Ridge Racer Unbounded was a guilty pleasure of mine. It had its problems, some of which were glaringly obvious (such as the title, which still annoys me to this day), but, nevertheless, I still played it for hours and hours trying to inch further and further up that leaderboard, take down the opponents in ever more impressive ways and smash through anything and everything I could find. When I heard that Bugbear and Namco Bandai were releasing the game with the free-to-play business model, renaming it Driftopia in the process, I was instantly interested. This was true AAA racing as far as I was concerned, and they were going to be giving it away for free? There had to be a catch, and I was determined to find out what it was.
The first couple of things that you’ll notice when you launch Driftopia for the first time is that there’s now a levelling system (which shouldn’t be all that surprising for people who’ve seen the free-to-play business model before) and the fact that there’re only two tracks available. These first two tracks are where you’re going to learn the rules of the game, get yourself up that leaderboard, and starting levelling up both your profile and the car that you’re choosing to race in. You’re given a single vehicle at the start of the game, and this is your pride and joy – wreck it and you either have to stop racing in it and choose another, or use some “Repair Tokens” to get it back to racing condition and start the race again, trying not to write it off again with the same silly mistake on a blind corner.
Repair Tokens are the in-game currency, which are another staple of the free-to-play business model, and you’ll be required to spend these each time you crash your car on a race. The amount of Repair Tokens you have to spend will be determined by the car you’re driving, as well as its level. The more expensive and rare the car, and the higher level it is, the more Tokens you have to spend in order to get it back on the road. There are a couple of ways to get more tokens if you’ve run out: you can either buy them (of course) or you could be lucky enough to get more through playing.
There are a couple of ways you can attain items this way: firstly, you can simply log into the game once a day. Each day you’re given a single free card, which can be anything from a one-use power-up applied to the car before a race begins, to a number of free Repair Tokens. The other method of getting more tokens, as well as more of the other in-game items, is to come within the top three racers in any given race. Doing so will give you the chance to pick one card (if you come second or third) or two cards (if you come first). As with the daily free card, these cards have a chance of being either a car power-up or even more Repair Tokens. It does seem a bit brutal, especially when you get taken down by another player and the wreck isn’t even your fault, but at least there are ways to keep playing, you just have to get better at the game and come first more often – increasing the chance that you’ll just win more Tokens – or you could bite the bullet and buy a pack of them (you’re not paying for the game, after all).
Speaking of other players, while it may look like you’re playing against other real people all the time (especially when you look at some of the names in the current race), what you’re actually playing against are those people’s ghosts on that track. While this may sound like a little bit of a cop-out for players who enjoy taking on other people, it allows you to restart the race if you’re not doing particularly well without any repercussions, and the other “players” will just start again right alongside you. It’s a nice way of doing it, ensuring that there’s always going to be someone to play against no matter what time of day you want to play, but there’s always that sense of disappointment when you realise that the glorious takedown you’ve just performed was against a piece of glorified A.I., and there isn’t actually a real person currently cursing your name into his monitor. It’s not a total loss, but it does feel a little empty.
There are lots of little nuances to Ridge Racer Driftopia, little things to keep you wanting to play the game long before you normally would have turned it off, as well as things to keep you coming back each day, even if only for a single race. Ultimately, what you’re getting with Driftopia is a free-to-play conversion of Unbounded, with a few little extra bits thrown in for good measure. It plays quite well on the PC and (as you can see from the video above, which was recorded from a PC) is fully compatible with the wired Xbox 360 controller.
Assuming you’ve got a PC capable of running it, there isn’t really anything to lose, considering that it can be played to its logical conclusion without spending a single penny on it. Still, as with most free-to-play titles, while you may be able to get to the end without paying, in order to get the full experience with Ridge Racer Driftopia, you really need to drop at least a little bit of cash. If, for whatever reason, you never got around to playing Unbounded, then jump into Driftopia when you get the chance. You’ll find the speed, and the madness, quite addictive.