In the Ridge Racer series' 15+ years, ithas only deviated twice from the main series, not counting portable iterations. R: Racing Evolution, released in 2003,had a plot and introduced real cars into the series. As good as it was, it didn't feature the series' signature racing and consequently got lost in the shuffle. The second deviation is Ridge Racer Unbounded, which is the most recent entry in the series and is also the subject of this review. This marks one of the few times that a different developer has worked on a Ridge Racer title. Bugbear, known for the FlatOut series, has created something completely different in Ridge Racer Unbounded. Whether or not it was the right call depends mostly on your level of patience.
In an effort to give this entry some meaning, Ridge Racer Unbounded gives us some background. In the metropolis of Shatter Bay, the affluent folks live in the center of the city while the lower class sticks to the underdeveloped outskirts. Tired of the status quo, a racing gang known as the Unbounded, led by a woman named Kara Shindo, fights back with high-speed races. As their newest potential recruit, it's up to you to prove that you belong before you can help them take over the city.
You'll only hear about the story in the opening cut scene and periodically through blurbs in the loading screen. There are no follow-up scenes as you win races, and nothing else in the game reminds you of the story. While it is nice that there was some effort put into a tale, racing titles don't need one, and you'd be forgiven for forgetting the plot.
Veterans will find that some of the series' mechanics are still present in this iteration. Available cars still drive fast and are built to drift around corners. Nitro, now renamed power, is still earned through drifts, catching air from jumps and through drafting opponents, a mechanic introduced in Ridge Racer 7. You can also use it to gain a temporary speed boost against opponents. No matter how well you did in previous races, you'll always start off in either the last position or second-to-last position, just like the older titles did. That's where the similarities end.
The first major change comes from the drift mechanics. With the older titles, the car was lightweight, and drifting was usually initiated with a simple button tap followed by steering in the opposite direction. Drifting became something that even series newcomers could accomplish with little effort. Here, the cars feel much heavier, and the drift button must be held down for a longer period to initiate the drift. Once you get into the drift, controlling it becomes another skill to master as it takes some effort to do it right without crashing into a wall or spinning out of control. Then comes the timing aspect. Initiate a drift too early, and you slow down dramatically; do it too late, and you'll almost always slam against a building. It's a whole new system to learn, and it's made more challenging when you take into account the different car attributes.
The second major change has to do with destruction. Much like Burnout or the developer's FlatOut series, you're encouraged to do anything to ensure that your opponents crash horrifically as you move up in position. Taking a page from Full Auto and Split/Second, the environment also plays a part in the chaos, as you can crash into buildings to create shortcuts or blow up other vehicles so the resulting shockwave takes out the opposition. You can't execute these vehicular takedowns (known as frags) or engage in environmental destruction all of the time. The power meter that governs your nitro boosts also acts as the key to the mayhem. While you might get lucky and frag an opponent while turning a corner, the only guaranteed frag is to activate the boost and then ram your opponent from the side or behind. Regular walls can be destroyed at any time, but trucks and major buildings can only be broken through during a boost, so that throws some strategy into the mix.
Ridge Racer Unbounded only contains one major offline game mode, but it is home to a number of race and event types across the city's nine districts. Domination is the race type you'll see more often, and it requires you to destroy anyone and anything in your path to win. Time Attack has you trying to finish a track in the shortest possible time while trying to avoid cops and other racers that want to take you down. The standard Domination rules apply, but you have the presence of bonus tokens that help freeze the timer for a few seconds. Frag Attack has you trying to achieve as many frags as possible on a track before time expires, and picking up tokens or bashing through the environment with your unlimited power meter adds a few seconds to the clock. Drift Attack gives you points relative to the length of your drift. It does away with tokens, but long drifts throw a few seconds back on the clock. Finally, there's Shindo Racing, which takes away the destructive elements and is the closest thing you have to a traditional Ridge Racer contest.
You'll notice that this game does a few things that are contrary to gamer expectations. Despite the first race being called a tutorial in the Achievements list, the instructions are rather sparse. It tells you which button to use to initiate a drift, but it doesn't inform you of how to execute said drift the new way; it would've been useful since the mechanics aren't similar to other racing titles both in and out of the series. Then there's the level of difficulty being thrown at you. The opposition is always tough and aggressive. They'll target you for frags, but they don't mind fragging anyone else in the process. They'll also capitalize on your mistakes, as you'll drop down a few spots if you crash without initiating a power boost. You get the sense that the game demands extensive knowledge of the track and a near-perfect performance if you want to open up more tracks. With no difficulty level for you to tweak, the high level of challenge might turn off those used to easy wins, but it'll be a boon to those who enjoy a challenge.
