As far as arcade racers go, the Ridge Racer series is undeniably one of the most beloved out of the genre. Starting off in the arcades and later jumping to consoles and handhelds, the series has more or less remained consistent with its fundamental gameplay. Earlier, the hi-octane game required players to drive cars around standard tracks and make it across the finishing line in the top position. With its newest entry, Ridge Racer Unbounded, now handheld by new development team, the series is looking at a change in dynamics. Is the new direction a breath of fresh air, or has the series been sidetracked down hazardous roads?
The latest installment loosely adheres to the classic mechanics of Ridge Racer games. Races are constructed on circuits of the sprawling urban landscape of Shatter Bay. You will be nitrous-boosting and drifting a lot to make it to the finish line. The similarities end there, as the game trades in arcade-style racing for vehicular combat and environmental destructibility. Ridge Racer Unbounded is designed to capitalize the most of these features, as the majority of the events involve either wrecking other cars or destroying the environment in some way to fill up your power meter for boosts and more destruction.
Some modes however take away this ability in favor of classic racing action, where drivers compete to cross the finish line first. The racing is different from your traditional Ridge Racer action and requires a bit more effort than most of its contemporaries to master. Only true standout feature is the ability to create custom tracks and share them with the community at large. This allows players to tap into their creative potential and arrange courses filled with exploding tankers, destructible walls and half-pipes. Unfortunately, the AI doesn’t usually play by the rules you would prefer. They will never engage in environmental destruction and come with a Power bar that recharges automatically. Their sole focus is to make sure you don’t reach the finish line in first. It may be dumped down a bit, but the AI will make things tough for you.
Online play relegates to joining a set of events against other players, which is by far one of the best elements of the game. The competitive action online is really enjoyable, but the availability of players (or lack thereof) might make things troublesome for a stable match. You can race across standard or user-created tracks. Although there’s no option to change the track list once the game has started, it still makes for great fun if you can manage to find players to test your mettle against in a game that promotes speed and carnage.
The presentation has some nice touches to it; there’s some smart use of the environment to display race stats, such as number of laps and split time. Car models look flashy, though there is some excessive use of lighting and colors. The soundtrack mixes electronic with series standard pop tracks. However, some of the car sounds appear muffled, particularly during crashes and structural damage.
The roads may need some clearing up, but Ridge Racer Unbounded manages to cruise by with a new style and some great new concepts. While most of its elements have been present for a while now, the decision to incorporate user-created content and the overall fun factor makes this game worth checking out, at least once.