Ridge Racer: Unbounded Review
Written : Thursday, April 05, 2012
By: Richard Walker
Here's how you know you're playing a Ridge Racer game: there's palm trees, sandy beaches, azure blue skies, a helicopter occasionally swooping down dangerously close to your car, there's a mental techno soundtrack and you can powerslide at impossible angles. Only some of those elements have made the cut for Ridge Racer's dark half however, as the yang to the series' usual bright and breezy yin. Ridge Racer: Unbounded is an almost completely different beast altogether, but the fun and arcade-centric heart of the series is still very much alive and well.
With development duties handed over to Finnish FlatOut studio, Bugbear Entertainment, Ridge Racer: Unbounded is all about destruction and domination over executing ludicrous powerslides, although that's still very much the lynchpin for Unbounded's core mechanic, the power or boost. Each are essential in the game's numerous races through the meandering streets of Shatter City, where smashing through various designated landmarks is a wonderful, instantly gratifying secondary objective. With cars the size of barges that are also built like tanks, you're able to demolish small walls and pillars emerging with nary a scratch, with the general rule of thumb that if it's smaller than your car, chances are you can plough on through it unscathed.
"A shiny, shiny car. Yesterday."
The core conceit is simple, and takes a leaf out of the book of Burnout. You powerslide, tailgate or smash up scenery to build your power or boost meter (depending on the race type you're participating in), then unleash it at the most opportune moment. In Ridge's Domination Races that serve as the game's crux, hitting the power button gives you a speed boost and temporarily enables you to 'frag' rival racers or destroy designated targets on the track. It's enormous fun opening up shortcuts by breaking through walls in slow-motion, with a cinematic camera cutting in as you leave masses of collateral damage in your wake, sending rubble flying through the air and setting off strategically-placed gas canisters and fuel drums. It's a bit like playing a balls-out Hollywood car chase movie.
After extended play, Ridge Racer: Unbounded will manage to get its hooks into you with its Domination Races and Frag Attacks, and to a much lesser extent, the Drift Attack, Shindo Races and Time Attack events. It's these latter three race types that aren't nearly as inspired as the Domination and Frag Attack races, and nowhere near as exciting either. Still, they break up the relentless destruction with their purer racing disciplines, but you'll probably go back to Domination over the rest of Unbounded's comparatively vanilla offerings. Like Burnout, Domination is pure, distilled arcade joy and the systems of gaining a power boost and then uncorking its destructive force seldom gets old.
What does get old is Shatter City itself, which on paper should be a varied and always fresh location for Unbounded's numerous courses, as a sprawling location with nine separate districts. And with the simple to use basic city editor and more detailed advanced editor, there's limitless potential for building your own tracks. However, it all starts to smack of deja-vu after a while, with the same targets to power into, the same corners to drift around, the same old vicious hairpins to write off your ride on, and the same oppressive urban grey pervading almost every inch. That's not to say that Ridge Racer: Unbounded is an ugly game. Far from it, in fact. There are moments of genuine loveliness to be eyeballed in Shatter City, whether it's a brilliant sunset breaking between high rise buildings, neon reflecting off the shiny asphalt, a glorious slow-mo crash into a gas truck or the improbable shininess of the game's chunky cars, Unbounded is a bit of a looker.
"Here comes the sun, doo-de-doo-doo!"
Your goal in single-player is to take over the city as a street racer, winning races, and earning points to unlock the next event while simultaneously levelling-up to expand your garage. You'll soon have your go-to vehicles and leave the other, lesser rides to rust though. There's no scope for upgrades or custom paint jobs either, although you're given a paltry palette of colours for each car. This no-frills approach extends to almost the entirety of Ridge Racer: Unbounded, which presents you with a basic tutorial then leaves you to get on with it. It's a game that doesn't need anything spelling out. You already know the score. Race for points, destroy the scenery, smash your rivals, drift around the curves, gun the accelerator and braking is for wimps.
