Ridge Racer Unbounded is a interesting experiment, to say the least. A reboot of the classic arcade racer that first appeared in arcades and later the Playstation, the new entry to the series feels nothing like its predecessor. Gone are the days of crazy, physics defying drifts and arcade simplicity. Now we have something that retains some of the essence of earlier titles, but mixes it with gameplay mechanics seen in more recent racing titles. Could Namco Bandai and Bugbear Entertainment’s Ridge Racer Unbounded be the reboot everyone was waiting for, or does it crash and burn?
Ridge Racer Unbounded takes place in Shatter Bay, a location riddled with the Unbounded, racers who don’t have a care in the world and race for fame and fortune. The player infiltrates its ranks and must prove himself worthy if he wants to be amongst the elite in the circle.
Racing games usually don’t have storylines (unless it’s Need For Speed), and this one isn’t much different. The story hardly has any presence on the game, as it only serves as a bookend to the title with a intro and outro cinematic.
The game is divided into three main modes: Dominate Shatter Bay, in which the player takes on a variety of races to gain reputation and take over the town one race at a time; Dominate The World, in which the player takes on other racers online in order to take over user created cities; and Create My Cities, a mode in where players may take various pieces of terrain that are unlocked from the main campaign to make their own tracks. There isn’t much variety to the modes, but they do keep players busy for hours.
So how does the game play? The title may carry the Ridge Racer name, but it doesn’t feel like one. The simplicity present in the original series is no longer around; players would just race around a track and stylishly drift into the finish line. In a attempt to be relevant amongst the current wave of popular racing titles, Ridge Racer Unbounded has borrowed some elements from other games transforming into a whole other beast.
In this new entry the world is your playground, and you are its destroyer. Zipping across city streets, cars can plow through nearly anything in their way, such as pillars, thin walls, incoming and outgoing traffic, tables, and all sorts of obstacles (except solid walls, more on that later), without a care in the world. Doing so will refill the boost/power meter, in addition to drifting and gaining airtime. Once the meter is filled, players have a couple of options. To begin with, players can use it as a simple boost to gain that extra bit of speed in a time of need. Or they could use it to forcefully ram into opponents, taking them apart instantly and netting them a frag, something similar to Criterion Games’ Burnout. Finally they could use the power meter to blast through specially marked buildings or walls to gain access to valuable shortcuts, or through obstacles like gasoline trucks that can cause splash damage any take out any rival cars in close proximity.
Both Dominate Shatter Bay and Dominate The World provide a number of race types to play in order to progress up the rankings. First up are the Domination Races, where players race to gain first place, all while fragging the opposition and avoiding attacks. Then there is Shindo Racing, a mode that is similar to the Domination Races but with one major difference: players cannot use the power meter to frag rivals and open shortcuts. It’s pure racing, and it’s the closest thing to the original titles in the series. There is also Frag Attack, in which as the name implies, players must destroy other racers or police vehicles before time is up. To do this, players will either be assigned a standard selection of race cars, or the Behemoth, a powerful semi-trailer truck, to do the damage. In Drift Attack, players must race alone as they drift to earn points and gain valuable time, and in Time Attack, players must either escape from the police or navigate through crazy obstacle courses while collecting tokens to get to the finish line on time.
The variety of race types present in the game are refreshing and the selection of cars available all drive well, each having its own particular attributes that make them unique. The racing itself is pretty solid and handles great, and the presentation is spectacular: cars feel fast as scenery quickly rushes by, and real time stats like lead or trailing times appear floating on city buildings.
However, all is not well with Unbounded. Despite being quite fun, it is plagued with problems that quickly ruin the experience.
While boosting works well in the game, the power meter is a whole different matter. It is completely and utterly broken. For starters, while attacking with the meter should frag a opponent instantly, there are a number of occasions where it won’t do squat. From what I have experienced, it seems distance must be taken into consideration as attacking to close to an rival will frequently result in a harmless love tap, causing the loss of the hard earned meter.
The dramatic camera angle that is activated while boosting also seems to have performance issues, making the game look more like a Sam Raimi movie than anything. While boosting, sometimes the camera breaks, causing the view to dramatically tilt to a side or zooms in a awkward angle for the whole duration of the boost, disorienting the player. Although it happens infrequently, it’s really annoying.
When a rival racer is fragged, the game cuts into a cutscene similar to Burnout that shows the player’s handiwork. While the cutscenes worked well in Criterion’s game, here it just plain stinks. While the cutscene plays out, the A.I. is supposed to take control of the player’s vehicle and guide it to safety. Sadly, in Unbounded it usually doesn’t work that way. The A.I. does a poor job in the game, usually placing the player in a path that leads straight into a collision with many of the game’s barriers, causing players to crash and lose valuable positioning.
If racers do manage to survive the A.I.’s suicidal tendencies, they’ll find themselves a good distance away from their rivals. While this is good for normal race events, it’s terrible for Frag Attacks. In this mode, enemies usually cluster together in parties of four or five. By utilizing the quickly regenerating power meter to frag a opponent, players will accidentally end up ahead of the pack by a wide margin and will have to slow down to have them catch up, causing the lose of precious time in the process. I did manage to find a way to circumvent this problem, and it was by mashing the boost/power button as I rammed into opponents, causing the game to skip the crash replay and help me maintain my position behind the group. Was Frag Attack meant to be played this way? I don’t think so.
Breakable objects, debris and shortcuts don’t always work the way they were intended to as well. If a shortcut isn’t approached the right way and in the right angle, it could be more trouble than what it’s worth. I have frequently entered shortcut, only to bounce around inside them and somehow run straight into a damn wall with no way of avoiding it. I started avoided shortcuts later in the game due to fear of them screwing me over.
Objects and debris can also be an unforeseen obstacle. Occasionally, debris from objects or the flaming remains of fragged cars can get stuck in front of the players car, bouncing ahead and blocking the players view. There have been many times where I had a flaming piece of rubble that bounced in front of my vehicle, obscuring my view with fire and smoke. Seconds later I would crash, finding out I ran into a wall.
And don’t get me started about the obstacle course Time Attacks. Things go wrong, but I guess it’s meant to be that way. Cars will lose control, crash, fly off of the course, do flips and all sorts of crazy time consuming maneuvers if you don’t perform a perfect run. Prepare to retry these bad boys hundreds of times if you’re aiming to dominate them.
Create My Cities is a fun addition for those who like tinkering about and creating their own content. With with a multitude of pieces and parts, players can create any type of course, be it a simple road race to a hellish obstacle course that rivals the sadistic ones already seen on the disc. The mode is simple to use and can prove entertaining for those looking to make the perfect track.
Despite all the added modes and the modernization of the gameplay, Ridge Racer Unbounded is a shadow of its former self. While the game does have solid racing and thrilling scenarios, a large host of problems, like the boost mechanic, path blocking debris and terribly frustrating obstacle courses ruin the title. If you’re looking for an authentic Ridge Racer experience or some arcade fun, you won’t find it here. There are better alternatives available.