Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Publisher: Namco Bandai
It is for the umpteenth time that I bury my controller in the sofa, cursed to watch my car explode into flames at the death of the race, a drift gone slightly awry having sent my car slamming into some neighbouring garages as the lead I built so carefully over three laps is snatched away at the very last moment and I finish in 7th.
Ridge Race Unbounded is not good for your blood pressure.
Anyone who has cursed the rubber band machinations of the oh-so-sweet, yet-brutally-unfair racers in older Mario Kart games will find much to swear about here, with Bugbear's title generating a significant feeling of impotence on a number of occasions, as flat-out speed (forgive the pun) is spat upon by fellow racers who glide past you serenely, often even without boosting.
Of course, Ridge Racer Unbounded is rather the black sheep of the racing series that gives it its name Bugbear have clearly carried over a large amount from their other racing series - FlatOut - to try and create a racer that's fast, aggressive, and spectacularly visceral. Unbounded is something of a mish-mash of familiar games in this genre, with elements of FlatOut, Burnout, and Disney's Split/Second thrown into the mix. Destruction is supposedly the order of the day, with drifting, airtime, slipstreaming, and aggressive driving all serving to boost your power bar. Unleash it once ready, and you can smash your way through city landmarks, destroying marketplaces, breaking in the front wall of the city hall, tunnelling through dockland warehouses instead of going around them.
It's a brilliant idea in theory, but there's simply not enough of it, and with little of the thrilling spectacle that made Split/Second such an adrenaline-fuelled romp. Furthermore, there are number of destruction "shortcuts" that aren't actually shortcuts at all, with a straight line drive at full speed often putting you a place or two further back than you were before you opted to smash that wall.
Elsewhere on the track, drifting takes a bit of getting used to, once you realise that you have to put everything modern racers have taught you in the last few years aside, and hold the drift button, but it's the pace of the game that's the real issue. Although the constantly aggressive, rubber-banding opponents do much to instil a real sense of urgency, there's little of that from the drive itself. In open racing things seem a little sluggish and, although there's a better sense of speed when hurtling down down an alleyway, it's difficult at times to tell the difference between 50mph and 150mph. Boosting helps, but we can't help but feel that we've gone faster in games like this before.
The variety in terms of gameplay events does help. You hop from district to district in Shatter Bay, unlocking new ranking, new cars, and new events as you go. These range from Domination races, which see you pitted against opponents in an aggressive drive replete with takedowns (called frags in this game) and rivalries; Shindo races are simply good old fashioned races, with a smattering of boosting to spice things up; Drift events pretty much explain themselves; there are timed events that see you driving around ridiculous stunt courses, with halfpipes and loops; and there are frag events that have you take down as many opponents as possible, often with a massive truck.
It's this variety that keeps me coming back, that and the fact that if you get bored of Shatter Bay, you can either go off and create your own cities - with a handful of slots for your tailor-made tracks and events in each - or jump online and see what other people have built.
Unbounded's creation suite might seem a little bare at first, but complete a few events and increase your ranking in Shatter Bay, and you'll see new tiles from new districts unlock. As I explained in my earlier preview, you start off with a blank grid, building your track from a selection of tiles. You begin with the basics - straights, curves, start lines etc. - but the extra districts bring new opportunities - freeways, tunnels, intersections, and so on. After you've completed your loop, you can litter the circuit with jumps, explosives, breakable barriers, trees and more. After that, you set the event type, the difficulty level, and complete at least one of the goals in order to provide a target for others to aim for.
We settled on a winding circuit, complete with a railway-vaulting jump, a forest covering a fifth of the track, bundles of destructible pillars and walls, reams of exploding barrels, and a loop-the-loop. With the stunt tracks proving the most hilarious, we can't wait to see what far more talented people come up with. It's not the most comprehensive creation suite in the world, and Media Molecule won't be quaking in their boots, but it is accessible, intuitive, and expansive enough to warrant many a return.
So, in the end, Shatter Bay isn't exactly hugely memorable or interesting as a setting, the opponent AI is teeth-gnashingly unforgiving (particularly without a rewind button), and the range of cars is a bit uninspiring - but in spite of itself, Ridge Racer Unbounded is actually a lot of fun. It'll make you scream, curse, and swear, you'll think of at least half a dozen improvements that could have been made, halfway through your first race. But that can be put down to Bugbear's inexperience with big budget games. The most important thing is that you'll keep coming back, again and again. It's a perfect time to release this game, particularly after the painfully average Need For Speed: The Run last year.
It might not scale the bar that Criterion set several years back, but it'll certainly provide hours of entertainment, and instil a grim determination to succeed that you don't find in many other places. Couple that with the extensive creation suite and social sharing features, and Bugbear's robust racer might just be the best value package you pick up this spring. It'll certainly tide you over until the next Burnout, at the very least.
- Good variety of events
- Easy-to-grasp creation suite
- Wealth of content
- More online modes would be nice
- Shatter Bay is pretty bland
- Destruction not as epic or extensive as it should be
The Short Version: Ridge Racer Unbounded is more fun than it arguably has any right to be. It's fairly derivative, and its setting isn't exactly inspirational. But a good range of event types, a fully featured creation suite, and a whole heap of content do much to make it an attractive package indeed.