At last, dear readers, the time has come. It’s been quite some time coming – over two decades, in fact – but at last there’s a car game for people like me, who only manage to hit the finish line via every wall, obstacle and person on the course. It’s a huge potential market and one that has, until this time, been under-represented. Now you can forget your excuses, those complaints that you only like “story games” or that “all car games are the same”. Finally: the racing game all the hopeless devils have been waiting for, which lets you crash through walls, buildings, road dividers and building sites.
Ridge Racer Unbounded hasn’t exactly been on the radar. A few weeks before release, more than a few blogs and websites ran articles with titles like “five reasons you should have heard of Ridge Racer Unbounded” – surprising given Ridge Racer used to be a huge brand in both arcades and on consoles. It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since the last console game in the series, PS3-exclusive Ridge Racer 7, and if you’re Xbox-only, the last game you’d have had access to was 2005’s Ridge Racer 6. The franchise is hardly the high-flying must-have it once was.
Now, the series has been changed beyond recognition, taking more than a few cues from other updated franchises like Need for Speed and Burnout. Your goal is to join a gang of street racers, tearing up the town in an attempt to find shortcuts and be the very best. The promise of crashing through anything seems very much like Red Faction 2, fun enough to be described as an enjoyable feature but not quite delivering on the promise. You can crash through petrol stations unharmed, concrete blocks without punishment, but don’t dare crash into a small brick wall that makes up the constraints of the track or you’re done for. It’s THAT sort of system.With that said, there are specific “events” in which you can partake while driving around the map. There are usually four or five of these in a single race and are denoted by a round target, showing where it is you need to speed into using your speed boost. Speed boosts can be collected by knocking things down, closely following rival drivers, drifting around corners, getting awards or “fragging” others, and can then be used to blast through those events. This may or may not give you an edge in the race, and usually it seems that they don’t, but it will add points to your score (which then goes towards unlocking new cars and areas) and it always looks somewhat impressive.
There are plenty of tracks to choose from, although by the time you’ve played the first twenty or so, you’ll realise just how similar they all are. While I can’t see anything to actually confirm this, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that many of the tracks have been built with the game’s own level editor and, as a result, there are events and sections of track that you’ll see time and time again. Sometimes what you’re crashing through will have a different name, but physically it’ll look identical, which is especially annoying if you’re trying to both win the race and maximise your points, in which case you’ll be repeating tracks often and seeing the same old things too many times.
What starts out as a neat distraction too soon becomes seen and done, and that’s a comment that unfortunately applies to the whole game. It doesn’t take long to learn what you can and can’t crash through and your driving soon evolves to reflect that, making it so there’s no real excitement (or point) behind the destruction. It doesn’t take long to learn exactly how to traverse those oft-repeated sections and you soon learn to get from point A to point B without being surprised at all; it stops being about high speed and death-defying stunts and becomes more like a Sunday drive with an elderly and slightly deaf relative.The developers did however have the foresight to add a level editor and it was more than the right thing to do. If you’ve played LittleBigPlanet or any of the hundreds of other games that allow you to upload levels online, you know that what the developers have put into place level-wise is usually the least exciting and only the very beginning. As it happens, editing tracks is a joy and something that people who like that sort of thing will get an awful lot out of. You can choose your chunks of track and then choose to populate them with objects and hazards in any way you choose. This game will survive based on eager level developers, DLC to help expand their creativeness and the on-going ability to build upon what is already in place.
There’s also enough graphical power behind the game that, while levels can look a little dry at times, it always looks well above decent. Sunsets are spectacular and seeing reflections in the cars is always nice. It’s not always perfect – crashing through a building as part of an event reveals that the walls to the building are paper thin and often contain exactly the same texture as outside, and the room is always empty but there’s not too much there to complain about. Similarly, music isn’t so intrusive that you’re going to hate playing the game, but isn’t the sort of thing you’re likely to enjoy actually listening to otherwise.
Unbounded isn’t the Ridge Racer you’ll remember as a bestseller on the PS1, but the series hasn’t been at that level for a very long time. While the single-player fails to inspire much more than indifference, the real gem will be the level editor and the ability to see what people have worked on. Personally, I enjoyed my time playing and, of course, actually enjoying a title is much more important than it being a technically great game. I think that’s where the mixed reviews are coming from: Ridge Racer Unbounded lacks that special polish that gives it that perfect feel while playing. With that said, check out a demo and look out for it cheap, because Unbounded is far from terrible and you may be one of those people who just can’t get enough of it.