Ridge Racer Unbounded|
The first thing you need to know about Ridge Racer Unbounded is that this is in no way shape or form a Ridge Racer game by any definition of the title or what racers familiar with the franchise are likely to expect. To call this game ďRidge RacerĒ would be like making a racing game with Warthogs and calling it HALO 4x4 Off-Road Racing. Sure, you can use an insanely popular franchise to boost awareness and marketing for your game, but in the end youíre likely to anger more than a few misguided gamers with false expectations.
Thatís not to say Ridge Racer Unbounded is a bad game Ė far from it as our score clearly indicates. It is easily one of the best racing titles Iíve played in its class since Burnout Revenge, and that was six years ago. And frankly, Unbounded has more in common with the Burnout franchise than it ever will with the high-performance drifting we are used to in Ridge Racer games. With modes like Domination, Time Trial, and Frag Attack racing, combined with blurring speeds, trailing nitrous taillights, and explosive car modeling, developer Bugbear (creators of FlatOut) have unleashed ďCarmageddonĒ on your Xbox 360.
After the obligatory moody opening movie where we learn a bit about Shatter Bay and the rival racing gangs in the city, you wonít have to worry about narrative, plot, or even an organized campaign or career mode. You are dropped into the city with one area unlocked. As you earn stars and XP in various events you will unlock new races, new cars, and eventually new areas of the city. The racing is kept within city limits so donít expect any grand vista like the Swiss Alps of Forza 4 or twisting mountain switchbacks or the mid-west plains from Need for Speed: The Run. The game is dark, gritty, and even a bit dirty, just like the racing.
Itís worth nothing that Ridge Racer Unbounded is surprisingly difficult; not to play but definitely to master. I consider myself a fairly excellent racer, so when it took me 41 attempts to 3-star the very first Domination event I knew something was up. And itís not just the brutal AI, since the Drift Challenge, a race you do alone against the clock, took me 60+ minutes to 3-star and one mission where I had to escape the city in 105-seconds while being chased by the cops would ultimately take me 118 attempts.
A lot of the challenge lies in the car selection, but thankfully, even when you donít 3-star a race you still earn XP which is always working to level-up your driver and unlock more cars. Often, after numerous failed attempts I would return to the main menu and find I had unlocked 2-4 new cars and one of those usually allowed me to win that event on my next try. Cars have the traditional attributes like top speed, acceleration, durability, and drift, so it's just a matter of find one that you like to drive and one that is suited for the current event.
Drifting is where Unbounded shares its only similarity with Ridge Racer in that you must be continuously drifting as much as possible to fuel your Power bar, but unlike most games where you work a carefully timed combination of the brake and gas going into a turn, in Unbounded you tap or hold the B button, which instigates the drift, much like a handbrake turn. Then, you must figure out the counter steer correction along with feathering the gas to keep the drift going for as long as possible to earn power and bonus XP for those fancy extended drifts.
Unbounded is all about power and not just the kind thatís under the hood. With a full Power bar you have a few options at your disposal. In its most basic form Power will simply give you a short nitro boost that will send you jetting ahead a few hundred yards, but there are also other uses. During a Power burn you can hit any rival car and Frag them in an epic slow-motion crash spectacular that rivals anything from the Burnout franchise. These cutaways are insanely long, and you are allowed to exit out of them at any time or even disable them entirely from the options menu, but they can serve a valuable purpose. While you are watching these real-time, slow-motion Frags your car is on auto-pilot, which can get you around a tight turn or out of a tricky traffic situation with no effort on your part.
Power serves a third function. When fully charged, certain parts of the city will be highlighted with a target and the word DESTROY. You can boost through these sections to access new parts of the track or find a shortcut through a mall, City Hall, a warehouse, sports stadium, or any of several fully destructible environments. The trick here is to make sure you are still boosting when you hit the wall. If you start the boost too early it can burn out and you simply smack the wall and wreck, or if another rival car touches you on the approach it will trigger a Frag instead, and youíll have to quickly divert (or let the auto-pilot do it for you) before you smack the wall.
Your Power meter is also fueled by doing damage to other cars and to the environment. Itís quite easy to get a chain of Frags going since your Power meter fill almost instantly after a Fragging someone. Combined with smashing through smaller walls, support beams, signs, and other trackside objects, itís not hard to keep the Power full most of the race. Some objects like fuel trucks are classified as targets and can be smashed into during a Power burn to create a massive explosion that sends out a shockwave Fragging anyone within range.
