Racing videogames are one of the ever-presents; just like football and match-3 puzzles, it’s a genre that will never go out of fashion. This confidence gives the bigger franchises the opportunity to experiment, and just as DiRT is about to diversify with two simultaneous content streams, Ridge Racer: Unbounded is a brand new direction for Namco Bandai Games’ cherished arcade racer. This is no longer about mountain ranges and circuit racing, Ridge Racer: Unbounded is all about getting down and dirty on the city streets.
Ridge Racer: Unbounded sets itself up with a grand tale of science-fiction rebellion, citizens of Shatter Bay who want nothing more than to break it’s rules with scraping metal and burning gasoline in a quest for a new world order. Calling themselves the ‘Unbounded’, the videogame begins with your invitation to join them. Of course, Ridge Racer: Unbounded is a racing videogame, and so the plot is merely window dressing for the chaotic racing that the title brings to the long running Ridge Racer series, but it is very well delivered throughout regardless.
When first beginning to play Ridge Racer: Unbounded, the gameplay can appear just as obscure as the plot. The player is thrown straight into a domination event and told to use the B button to drift, which builds power, and the A button to destroy targets. Many other activities will also add to the power meter – a fact which is never actively relayed – and the A button is in fact controlling the boost function, with the decision to destroy targets remaining squarely on the left analogue stick. What’s more, many of the targets the player is told to destroy will appear to be locked-on before they are actually in range, resulting in the player’s boost running out before impact and causing many unnecessary crashes. The difficulty of Ridge Racer: Unbounded could potentially lead to several retries of the very first event just to get to grips with the basics; any racing title in which an experienced gamer is forced to retry the first event more than once has certainly misjudged its tutorial, and is setting itself up for a fall with those who are quick to form opinions.
For most this early point in the Ridge Racer: Unbounded experience will be overcome by a simple matter of attrition: the videogame unlocks new events and cars based on an experience system, with the amount of points scored in a race adding to your rank whether you win or fail the event. Winning does of course apply many bonuses, but it is feasibly possible – if somewhat arduous – to make your way through the videogame without winning a single event.
Of course, Ridge Racer: Unbounded is about more than just racing. There are several types of event including drift challenges, time trials and Frag Attack, wherein player compete to takedown a certain number of enemies. All of these gameplay modes may strike you as familiar, and they should. Ridge Racer: Unbounded doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table in terms of challenges, but online each one feels just as fresh as it did the first time you experienced it.
Online gameplay comes in two forms: events in which you are pitted against other players and events that are design by other players. The online gameplay has been design to cater for Ridge Racer: Unbounded’s delayed drift manoeuvre far better than the artificial intelligence enemies you’ll face in the single-player campaign. While Ridge Racer: Unbounded may be compared to the likes of Burnout and Split/Second, the handling actually plays closer to THQ’s ill-fated Juiced franchise, and with that reliance on sideways steering comes a vulnerability over racing games ignore, and experienced players will be able to take advantage of.
When we get to the challenges set by other players – or indeed, set by yourself for others – Ridge Racer: Unbounded finally begins to shine. Undoubtedly Ridge Racer: Unbounded’s best feature, the rack creation and sharing aspect of the videogame is second to none. Literally any track layout, background or piece of furniture used in the videogame can be arranged as the player desires. There is a value limit that hinders creativity slightly, but only to the point of minimising the possibility of creating unplayable tracks (though this problem does still exist, which is where the Free Ride option comes in handy). Players can create up to five events per city prior to uploading, though Electronic Theatre didn’t reach the upper limit of how many cities could be built during our time reviewing the videogame (it’s certainly not a small number). Cities can be searched by name of creator, and certain cities are shown as popular or picked as daily challenges.
From a visual standpoint Ridge Racer: Unbounded doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s hardly a bad egg. The cityscapes offer a decent amount of detail and the variety in locations, despite the plot limiting the horizons, is remarkable. The vehicle design is clearly Ridge Racer through-and-through, and the boosting effects mirror the blur which appeared in the original PlayStation Portable (PSP) outing. The soundtrack is amiable, deciding to compliment the racing with basslines rather than recognisable tracks as has become the fashion, though Skrillex makes an all-too-obvious appearance with a couple of tracks.
While much of the gameplay will be familiar to any keen followers of the racing genre, Ridge Racer: Unbounded’s ace is undoubtedly the track creation suite. It’s entirely possible to ignore the ill positioned campaign altogether and find a home in the created cities shared online, the daily challenges and the multiplayer gameplay. It’s an odd way to present a series most widely known as a single-player arcade style experience, but it certainly does aid the perception of Ridge Racer: Unbounded stepping aside from the traditional series expectations. Ridge Racer: Unbounded isn’t an essential purchase, but due it is a refreshing change of pace for fans of the franchise.