Ridge Racer 7 Review
As one of the most anticipated PS3 launch titles available, Ridge Racer 7 was expected to deliver a next-gen racing experience second-to-none, and its loyal following of fans were just itching to get their hands on the first PS3 Ridge Racer. The franchise has enjoyed immense sales success (especially in Japan) and moderate-to-high critical acclaim. Namco designs the games to appeal to a wide audience; they don't require an in-depth knowledge of intricate vehicle mechanics, and they don't require things like license tests.
Therefore, we pretty much knew what style of gameplay to expect with the latest Riiiiiiidge Racer! installment. But as we entered into our time with the game, we began to realize a few things, not the least important of which was just how standard the entire game felt. There isn't much in the way of "wow" factors, but at the same time, we noticed the good ol' "Ridge feel" was both apparent and enjoyable. It's a small technical evolution, a smooth ride through familiar territory, and ultimately, a solid title worth your time and attention. It's just unfortunate we had to miss out on that little extra "oomph" we might expect from the PS3.
At first glance, the graphics are quite slick and attractive, but the more you play, the more you begin to wonder why they weren't ramped up even further. It's hardly the wonderful visual presentation we all anticipated, and in many ways, is almost identical to the Xbox 360 version. Everything has those polished, refined lines we've all come to know and love about the series, and the environment has some truly stunning colors and good detail, but it's just not impressive. And while the vehicles are all beautifully modeled and portrayed, there just isn't much to get excited about. Remember what we just said about the lack of "wow" factors...?
The sound isn't any better, in that the soundtrack has a nice techno flavor to it, but the sound effects are definitely lacking. The engines have that typically arcade-y high and whiny pitch, and bouncing off walls or cars and the squealing of tires is all equally underwhelming. However, as it's a straight arcade-style racer, we shouldn't be too critical of the unrealistic effects. After all, if the entire focus of racing is the drift, than clearly, Namco-Bandai isn't interested in maintaining a believable atmosphere. At the very least, though, the sound is consistent throughout, and that assortment of tracks certainly fits the Ridge Racer attitude.
A wise man once said, "it's all about the gameplay, baby." Okay, so it was me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one to say it. But the statement holds even more water when it comes to something like Ridge Racer 7, where you're supposed to get lost in the fast-paced fantasy-style racing action. As you might've guessed, it's not about taking the correct line and tight cornering; no, it's all about fancy drifting and hyper-sensitive slipstreaming. It's about impossible air, impossible machines, impossible physics, and impossibly constructed courses. That embodies this franchise, love it or hate it.
Yes, the focus is almost entirely centered on drifting, that very impractical-in-real-life but flashy-as-hell maneuver that most everyone is familiar with. It's executed simply in the game; you simply release the accelerator as you head into the turn and let the tail-end of the car slide out. Then, gently start to reapply the gas while adjusting the car direction against the skid, eventually regaining the straight-and-narrow with careful precision. While it's relatively easy to do, it can be quite difficult to master, especially at higher speeds around tighter - and longer - turns.
The other major aspect of the game is slipstreaming, which can often mean the difference between victory and miserable failure. Again, this shouldn't be a completely alien term to anyone; it's the practice of getting directly behind an opponent to cut down on wind shear. By staying in a racer's slipstream, you can actually exceed your vehicle's top speed and catch up much quicker, and then you need to execute a classic slingshot move to zip to the front. It's pretty easy to do with the mostly lame-brain AI, but it can be a real challenge when playing online against human opponents who don't want you in their slipstream.
The biggest enhancement to the franchise is obvious: the multiple vehicle upgrades and numerous race types. They're options you might expect to see in most racers these days, be they arcade or simulation, but it's still a refreshing update for the Ridge Racer franchise. You can upgrade everything from your tires/suspension and engine to cosmetic stuff like decals and paint. But as a unique twist, if you want to purchase a particular upgrade, you need a solid relationship with a manufacturer. So if you want that Level 2 Engine upgrade, it's time to get chummy with a certain car maker.
You obtain manufacturer points by first passing their racing test and then using their car and their parts in other races. The more points you acquire, the more of that company's upgrades you can access. This adds a nice dose of strategy to the game, and forces you to tackle a variety of events (from the UFRA Special Events to online battles) in order to unlock the largest amount of total upgrades. You'll certainly want to focus on those useful mechanical alterations to get faster, but don't forget those decal and paint options; you know you want to have the sweetest-looking car on the track. It gives you the mental edge, of course.
You've got the Ridge Racer Grand Prix that will soak up most of your time, and here is where you'll open up all the new tracks, cars, upgrades, and events. The only problem is that most every race feels all too similar, and the constant emphasis on drifting and slipstreaming not only seems ultra-repetitive, but also very unforgiving. For something that's supposed to be all about fantastical racing, bumping a wall or another racer seems to slow you down a lot. Still, even though each race feels a bit rehashed, the rush usually remains sky-high.
All that being said, the control is pretty solid for the most part, but there just isn't much of anything else to do besides drifting. And with that very average AI...well, we hate to sound like a broken record, but we must once again refer you to that whole "lack of ‘wow' factor" thing. However, while the game itself isn't quite worthy of a really strong rating, the overall experience is greatly enhanced via the online play. Everything you do can - and often is - linked to online, as all your credits and points can transfer between online battle and regular single-player.
So you can enhance and upgrade to maximum proportions simply by spending a lot of time online. It's almost a better option than the Grand Prix or Global Time Trial events, even though you'd be missing out on too many various race events if you ignored the core game entirely. The only real issue regarding online play is the lack of players right now; we only found about 15-20 gamers online in 3 or 4 different rooms. However, it's still pretty damn early and there still aren't a heck of a lot of PS3s out there. It should pick up soon.
And you know what? It probably will. The Grand Prix, the crux of the single-player event that opens the door to all those nifty vehicles and upgrades, will soon grow a bit tiresome even for the most hardcore Ridge fans. Honestly, it's only a matter of time before you get bored with the same ol' same ol' and jump online to find yourself a race that will suddenly feel quite fresh and new. It's kind of sad that the majority of this game's lasting appeal centers on the online experience, but then again, that's very much the future of gaming. And that might go double for racers.
Overall, Ridge Racer 7 is not the be-all and end-all of arcade racers. But it is, without any shadow of a doubt, a serious franchise update. The game fails to impress on just about every level, and ironically enough, manages to stay fun and entertaining thanks to a fully realized online battle mode and the all-important vehicle alterations. The bottom line is, if you have no intention of playing this game online, you had better be a giant Ridge fan, or you'll likely be disappointed. But if you're open to the online idea, you must give it serious consideration. The game without online is good, but doesn't deserve any higher than a mid-7. The game with online? Much better.
So there you have it. Our very first PS3 review, and as you can see, it's an interesting mix. This one isn't exactly a Game of the Year contender, but it's a good launch title...too bad we can't go any higher than "good," though.
11/18/2006 Ben Dutka