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Ridge Racer Unbounded Review

by Diogo Miguel April 5, 2012

The racing genre has slowly but surely turned into a bit of an exclusive club. Racing video-games have become so realistically complex that most people just don’t have the patience to play them.

The likes of Forza Motorsport are visually breathtaking but have a steep learning curve. It’s probably why racing video-games like Burnout Paradise appeal to all the average drivers out there. Namco Banda decided to take a gamble when it announced Bugbear Entertainment was going to develop a new Ridge Racer.

Ridge Racer Unbounded is an attempt at breathing life into a series that hasn’t seen much change since the first Ridge Racer. It doesn’t take long to notice this, since everything has been given a makeover. Making a selection on the main menu is extremely simple due to the way the menu is structured.

It’s possible to either take on the street challenges of Shatter Bay, take on players online or create custom challenges. Picking a challenge in Shatter Bay is as easy as selecting a particular district and choosing one of the unlocked challenges. Similar video-games make the player look for the challenges, so it’s a welcome change to not waste time, on such a mundane task.

To compensate Bugbear decided to lock most of the districts and challenges. In order to unlock further content, players need to beat the current set of challenges. It’s not just about completing the challenges and earning up to three stars. Extra points are rewarded by earning race awards, like drifting for a certain amount of miles. At first this works really well as an incentive to keep the player motivated.

It’s satisfying to finish a couple of challenges and get new challenges or a district. It then starts to get difficult halfway through dominating Shatter Bay. The score needed to unlock further challenges increases to a point that it almost seems impossible to obtain it. Such a steep spike in difficulty means that certain players will probably end up not being able to unlock the final two districts. An odd decision considering how rewarding it feels up to this point. It’s not a fatal flaw though, since it’s bound to encourage players to try even harder.

Fortunately the challenges are interesting enough to make it worth replaying them various times. Some challenges like Domination and Shindo races require aggressive tactics against other racers, in order to get to the number one spot. Others like Drift and Time Attack require the use of skills. Then there is the highly entertaining Frag Attack challenge, which might remind some people of that iconic Terminator 2 truck chase scene. Each challenge feels different and so compels the player to continue playing.

Ridge Racer Unbounded is solely based in the city of Shatter Bay. It’s probably a first since previous entries included races in different locations. Every area in Unbounded has an urban theme from the Time Square like posh district to the down-town industrial looking dock. The urban theme means a lack of bright colours but it’s a logical choice. Level design is open based, with plenty of space, to ensure maximum use of skills like drifting.

Visible signs indicate incoming curves to ensure players can react in time. Unfortunately it’s still difficult to make out certain sections of a race course, until it’s too late and the vehicle has crashed. So there’s a fair amount of trial and error involved when racing in a new track. Luckily it’s the case that completing a race isn’t exactly time consuming; which makes it less of a pain of having to replay some of the challenges a few times.

Best to get it out in the open that drifting is not a skill that is easily tamed.. It’s all about timing and making sure that it’s not overused to avoid crashing or losing control of the vehicle. Mastering drifting is perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences in Unbounded; akin to flawlessly drifting during an Outrun session. Not that crashing is the end of the race since it’s part of the experience.

Drifting and completing certain objectives (like being airborne for a specific amount of time) will enable the use of the power. This might seem useless at first but it’s essential in winning later challenges. It’s recommended that the power is used to gain speed when drifting tight corners for example.

The power can wipe out opposing vehicles but they have the power too and will viciously use it to get revenge. There’s just no guarantee of winning a race until the very nerve racking end. It’s the sort of experience that gives everyone a fair chance, since efficient use of the power can change the race outcome. It’s fitting that the soundtrack often adds to the racing thrill with tracks from the likes of Skrillex.

It’s not just new challenges and districts that get unlocked. Experience earned from each race gets added to a level-up system. New content like vehicles and block pieces to use in the map editor get added, after ranking up to certain levels. Unbounded plays hard to get but it certainly rewards those that stick with it.

Each vehicle has different statistics, such as being proficient at drifting, which is something players can use to their advantage. Using a vehicle that excels in drifting, during a challenge with lots of curves, will improve the odds of winning. All the vehicles have their own use and it’s clear that they weren’t included as an easy way to promote Unbounded.

Getting all the seven districts dominated is a difficult challenge but Bugbear still has a trick up its sleeve. It’s possible to build racing tracks and then publish them online. Each city created accommodates five racing tracks.

The level of customization is impressive and there’s a huge selection of block pieces to choose from. Anyone willing to take on the world can partake in races either using these custom race tracks or ones from Shatter Bay. Imagination is the limit when it comes to determining how popular this feature becomes in the next few weeks.

It’s unfair to judge Unbounded based on initial impressions. There’s no denying that it’s not the sort of experience where rewards get unlocked easily. But the satisfaction that comes from beating a challenge or dominating a district is indescribable.

It will eventually become too challenging but it will have turned into an enjoyable experience by then. Namco Bandai made a wise choice when it decided to let Bugbear Entertainment take Ridge Racer in a new direction.

This isn’t just another racing video-game that will frustrate those that aren’t experts in the genre. It’s an experience which is happy to entertain anyone that is willing to give in to its destructive charm.

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