Replay Value: 8
I’ve always loved Ridge Racer. I almost always know exactly what to expect. However, Bugbear Entertainment has gone and tossed a wrench into the works; they’ve implemented high-octane, high-intensity moments we’ve experienced in games like Split/Second, and they’ve also upped the overall aggressiveness of the racing. It’s a no-holds-barred, explosive race to the finish, and if it weren’t for some quirky handling, a few amusing glitches, and a steep learning curve, this one would be pure arcade racing gold.
The graphics are decent, although not enough to make me stand up and applaud. The good news is that the designers seem to hit all the right notes when it comes to effects and style; there’s no denying the visual flair and panache. The aforementioned glitches hit the visual presentation as well but they’re not too severe. Some of the environments could’ve been brighter, too, but the vehicles are appropriately brilliant and nicely designed. That being said, you’ll typically be so engrossed in the on-screen action that you won’t have time to minutely dissect every aspect of the graphics (and there's nothing wrong with that).
Like the graphics, the sound is accomplished without being impressive. There’s plenty of solid music to accompany your mad dash through the unpredictable and challenging streets of Shatter Bay, and the audio effects will give you a thrill. The level of destruction – a surprise to me – amps up the sound meter and gives your speakers something to embrace, and although difficult to balance standard racing effects (engine roar, sliding, scraping, etc.) with a consistently crumbling environment, I think Bugbear does a good job overall.
If you’ve played some Ridge Racer games in the past, you might want to toss away any expectations you might have. Perhaps the only remaining common gameplay element is the drift mechanic, but even that is a little different. Ridge Racer Unbounded grabs the term “unbounded” by the throat and just about throttles it; the circuits are absolutely insane and if you can master the slightly fidgety controls, your satisfaction level will be almost unparalleled. Just imagine a mix of MotorStorm: Apocalypse and Split/Second…that’d be pretty accurate.
There are plenty of vehicles to choose from, and they don’t all feel the same (an issue I sometimes encounter when playing non-simulated racers). Vehicles that are heavier and more robust overall will serve you better in particular situations, while you’ll find other uses for the lighter, swifter cars. As for the handling, there’s a lot to talk about; I imagine it’ll be a hot topic of conversation for long-time Ridge Racer fanatics. On the one hand, the drifting – an absolutely essential hallmark of the franchise – is more dynamic, more demanding, and even a bit more realistic.
On the other hand, it takes quite some time to really master and even then, it never feels as if you’re in complete control during a power-slide. That’s the one thing that annoys me. Difficulty level, incredibly aggressive opponents, a challenging driving mechanic; all of that is okay, provided that if I put in the time, I will eventually reach a feeling of stability and security. I just never got to the point where I said, “Okay, I get this” when dealing with the drift in this game, and I’m not sure I ever will. Still, I appreciate the attention paid to this important mechanic.
The only serious flaw facing newcomers is the lack of any real tutelage. Maybe Bugbear was counting on all the hardcore Rdige Racer fans to play the game, but when you’ve altered the driving this much, you kinda need to give ‘em a clue. One of the reasons it takes so long to gain a workable handle on the driving is because you’re just cut loose at the start; most all the clues you’ll receive are some quick tips during the loading screens. And I’m sorry, novice or veteran, this one required a bit more than that. And I don’t even like tutorials.
All that aside, though, once you get a decent handle on the control, you can really focus on the task at hand, and that task can – and often does – involve total demolition. It’s silly fun. Turning an irritating competitor into a flaming pile of scrap metal is just plain awesome, and I love the idea of using your boost bar to bring the entire landscape to the ground. Yeah, it’s not just for the sake of extra speed; the boost can be used to bring buildings tumbling to the ground, and you obtain points for every flashtastic (my word, I’m patenting it right now) piece of demolition.
The various modes only bring out this game’s zany atmosphere; taking a look at what’s available in the menu, one might be tricked into thinking he’s gonna play a shooter. The only clue that this is a racing game is the Drift Attacks but beyond that, there’s Frag Attack and Domination and well, I’m a little shocked to see such terminology in a racing game. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Domination focuses on destruction, Frag Attack involves you taking down your competitors, and none of it ever seems to get boring. The only problem is that with Drift Attack, those drift idiosyncrasies are emphasized, which can be extremely vexing.
The diversity of the racetracks is also much appreciated, as you’ll always be traveling to new locations and tearing sh** up. Then there’s the multiplayer, which offers another twist as you can fiddle with track creation and customization, and then challenge others to play your own invention. However, here too is another issue, as this system isn’t intuitive enough and somewhat difficult to use. At the same time, much like the gameplay itself, once you’ve got the hang of it, there’s plenty of fun to be had. You just have to be both patient and imaginative.
Ridge Racer Unbounded demands a lot of from the player. You must have the patience and skill to really get the most out of it, although some will say this is the way games should be. The lack of any real direction, the somewhat loose control, and the hitches and glitches can damage the experience, but if you love blasting through destructible terrain, laying waste to everything in sight (including your opponents), and you can really get a hold on the driving, you’re almost guaranteed to have a blast.
The Good: Engrossing presentation. Cool design and track variety. Destroying the landscape and taking out other racers = mad fun. Entertaining game modes. High satisfaction and reward level. In-depth track creation.
The Bad: Control is a little off and hurts accessibility. Lack of tutorial/direction. Awkward track customization. Small glitches.
The Ugly: “…not sure I’ll ever 100% understand the drifting in this damn game.”