Ridge Racer: Unbounded's online offerings are also substantial, although the standard multiplayer is fairly barebones, with nothing unique or particularly special about it. You're simply presented with the race modes from single-player, and you can join a quick match or invite friends to join you. The substance comes from the infinite events, challenges and races presented by the user-generated content that means you could conceivably play the game online forever. That depends entirely upon your penchant for sliding sideways around corners of course, but arcade racer junkies will find a hell of a lot to like in the unfathomable depth of city creator courses available from other users. That's before you even factor your own creations into the equation.
"Frag the police."
Racing online works as elegantly as it should, although it can be incredibly frustrating when the game's occasionally skittish physics see you clipping an errant piece of rubble, sending your ride pirouetting off-course at a pivotal moment. This is fine in single-player where an instant restart or car reset is a quick solution, but online it's utterly maddening. In fairness, it is a fairly rare occurrence, but an annoyance nonetheless. And even if you fluff a race and lose, you still gain valuable XP, which counts across all modes.
You're constantly unlocking new cars, new course editor parts and races as a result, so there's impetus to push on and play the multiple modes on offer. Nonetheless, there are issues with the system leaving you at an impasse if you've failed to earn enough points to progress. Be prepared to redo a lot of races over and over. The difficulty level doesn't help matters either, rendering some races a chore as you strive for absolute perfection. There are a handful of events where one mistake essentially means it's all over. Imagine clipping a wall mere yards from the finish line, watching as a hard fought race goes down the drain. Gaaaargh! And the less said about the hideous Time Attack stunt tracks, the better. They're teeth-grindingly hard.
If you're hoping to bag all the achievements then, expect to put in some hard graft to do so. Winning races is difficult, so asking that you defeat 150 Domination Races alone for an achievement is a bit of a tall order. Otherwise, you'll find a good spread of achievements across all of Unbounded's modes, the majority of which involve completing every race with a three-star Domination rating, destroying everything or bizarrely, avoiding creating any damage whatsoever, which is totally counterintuitive. Nonetheless, it's a perfectly serviceable achievement list, and one with a decent mix of things to do.
A pure and unadulterated arcade racer, Ridge Racer: Unbounded has no pretence beyond providing immediate, speedy thrills. Domination Races are the main draw here, but police car-ramming Frag Attacks are a blast too. Shindo Racing, Time Attack and Drift Attack flesh things out, but they're lacking the all-important fun factor. Handling is pleasingly tight and responsive too, though somewhat lacking in refinement. That's not the point though. Ridge Racer: Unbounded is straightforward, uncomplicated arcade entertainment, which for some might not be enough. For us however, it's perfectly ample.
Wall-to-wall wub wub dubstep on the soundtrack might not be to everyone's tastes, but you can't argue with the growling engines, screeching tyres and the sweet sound of fiery explosions.
Solid, functional and occasionally beautiful, Ridge Racer: Unbounded is an attractive game. It's just a shame that it's all rather samey. The HUD popping up at the side of the track is a very neat and stylish visual touch, however.
A great arcade racer, Ridge Racer: Unbounded handles well, but it doesn't do anything particularly exceptional. Tearing through buildings is enjoyable, as is ramming rivals off the road, but drifting around corners and crashing can start to wear a bit thin after a while.
A meaty racing title, Unbounded's Shatter City is large, but somewhat repetitive. The City Creator tool makes the game potentially endless, so its lifespan really depends on how long you're willing to give the game your attention. Presentation is stellar too, although occasional loading screen crashes are an irritant. The lack of local split-screen is a kick in the knickers too.
A good, solid list with plenty to do. There's achievements for exploring all of Ridge Racer: Unbounded's modes and features, and thankfully only a small handful of multiplayer achievements. The single-player ones are hard enough though, and winning 150 Domination Races will take a long, long time.
Bugbear has done a sound job exploring the dark side of the Ridge Racer franchise, with a slick arcade racer that could be the start of an interesting side avenue for the series to pursue in future sequels. Ridge Racer: Unbounded is a good, solid racing title that'll please the arcade junkies, but leave Forza fans out in the cold. It's Drive, Destroy, Dominate remit is delivered in spades, but after while, it can start to get a tad repetitive.