Ridge Racer: Unbounded is the latest racer out of Bug Bear Studio, the developers of FlatOut 3, and is published by Namco Bandai. The last great Ridge Racer experience was on PSP, as that game had excellent drifting mechanics, a booming soundtrack, and well-made tracks. Unfortunately, the elements that made the PSP game great are painfully absent from this version. For some reason, Namco Bandai gave them the keys to Ridge Racer, and we wish they hadn’t.
The first thing you will notice is that the game doesn’t look anything like Ridge Racer. This is probably the first one made in the West and it really shows. Once you get into a race, you will also notice it doesn’t feel like a Ridge Racer game. The game feels more like Burnout with some elements of Split/Second mixed in. The only way you would recognize this as a Ridge Racer game is by the presence of Shindo Races and drifting. On the car selection screen, most cars don’t look as interesting as those from past games, instead more closely resembling Burnout cars. Each car has a meter that tells you how powerful the car is, and you unlock more cars as you play. The races involve drifting, which gives you “Power”, and this can then be used as a boost or to knock out other cars. The third use for “Power” is to crash through buildings, which is ultimately useless as you don’t get anything out of it and makes the game feel like a rip-off of Split/Second but without the same quality. If you “frag” a car, you get your “power” meter refilled, then you rinse and repeat. Thankfully, there is more to this game than just the single-player.
In addition to Domination, modes include Frag Attack, Time Attack, and Shindo Races. Surprisingly, Time Attack is more like a stunt race than anything else, as you drive through tracks featuring half-pipes, jumps, and various other obstacles to reach floating clocks which pause time for a few seconds. Beating the score will earn you one of three stars, depending on your placement. Shindo Races is the only mode which resembles a classic Ridge Racer mode because the object is simply to race and drift. Drifting is the only thing that earns you boost, but unfortunately there are some issues with the drifting that leads to a major flaw in Ridge Racer: Unbounded, and that is that you never feel like you have complete control of your car during a drift. You can use the emergency brake and drift like normal, but the car just keeps sliding and it is difficult to regain traction. If you drift early at a 90 degree angle, you will still slam into a wall and slow down. During more open drifts, the car can easily spin out of control with just the slightest over-steering. That doesn’t bode well in Ridge Racer since that is what the series is known for. Even if you get a car that has superior drifting ability, you will still experience this problem.
Besides racing in Shatter Bay, you can create your own tracks, which is a nice touch, although the editor is a bit confusing and not very user-friendly. When you do get the hang of it, it’s fun, especially since you can share levels with the world and race them online. This can be a blast, but the aforementioned problems take their toll on online play as well. You can play on the pre-made tracks but you will be tired of those after finishing the single-player experience, if you don’t get frustrated and give up. Much of the excitement from online play derives from the hit indicator, which is most often seen in online shooters. It is important to watch where your opponents are, because if you don’t, they can frag you and it’s almost impossible to catch up. If you manage to get multiple frags from a well-placed power charge or by hitting a truck on the side to cause an explosion, it is a particularly satisfying experience. Of course, your opponents will tag you, and you’ll become a target that everyone will try to take down.
The PC version has some problems, including an inconsistent frame rate. The PC version has a higher frame rate than the console versions (60 instead of 30), but there is still some slight chugging, and the issue still hasn’t been addressed. The graphics are mediocre, with an uninspired art style that makes the game feel bland. The game also doesn’t have the same sense of speed as past Ridge Racer games, and the music is somewhat lacking as well. Most Ridge Racer games have a great techno soundtrack, with the PSP version being the best in that respect. Ridge Racer: Unbounded also chooses to take tracks from past games instead of offering new ones, and while some games can get away with this, this game can’t.
Overall, Ridge Racer: Unbounded offers cheap thrills that don’t thrill at the end of the day. Technical issues, a lack of original music, and a lack of traditional Ridge Racer game mechanics is very disappointing. Sure, the game may be worth a weekend rental, and fans of the series may enjoy the game to a certain extent, but it still fails to deliver the Ridge Racer experience we all came to expect. The online play is where this game presents some redeeming qualities, and this is where you are going to want to spend your time. Dabbling in the editor is also a great way to pass the time, considering you spend the time learning the controls. With a little more effort, Bug Bear could have perfected this game and made it a worthy addition to a classic racing franchise. Unfortunately, as it stands now, it just doesn’t live up to the hype.
This review is based off a retail copy of the PC version of Ridge Racer: Unbounded by Namco Bandai