Release Date: November 22, 2005
Buy 'RIDGE RACER 6': X360
The world of drifting has become a more and more exposed racing genre in the past several years. A centerpiece of the Japanese street racing scene for quite some time, racing in the mountains and throwing out the back tires around corners has become the focus of many would-be street racing heroes and gamers alike. From the introduction of Formula D racing to the US market to the incredible success of the street racing anime king Initial D with its equally popular arcade driving companion, everywhere you turn these days when it comes to racing, people would rather be driving sideways.
Enter Ridge Racer 6 from Namco, one of the most popular driving franchises in gaming, basing its entire racing platform on the now-increasingly popular sport of tire-burning street racing. What better place to showcase a next-gen graphically enhanced Ridge Racer game than on the incredibly potent Xbox 360? With two other highly anticipated racing titles released at launch (Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Project Gotham 3), however, what does Ridge Racer 6 bring to the table that warrants your hard-earned 60 bones? Let's find out.
Ridge Racer 6 opens up with a relatively short but appealing sequence showcasing two incredibly good-looking vehicles (referred to in the game exclusively as "machines") blasting through the mountains at ridiculous speeds and amping you up for the racing experience you are about to enjoy. Upon pressing start and entering the main menu, you will find a host of options to explore.
The game modes are: World Xplorer, Global Time Attack, Single Battle, Online Battle, and Multi-Battle. The meat of the game is in the World Xplorer mode, where you will find a host of tracks on which to compete in different racing scenarios and varying degrees of difficulty. The Global Time Attack, as its name implies, is a much more straightforward race against the clock to score the best times in the Ridge Racer universe. This mode is made more entertaining by Xbox Live, which gives you the ability to download and race head-to-head against the times and ghosts of the best players in the world.
The Single Battle mode offers you the opportunity to participate in a single race at the location of your choosing, whereas the Multi-Battle affords you the same opportunity, only using a split screen and competing against a friend. The Online Battle mode allows competition over the internet via Xbox Live, giving gamers the opportunity to showcase some of their unlocked machines as well as their drifting prowess. All of these modes are pretty much standard fare in every racing game, but I found it really enjoyable to race against ghosts in time attack. Without having to worry about bumping an opposing player, you can see how to best attack the course in order to step up your own game to the next level. This serves not only as a learning tool, but also as a great way to impress the world because only the best times have downloadable ghosts.
The World Xplorer is where you will spend the bulk of your time playing Ridge Racer 6, which is simultaneously the game's strongest and weakest point. The World Xplorer is set up as a humongous grid of hexagons all connected together like a large strand of DNA Each hexagon represents a race, and scattered between the interconnected races are orange hexagons containing secrets. As you complete a sequence of races (sometimes as many as seven races in a row), the Xplorer calculates how far you have driven, what areas you have completed by percentages, and also allows you to see what courses you must complete in order to unlock bonus features, like new machines. As you proceed from left to right on the grid, the races become more challenging, and the machines that compete in them more exotic and speedy. In addition, different-colored hexagons indicate different race types, such as races with and without nitrous, or various other situations which limit the number of racers or the way in which nitrous boosts are allowed or charged.
None of what I've mentioned thus far seems particularly unappealing, but one of the Xplorer's primary flaws is that it allows you to replay races that you have already completed. This is entirely pointless since you could recreate the race in single race mode, and it also allows you to accidentally select tracks that you have already completed. The mark which denotes a completed race is an extremely small star located in a place where one is not immediately inclined to look, so if you're not paying attention, you can easily be led to repeating a course you've already completed. It would have been much more effective if the hexagons changed color to indicate prior completion, or at the very least, an "Are you sure?" warning of some sort that you are about to engage in a race that you had previously completed.
Also frustrating is the lack of race diversity that you encounter in the early stages of the Xplorer grid. The vast majority of the early races (there are 30+) are straight-ahead, start-last, finish-first-in-three-laps affairs. You don't really get to complicated race styles or difficult opponents until at least halfway through the grid, which seems somewhat unfair. Add to that fact that these plain races are unbelievably easy to beat, even if you screw up major sections, and it makes for a snorefest of an introduction to the "fast-paced drifting action" promised you by the sweet introductory sequence and aggressive machine models.
