The new consoles are launching later this year, so you'd be forgiven for believing that Namco Bandai would have a new Ridge Racer game for them right away. After all, at least one iteration of the game has been available at the launch of each Sony console (save for the PS Vita in North America), and there was one for the launch of the Xbox 360 as well. That doesn't seem to be the case this time around. Instead of releasing a new game for either of the new consoles, the company decided to work on a game that's only going to available on the PC and PlayStation 3 via PSN. It isn't a new game, either, as Ridge Racer Driftopia is simply a re-engineering of its somewhat divisive title, Ridge Racer Unbounded from Bugbear Entertainment. It's also a free-to-play title.
For the most part, the game really is Ridge Racer Unbounded. Though the demo was short, it was also very familiar. The tracks used the same environments as before and had the same layouts, right down to the shortcuts. The car lineup was also the same, as it featured grittier versions of some classic series vehicles as well as new rides that acted as clones of some real-life vehicles. The nitrous system is also handled in a similar manner, as drifts still give you juice and can also be used to open up shortcuts. Destructibility is also here, as you can easily break down a few objects while still getting your car wrecked if you hit things at very high speeds.
One major difference from the main game is how the multiplayer is handled. Simultaneous multiplayer is no longer available. Instead, the developers have opted for asynchronous multiplayer, so every race handles more like a time trial than a traditional head-to-head affair. The mode allows for multiple ghosts to occupy the track, and the lack of physical cars on the track save for your own means less opportunity for you to crash due to difficult AI.
As explained during the demo, the player starts off with a small lot of cars. Each car comes with different pre-set stats that make each vehicle good for different races. Since the developers have already featured the idea of crashing your car and taking on physical damage, they've used that as a potential source of monetization. Along with an allotment of cars, you're given a ration of repair kits that have to be used on afflicted cars between races to keep them performing at their best. Damaged cars won't perform as optimally as unblemished ones, but the kicker is that if you run out of repair packs and crash, your car explodes and is permanently taken out of the lineup. Those who run out of all vehicles can still race with a stock car, but it contains the lowest stats in the game, so don't expect to put up any good times.
The payment structure is there, but what remains nebulous is how the whole thing will be handled. We didn't see anything that was set to unlock after a timer expired, and the company told us that it's still planning what would be timed. A gift system could reward the user with things like more repair kits and cars, but that isn't set in stone yet. We also weren't told how many of the tracks and cars were going to be available at launch, nor does the company know how often it'll release new tracks and vehicles – or even if they'll charge players or simply release the new content for free.
With the restrictions still being put into place and so little else known of the game at this point, it's tough to gauge whether Ridge Racer Driftopia will work in the planned model. There's a good chance that everyone will give it a shot, but with the formula stuck in the last iteration and the austere way that your cars are treated, it'll be interesting to see how many players will stick around. With the release set for sometime this year, we won't have to wait too long to find out.
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