Review: Ridge Racer Unbounded

RidgeRacerUnbounded

I admit that I’m not much of a gear head when it comes to driving or playing racing games.  I find that arcade racers that lean a bit toward the realistic but offer plenty of spectacle are games that sit just right in my wheelhouse.  Kart racers are usually too “cartoony” and suffer from rubber banding which ultimately causes more frustration than fun.  Realistic driving simulations can be fun but I often find myself quickly being inundated with jargon that comes off as complete Greek.  Sure, I’ve replaced brakes on an old car once or twice, but I also drive to work everyday fending off the speeding morons on the Detroit Autobaun more commonly known as 696.  Driving in a realistic world happens everyday, albeit in an average four-door coupe.  I don’t need to play a video game to escape into a dramatic racing world that I’ll never experience first hand.  Instead, give me a game that has enough real world handling, but a bit more excitement and no real consequences if I accidentally ram my car into another vehicle or a building.

Ridge Racer Unbounded pieces together almost the perfect amount of real world driving, spectacular crashes, unlockable course building and online racing to build the engine of a competent arcade racing simulation.  Unlike traditional Ridge Racer titles, Unbounded feels more like the next Burnout title, but with some of the original drifting tendencies.  The game loads with a bit of a bland menu offering up single player, multiplayer, creative and statistic selections.  Choosing single player, a map of fictional city Shatter Bay is displayed with nine regions in the city hosting seven specific events in each.

The individual events include Domination Race, Shindo Race, Drift Attack, Time Attack, and Frag Attack.  Domination races are your general race events mixing demolition crashes, drifting for power boosts and finishing third, second or first.  Shindo racing is all about style and drifting behind the wheel of beautifully designed high-end sports cars all the while trying to fill the boost meter to stay as far ahead of the rest of the racers as possible.  Drift Attack revolves around trying to drift for a certain distance to gain third, second or first place.  The longer the drift, the more time is added back to the ever-diminishing timer. Drifting is fun, but I find that the other event types are more engaging.  

Time Attack reminds me of TrackMania and the crazy courses with half-pipe ramps designed to force high speed racing while the car is upside down.  As with the drifting races, Time Attack has a countdown timer which can be stopped by collecting blue icons floating throughout the race. Frag Attack is just what it sounds like: Race against the clock while trying to take out as many other racers before the timer stops.  The twist to Frag Attack is that sometimes you are racing in a huge semi, crashing through barricades, sidewalk debris, and bridge support columns, all for the sake of filling the boost meter to charge at police vehicles.

Now I’m not condoning reckless driving, but there is a child-like giddiness that builds as you speed through a detailed city block, ramming other race cars and bursting through entire buildings to open shortcuts that driving in the real world just would never allow.  The fun factor in Ridge Racer Unbounded is spot on.  The challenge is then balancing fun with actually coming out on top in any given race.  

As I mentioned earlier, each region of the city has seven unique races.  During each race, points are earned for fragging other cars, bursting through buildings, hitting jumps and staying in the air for great distances, drifting for long stretches or just driving at top speeds for long distances.  Adding to those points are the place finishing points.  Third place nets 5000, second 10,000, and first earns 15,000 points.  These points are then applied in two different areas.  Events in each region unlock by gaining a specific number of points.  Your driver also levels up with the points earned from each race.  

Leveling up the driver unlocks new car types which allow different (and sometimes better) cars to choose from within each race event.  With this type of point system in place, Unbounded offers plenty of replay value, but it can also be a bit frustrating.  I found myself replaying the same races several times over and over again, often times restarting if the initial start didn’t fall in line right away.  All for the sake of unlocking additional content.  Fortunately, the point system for leveling up the driver accumulates and continues to build at the end of each race which means that better cars are just a race or two away if one particular event is unbeatable with the current supply of cars. Unfortunately, however, if the points earned in a race are not more than the previous run, those points don’t add up. Thus later events in a particular region remain locked until enough points are earned.

Multiplayer in Unbounded consists of racing with live opponents as well as racing on user-created tracks.  Points earned during these races apply toward your driver level and the system can almost be gamed by finding certain player created levels that do nothing more than artificially boost points and provide cheap power leveling.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  In fact, I think some of the most fun I have had with the game is playing player-made tracks that seemingly have destructive boost points every three or four seconds causing a cacophony of slow motion destruction and chaos.  The player created levels are great, but getting into online matches is even more fun.  Maybe I’m a bit jaded after having no fun with the online Twisted Metal experience, but it is nice to load up Unbounded, select multiplayer and just hop right into a match without waiting for a game to start.

Track creation is handled by first picking which type of race (Time Attack, Domination, Frag, etc.) and then creating the general shape of the track.  Then the track editor switches to placing various objects throughout the course, either explosions, barricades, or jumps.  The editor itself is fairly simple and easy to use, and any objects placed on the course are either green (meaning they can be added) or red (meaning there isn’t enough room for that particular object).  Once the shape is set and any obstacles are put into place, the editor allows players to test the track before publishing for public sharing.  As you level up as a driver, track editor themes and objects become unlocked.

Load times throughout the game are a bit of a disappointment.  Events take a while to load, but resetting while a race that has already been loaded takes only seconds (which is a great thing for perfectionists).  After events are complete the game saves progress, but at a snail’s pace.  While the races can take a few minutes to run, I felt that a lot of my time was spent staring at loading or saving screens.  One other thing I feel I need to call out about the game is the over use of orange in the color palette. Many of the races are set during dusk and a range of orange hues shower the screen somewhat dulling an otherwise vibrant game.

Overall, Ridge Racer Unbounded is a fun fusion of arcade-style street racing and community-driven track creation.  Mixing Burnout with Ridge Racer works well, but fans of the Ridge Racer series may not be getting exactly what they think they are. Anyone looking at Unbounded to be the next installment of “traditional” Ridge Racer, may initially be put off by the sudden changes. Gamers looking for the next shiny new racing game to drive, however, shouldn’t think twice about taking Unbounded for a joyride.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fun, destructive racing
+ Track creator is easy to use
+ Lots of variety in race types

Cons:
– Load times can be a nuisance
– Heavy reliance on orange

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Release Date: 3/27/2012
Genre: Racing
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-4
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.