Ridge Racer Unbounded Eyes-On
There was a time when I absolutely adored the Ridge Racer series. Up to and including 1998’s Ridge Racer Type 4, the series was fast, slick, good looking and a source of intense competition among my group of friends. Then, from the PlayStation 2 editions onwards, things started to go sour; the series failing to innovate and quickly finding itself far short of its genre rivals (in particular the Burnout series).
Ridge Racer Unbounded is certainly an innovation as far as Ridge Racer is concerned. Our recent demo from the team at developer Bugbear Entertainment (most famous for the FlatOut titles) demonstrating that crashing, smashing and generally wreaking havoc upon environment and rival is now as important at the series’ trademark drifting, rubber-band AI and Japanese ‘mascot girl’ Reiko Nagase.
Needless to say, as a fan of the original games I am more than a little perplexed by the new direction and I’m most certainly not sure if I like it as a concept. Combat and destruction have been done to death in arcade racers of this generation and it’s going to take a lot to convince me that Ridge Racer can do better.
Then again, when Ridge Racer Unbounded launches in 2012 it will six years since the last home console game. Prior to that the longest absence for the series was three years, so big changes were always to be expected.
‘Unbounded’ refers to the name of a lawless racing gang which, predictably, counts you as one of its members. As a gang affiliate you compete in races against rival mobs across the various districts of Shatter Bay (read: San Francisco). Supposedly there are other cities to tear around but Namco Bandai is keeping tight lipped on those for the time being.
The buzzwords for Unbounded are Drive, Destroy and Dominate, a trio that Bugbear has clearly taken to heart. Crash Race, the game’s “main mode,” is a straight first-over-the-finish competition with a generous helping of destruction thrown in for good measure. This destruction comes in the form of smashing through buildings to create shortcuts, fragging your opponents, driving straight through smaller structures and shunting your opponents into bigger ones.
Shortcuts are created in a manner similar to Split/Second in that an icon indicates that a building can be altered and, at a press of a button, morphed into a new bit of track before your eyes through some miracle of experimental physics or a huge dump of hidden dynamite. The most impressive examples of these that we’ve witnessed thus far include the crumbling of a wall in a tunnel (causing the road overhead to crumble and create an impromptu ramp with which to literally leap over your opponents) and a residential apartment block that becomes a handy bypass.
To make things even more chaotic, the streets you’re racing on are filled with civilian vehicles of varying density depending on your track location. Light nudges or love-bumps on their rear end (saucy) will slow you down and cause frustration but, head on collisions at speed result in wrecking you completely and probable controller-smashing fury. However, apart from exiting blind shortcuts, the traffic on the tracks we saw looked entirely avoidable – almost as though it’s there primarily for aesthetic reasons.
Crash Mode is certainly not going to set the world alight in terms of creativity or originality but it does at least look solid and fun. The shortcuts work well, the AI looks nice and aggressive and there’s a genuine sense of scale to the damage you can cause. Still, I’m not convinced that it is what Ridge Racer fans want.
The level of destruction you can cause is linked to your ‘Power Bar’ and how far you can fill it up through overtaking, drifting and jumping over humps and bumps. While this sounds like fairly standard fare for such a mechanic, it’s nice to see that you’re still encouraged to, and rewarded for, performing acts that the series is traditionally associated with.
Drifting, in particular, looks very familiar – the Bugbear representative handling the game kicking the back end out with ease and guiding the car smoothly around corners with careful balance between throttle and steering. What I hope is that the focus on destruction hasn’t taken up so much time that such elements have failed to be thought through or implemented well enough.
Another thing that doesn’t seem to have changed is the focus on stylish visuals over true-to-real/photorealistic ones. Cars shine with impossible flare, the HUD is artfully projected on buildings that line the track (a la Splinter Cell Conviction) and all vehicles have been designed to look as slick as possible; there are no licensed cars, although some Ridge Racer classics will return.
“Traditional racing machines are out, dozens of badass street machines are in,” is the way Bugbear put it…
Despite that statement, Unbounded’s cars are clearly based on real world examples – I quite clearly saw Lamborghini’s, Corvette’s and modern-day Mustang’s, only without the ‘correct’ branding.
Towards the end of the presentation, Bugbear let loose a tantalising titbit of info regarding the plans for multiplayer in that “several thousands” of online cities will be available for players to compete for control of. This sounds similar to the multiplayer set-up of Ubisoft’s EndWar, which saw territories change hands depending on the success of a player’s chosen gang. But, I could be wrong…
We’ll have to wait until we see more of Unbounded game modes until we can properly start to develop a real sense of where its headed but, it’s clear that the focus is shifting away from pure arcade racing. On the evidence of Crash Race, Ridge Racer may well have decided to abandon its traditional audience in favour of trying to devleop a completely new one. Depending on your take on the series, that may be a good or a bad thing…