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Latest Ridge Racer nearly self-destructs

May 7, 2012

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Ridge Racer: UnboundedRidge Racer: Unbounded simply can't decide what kind of game it is. One minute it's relying on the drifting that the Ridge Racer series has been built on over the years, the next minute it's a silly arcade game in the vein of the "Burnout" series.

Unfortunately, it never hits the proverbial high gears, regardless of what it's trying to accomplish.

Unbounded is extremely short on plot, with an opening cut scene alluding to a group of rogue racers known as the Unbounded who aim to take control of Shatter Bay, the fictional city where the game takes place. It's probably best that plot takes a backseat, because with few exceptions, racing games typically don't lend themselves to deep storylines.

The Ridge Racer formula certainly sees its share of changes and additions in Unbounded, with the biggest change being the focus on destruction. A power meter builds up during races by performing special moves, and once it’s filled, players can perform a boost that enables them to take out opponents or smash through specific sections of each map.

The destruction aspect of the game never really feels substantial or fully fleshed out though. Each level contains "targets", such as parked tanker trucks or buildings, that can be destroyed, and while the game claims that destroying these targets will result in shortcuts becoming available that can give you an edge over your opponents, I rarely found that was the case. With few exceptions, I'd remain in the same position after destroying a target (often last, or close to it), and on subsequent laps, the aggressive and smart AI would just end up taking the same shortcuts, effectively nullifying any advantage I may have given myself.

It's also confusing how the developers decided what is and isn't destructible. Trees, pillars, and street lights can all be plowed through even without boost, but there are some walls and other concrete partitions that are wholly indestructible, but you won't know that until you plow into them. It's just one of the many ways the game feels unfair.

Ridge Racer is still based around being able to glide past a tight corner while drifting, but for some mind-boggling reason, drifting is never fully explained beyond some short loading screen instructions. There are no tutorials, and the instruction manual is about as unhelpful as they come.

Ridge Racer: Unbounded Initiating a drift is simple enough - press the B-button - but there's clearly more to it than that. Should the player hold the button down? Tap it? Hold onto the gas, or let go of it completely? Brake while drifting? None of this is explained, and it makes the rest of the game very frustrating because the key to most races is the ability to successfully drift at just about every turn.

The game modes are limited as well. Domination mode and Shindo races are essentially the same - face several opponents, placing as high as possible - with the latter foregoing the destruction and focusing more on pure racing skill. Drift Attack has you racing on your own as you try to earn as many points as possible via drifting, while Frag Attack has a clear focus on destruction and mayhem as you try to destroy as many vehicles as possible in a set amount of time.

The most interesting mode is Time Attack, which tasks the player with completing a course as quickly as possible, without having to deal with other vehicles. Special icons that stop time and add boost power can be picked up throughout the course, adding an extra bit of strategy to the mix. It’s these races that don’t feel gimmicky, and seem to focus more on skill and less on unfair AI.

The majority of events are Domination and Shindo races, and it can become tiresome playing through the same races repeatedly. Opening new sections of Shatter Bay and additional events requires a certain amount of points to be accumulated, but unless you finish in the top three in any given event, it quickly becomes difficult to reach the necessary point totals.

On top of that, many of the single player maps tend to look very similar. Some look borderline copy-and-pasted, with an extra turn added here, or another building placed there.

Luckily, there is an answer to this. Ridge Racer: Unbounded includes a nifty track editor that allows players to create and upload their own tracks for other gamers to try.

Ridge Racer: Unbounded Like any good track editor, it's dead simple to use, and while the tools may seem too simplistic for some at first blush, all it takes is a creative mind to make the most of what is offered.

Many objects are unlocked by playing through the single player campaign, though it's not long before you have explosives, ramps, walls, and more at your disposal. The basic track layout is put together on an easy-to-follow grid, and players can then enter the advanced mode, which places them within the track itself. Here, additional objects can be peppered all over , and the whole thing can be tested at the push of a button.

The search function for finding tracks online is somewhat rudimentary, but there's plenty to look through and lots of diamonds in the rough from the creative minds found online. If games like LittleBigPlanet and Halo with its Forge Mode have taught us anything, it's that there are plenty of gamers out there with a knack for knowing what's fun.

Players can also join quick races or put together there own room. As of the writing of this review, the quick races rarely had more than one or two players online at any time, but again, that's not surprising considering how fun the user-generated tracks are.

While a lot can be said about how good the track editor is, there are still too many problems with the single player mode. The game clearly could have benefitted from an extra coat of polish. The camera sometimes locks at an awkward angle for a few precious seconds following a collision, and the game loses authenticity when you can hear a vehicle changing gears over, and over, and over again when it reaches top speed, yet the speedometer never actually goes up or down. That is unless the unlicensed vehicles featured in the game have fancy new 15-speed transmission.

Ridge Racer: Unbounded The game looks nice enough, though there isn't that extra attention to detail you see in many racing games these days. Opting for a first-person view, for instance, doesn't give you a look into the cockpits of the vehicles, with drivers reaching down to change gears.

I do like that race info is actually displayed on sections of the track itself during races. You'll zip by a sharp corner and it will read out "Lap 2 of 3", or you'll be drifting around a long curve and you'll be able to see that you're "2 seconds behind" the next-closest competitor. There's a lot going on in a race at any given time, and while much of it is very distracting, these displays are a superb addition to the overall presentation.

The soundtrack, meanwhile, is chalk full of techno, dubstep, and numerous other tracks that are okay in short bursts, but become downright distracting as you focus harder and harder on placing high in any given race. You can turn the music off completely in the options menu, but song and artist titles will still confusingly pop up onscreen.

Ridge Racer: Unbounded drives off the beaten path, and while developer Bugbear Entertainment should be commended for trying to shake things up, much of what's done just doesn't make for a truly compelling, polished, and tight gaming experience.

 

Ridge Racer: Unbounded
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Official Site: http://www.ridgeracer.com

Rating: 5.5 / 10

 
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