Additionally, a few things about the game seem unfair to both camps. No matter what you pick, the opposition always has cars that are somehow just a little faster than yours, even if you encounter an opponent in the same model vehicle that you're driving. Rubberband AI is also in effect, so there's no chance of you getting a commanding lead in a race. With crashes as debilitating as they are, it ensures that one bad move has a great chance of ruining the rest of your race. It becomes especially aggravating when you're forced to watch your crash scene with no way to skip it — even with the event camera option turned off. While crashes can harm you big time, but the opposition quickly catches up when it respawns. For the most part, the tracks are designed well enough, but there's usually more than one spot where you can take a bad turn or a badly angled jump. It makes the tracks feel more organic, but it also piles on needless frustration. The power meter doesn't last for very long, but you won't get much of an indication as to how close it is to being depleted since the meter resets as soon as you activate the boost. With some practice, you'll get a mental count of how long it lasts, but it is an unpleasant surprise when you hit a destructible building just as your boost state expires. Given the difficulty level, these oversights turn the game into a controller-throwing experience for those who aren't patient enough to handle constant failure.
It's comforting to know that the developers have thrown in a generous leveling system. No matter how well or badly you do, you'll always be rewarded with experience points at the end of an event, and the gain is large enough that you'll level up rather quickly. The level gains always come with new, unlocked cars to give you slight advantages for troublesome races. These cars no longer resemble ones from earlier series entries, and you can't customize them in any way. Even though it was only introduced in Ridge Racer 7 and the customization options are merely cosmetic, it's a bit disheartening to see you reduced to a choice of paint color.
What the game lacks in terms of car customization, it makes up for in spades with the city designer. As you progress, you unlock city pieces that can be used to build your own tracks in your own custom-named city. Though you're restricted on the amount of stuff you can put in, the design is completely up to you. You'll have to run through your created courses before they can be published online for all to see and try. The editor is easy enough, and as of this writing, we've already seen over 2,000 cities appear. With so many to choose from, the filters are a godsend so you can sort things by criteria such as popularity and freshness. Just like TrackMania and ModNation Racers, this ensures that there's no shortage of tracks.
The formal online mode seems to be both deep and shallow. The mode picks up random user-created cities and displays them in one-, six- or 24-hour challenges, giving those creators some exposure and making the city aspect feel like something that can happen at any hour. While those are merely single-player affairs, the real multiplayer is restricted to Domination mode, so those hoping for more traditional racing without the mass destruction will be out of luck. Quick Play matches are restricted to disc-based levels while custom matches let you race in any user-created city. Interestingly, there are no ranked and player matches because the game doesn't contain any leaderboards. It is a strange omission and might be a reason for it being next to impossible to find an online game. While the community is keen on making levels, don't expect to race against real human beings anytime soon.
Graphically, Ridge Racer Unbounded is different in several ways. Gone are the bright landscapes with a variety of views. Instead, each track, even user-created ones, is locked into a city environment. The lighting also takes on a much darker tone, with more races taking place at dusk or under orange skies. Despite this, the game plays with lighting, such as light trails when you initiate a boost and hints of lens flare when racing against lights at dusk. The cars look fine, though there are signs of jagged edges if you look close enough, and the game goes for more of a "street" feel instead of a professional racing one. Environmental destruction looks great with just the right amount of dust, debris and fire when something gets hit. The vehicles exhibit the same love of fire when they crash, but they don't sport the same amount of detail as other games. The shower of sparks isn't there, and the metal crumpling isn't as detailed, though you see a few car parts flying as the car tumbles forward. Overall, the graphical package doesn't look as fantastic as other games, especially since this is running at a locked 30 frames per second, but it is a step up from what we've seen in the series.
Like the rest of the game, the sound only retains a few things from its parent series while introducing a few new things. The engine roars, for example, still remain meaty while the sound of metal grinding is sharp and blends well with other sounds. The musical score featured classic Ridge Racer pieces, primarily from Ridge Racer 6 and 7, but this is the first time that the series has featured licensed music in the soundtrack. The score is littered with generous helpings of dubstep, techno and trance tracks from famous artists, and the music not only gives the races some energy, but it also makes the original tracks blend in well.
Ridge Racer Unbounded is made for the patient and the determined. The high difficulty level, coupled with the irritating quirks, will immediately upset people and cause them to turn away from the title. The demanding drift mechanics might also turn off those who are set in the old ways of drifting. With that said, the wanton destruction and the constant feed of experience and new rewards per player level provides enough of an incentive to stick with the title. The endless supply of levels also helps in this regard, as those frustrated with the in-game races can always look to the community for something new. It remains a polarizing title; those who crave near-impossible challenges will embrace it while others will simply dismiss it and look for a less stressful title.
More articles about Ridge Racer Unbounded