The first thing that people will notice when they start up the game and start racing is that if your power bar is full (which is done by drifting around corners for the most part, although it can also be filled by other means) you can press the ‘A’ button, or the ‘X’ button on the PlayStation 3, to boost. Boosting does a couple of things, the most obvious of which is that it speeds up the player’s car in order to get past their opponents, but it does other, more entertaining things too. If the boost bar is full, certain aspects of the environment will be pointed out the the player, allowing them to hit the boost button and launch themselves through the environment to find shortcuts and put themselves ahead of the pack. This is by far the most visually entertaining aspect of the game, it feels as if you’re actually playing in a Michael Bay movie and you’ll find yourself looking for different ways to fill up that boost meter just to see which other places you can smash through. If you boost into the other players you’ll also “Frag” them, which works in the same way as a Takedown in one of the Burnout games, you’ll take that player out of the race for a small amount of time, allowing you to get in front of them. You’ll have to use this wisely though, taking out another player will make you one of their rivals and they’ll be more bloodthirsty than ever which, considering how much the A.I. character are already out for your blood, will be making things practically impossible.
There are five main race types in Ridge Racer Unbounded: Domination Race, Shindo Racing, Time Attack, Drift Attack and Frag Attack. The first two are pure racing types, with the only real difference being that you can you can smash through the environment and take down the other players in Domination Race and you can’t in the Shindo Racing type. Time Attack, Drift Attack and Frag Attack are exactly what you think they are, they ask the player to do various different things in order to get those three stars and are a little bit easier – generally speaking – than the other racing types as you don’t have to content with the maddeningly difficult opponent racers.
One of the most impressive aspects of Ridge Racer Unbounded is the ability to create your own tracks for players to take part in online. Similarly to games such as LittleBigPlanet, as well as how the recently announced LittleBigPlanet Karting will probably work, sections of track are unlocked through levelling up within the main game and players will be able to use these blocks to create their own events within their own cities. Things can get pretty deep, pretty quickly and I have no doubt that some players will dive straight into this mode with great gusto from the moment they get their hands on the game, creating even more content for us to race around on. Going to the ‘Dominate the World’ section of the game will allow you to play through the races created by other players, with some levels being featured at the top of the screen for a short amount of time. A good idea that keeps the content fresh, giving players a constant reason to keep coming back for more.
LONGEVITY: The longevity of Ridge Race Unbounded really comes down to two things, whether you will find yourself coming back to particular races time and time again in order to gain all three stars on them, and whether or not the creation community will take off. If plenty of people start to support the creation tools, uploading levels galore for players to enjoy in the future, then the longevity of the game is practically limitless. If the community doesn’t take a hold in this aspect then you’ve still got an extremely fun racer in your hands, so how long you keep playing it is totally up to personal preference.
VERDICT: Ridge Racer Unbounded is an extremely solid racer. A lot of people may have been worried about what the change in direction would mean for the franchise but I’m here to lay those worries to rest. If you’re a fan of the Ridge Racer franchise on the whole, then you’ll still find things in Unbounded to grab onto, but even if you’ve never played a Ridge Racer game before and you’re coming from games like Burnout and MotorStorm, then you’re going to feel right at home. It’s the best of both worlds, and nobody can complain about that.