This brings us to the actual gameplay itself, which is, like the Xplorer mode, both a gift and a curse for Ridge Racer 6. The game is meant to be an arcade-style racer, and it makes no qualms about that whatsoever. The controls are very much like most other racing games; you have accelerator, brake, and view-changing buttons. If you choose to select manual transmission, you will also have two designated buttons for upshifting and downshifting. In addition to these are two buttons which are dedicated to nitrous usage, one which engages a single boost, the other which will engage two boosts simultaneously, and if the buttons are pressed in conjunction, they will unleash the full three-bar nitrous boost, if enough nitrous is available.
The primary cornering ability in this game is, of course, drifting, so Namco made it the easiest maneuver ever to be performed in any game, racing or otherwise. This makes sense, since drifting is the primary focus of the game, and it's the only way to fill your nitrous boost gauge in normal races or to clear any of the major corners in the game. Nonetheless, it seemed to take something away from the experience that the controls were so simple to execute. To drift, one need only lift off the accelerator and steer into the turn, and the car will automatically sweep sideways into the turn at this point. While it does so, the player counter-steers to keep the vehicle pointed in the right direction, and as long as the tires face the direction of the road coming out of the turn, the drift is complete. Take note that nowhere in this did I mention anything about using the brakes. To be honest, I don't believe I used the brakes once during the entire first half of the game and sparingly in the latter half.
The racing of Ridge Racer 6 is so arcade-like that it's almost comical at times. Crashing into the wall or other machines yields no damage to your vehicle, aesthetically or otherwise, and almost never results in a complete stop (unless you really really try to). Instead, cars that hit the wall bump up against it and manage to lose a bit of speed and bump repeatedly against it like a basketball bouncing off the court.
The only truly frustrating aspect of racing is that the drifting controls seemed inconsistent, and despite letting off the gas completely, the car failed to begin drifting and plunged my machine straight into a wall. Comically, I have successfully entered a corner drifting in the wrong direction and mythically been able to follow the turn through its apex and conclusion and right myself and continue on my merry way. Watching another car do this and maintain a lead over me during online play as I drifted correctly through the turn was almost enough to make me take a long walk and contemplate the teachings of Gandhi to calm myself. I had to remind myself that the racing in this title wasn't meant to be realistic in any way, and along that vein, it's right on the money.
The environments and machine models in Ridge Racer 6 are extremely well done. While watching replays in various camera angles, I found myself liking the replay cam more than any other game I've played, which says a great deal, since I hold the replay cameras in Project Gotham Racing 3 in very high esteem. Combined with taillight streaks in the dark and good use of lighting effects in day and night, the game looks beautiful, especially if you are privileged enough to be playing this on a high-definition television set. In addition, when vehicles are unlocked, they are presented in a dramatic and exciting way, which puts them and their tremendous looks on display.
Just how does Ridge Racer 6 stack up against Need For Speed: Most Wanted and Project Gotham Racing 3, two other X360 racing titles that were available at the console launch? For the most part, it doesn't, because it's so incredibly different from both of the previously mentioned titles. Both employ real vehicles, while Ridge Racer 6employs fictitious machines (sweet-looking though they may be). NFSMW and PGR3 both turn to the laws of physics to guide their vehicles maneuvers on the pavement, while Ridge Racer 6 defies those same laws with reckless abandon (pun intended). Additionally, NFSMW and PGR3 both display vehicle damage to varying degrees, while wrecking your car in Ridge Racer 6 is impossible.
Is Ridge Racer 6 for you? If you enjoy arcade-like vehicle response, solid background music, and simplistic racing controls with heavy emphasis on air and abusive nitrous, then this title will meet all of your needs and more. If you're looking for something to replace Forza or Gran Turismo, please look elsewhere, or you will never forgive yourself. Ridge Racer 6 has its charm, but I found myself wanting more from a next-gen game on a brand new system, and arcade-like racing just does not seem to have the appeal that it once did.
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