Domination seems to be the primary race mode where you Frag your way to first place. Itís all about keeping the Power meter filled so you can take that shortcut through the Courthouse or nitro across the finish line. There are plenty of awards to win each race, all with corresponding XP and points that factor in to your final score. Time Attack has you either escaping the cops or puts you on a wild stunt track (like those in FlatOut) where you race around collecting blue icons to freeze the timer and finish with the lowest possible time. Shindo Racing is pure racing where your Power meter is now a simple nitro bar and the racing is not quite so dirty. Drift Attack gives you a short timer to execute a set amount of drift points Ė perhaps the hardest mode in the game if you arenít a great drifter. And then we have Frag Attack where you are put into some giant vehicle like a semi-tractor and asked to smash 20 cops in 90 seconds Ė thatís just one example.
When you have dominated Shatter Bayís computer opponents you can head online for some basic online race offerings in Quick Match, Domination Match, or keep things more personal with a Friend Match. The only thing I really wish Ridge Racer Unbounded had was something like EAís Autolog feature that would encourage some event-based competition with those on my Friendsí list, or even just an event-by-event leaderboard. This seems like a huge oversight in what is otherwise a nearly flawless game.
Shatter Bay is the city Namco gives us to race in, but there is a whole world waiting to be discovered (and created) using what is easily the most intuitive and full-featured track editor Iíve ever seen in a commercially released video game. My Cities allows you to create your own city with multiple race events of your choosing on tracks that you build from the grid up. As you play the main game you will unlock sets of building blocks that can be used in this editor to create tracks just as good as anything in the main game Ė perhaps even better.
You start with a simple grid and a library of unlocked track pieces. You then proceed to pick and place your track segments, almost like those snap-together slot-racer tracks where you could combine curves and straight sections for endless possibilities; only in this game, those track sections come with massively complex scenery, destructible objects and those same DESTROY shortcuts. Each of your custom cities can host several events, and when you fill those slots you just create a new city.
Once basic track layout is completed (limited by a budget with each piece of track costing various amounts of money based on complexity) you can then go into the Advanced Editor. Here, you pick a car and then go into the track in 3D where you can fly around and place all sorts of objects ranging from a stack of tires or cardboard boxes to an explosive tanker truck. You also have a full set of ramps, half-pipes, and loops so you can create your own stunt tracks. Once your track is populated you can set the time of day, the number of laps, the AI difficulty, and any score requirements then test your design using the Free Ride option. Ultimately, you will need to race your own track and set the Creator Score before you can publish your city for the rest of the world to visit.
As of this review there are nearly 2,000 cities online, each with numerous events. The World Cities screen does a great job of sorting these out into various categories like Cities of the Day, New Cities, Hot Right Now, Top Cities, etc. You can even tag your favorites, which ultimately helps a track's popularity rating. It looks like Bugbear is off the hook for any future DLC. The fans have that covered. The inclusion of a track editor was a brilliant decision, but the fact that it is so easy to use and that the end results look just as good as the core content is mind-boggling, and gives this game endless replay value.
While admittedly not as polished or realistic as a game like Forza 4; Ridge Racer Unbounded looks really good Ė easily the best in this genre of racing. The car models are super-slick when viewed in the car selection menu; styled very much like those in the more recent Ridge Racer games, but nothing can prepare you for the gratuitous carnage of the slow-motion Frag camera Ė in a word, ďexplosiveĒ! Shatter Bay is divided into nine districts including the wealthier business district, the docks and warehouse, and of course, the seedier side of town. Regardless of the district the game has a very unified "urban" flavor about it so it all ties together. Some races will overlap on sections of road already explored in previous events giving you that feeling of dťjŗ vu, but just about the time you think you know whatís ahead they will divert you down an alley or some other side road, so yes, the environments will ultimately repeat but the tracks never do. And special mention to the genius who thought to map your current position, lap, and timer info right onto the track, Fringe style, so you never have to take your eyes off the track - give that man a raise!
The audio is pure perfection with meaty engine sounds, explosive car crashes, and some powerful impact sounds when you blast your way through walls and explode through shortcuts. The soundtrack is one of those ďwhere can I buy this?Ē moments with every track perfectly suited to this genre of racing. Along with the obligatory dubstep, techno, and trance beats are a few classic Ridge Racer songs thrown in to make fans feel at home. I didn't see a custom soundtrack option but who would want one?
There arenít a lot of racing games coming out this year; at least in comparison to what we saw in 2011, so itís nice to see that the first major racing game to hit consoles and PC is as fresh and entertaining as this. Ridge Racer Unbounded might not be the Ridge Racer game your dad played back in his day, but donít let the name fool you. Itís dark and dirty visual style is second only to the dirty and explosive racing action that awaits when you strap in behind the wheel of this addictive arcade racer where the only limit to your fun is your imagination.