Ridge Racer Unbounded Hands-On Impressions -- Speed and Destruction in the Streets of Shatter BayBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Oct 10, 2011
When I last saw Ridge Racer Unbounded during a behind-closed-doors session at E3 over the summer, I was immediately impressed with what I saw. While the series has never gone for Gran Turismo levels of authenticity, it has always lived as a fairly straight-laced arcade racer. Unbounded comes from Bugbear Entertainment, however, the same crew behind the destruction-heavy FlatOut series. It shows too, in the 2012 game's marvelously fragile urban environments.
Little has apparently changed since I first saw the game in June and my time with it last week. The big difference in this more recent demo was getting to wrap my hands around a controller and take personal responsibility for the destruction. Before we get to those hands-on impressions, let's look at how this latest Ridge Racer works.
Unbounded unfolds on the streets and highways of the fictional city of Shatter Bay. Namco Bandai hasn't said much about the game's story, though Bugbear revealed at E3 that it revolves around a gang of car-loving wrench monkeys led by a "race demon" named Kara Shindu. All that we really need to take away from this setup for now is: you'll be racing. A lot.
The races themselves take several different forms. I played through a standard multi-lap affair, but others have different objectives or rules, such as an elimination event in which the last car standing is the victor. As you careen along Shatter Bay's roadways, you'll see all manner of other vehicles, sidewalk junk like newspaper dispensers, stone columns, street lights, and any number of other things. Typically, this being a racing game, you'd attempt to avoid all of this stuff so that your speed stays high. Resist that urge. Unbounded rewards you for your destruction.
As you smash up vehicles and environmental objects, an on-screen boost meter fills. You can use it when it's full by holding down the A button (Xbox 360 controller), but better to save it until a prompt appears in the environment to highlight one location or another. Hit the boost right before you reach the marked location -- typically a wall or billboard or some other obstruction -- and you'll break right through it to open up a new shortcut. Other racers can use these shortcuts too, though I didn't observe any AI-controlled cars breaking open shortcuts of their own during my playtime.
If you're familiar with the FlatOut games, particularly the most recent one, FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage, then you know that Bugbear knows how to make breaking stuff look cool. Unbounded is a very pretty game at a glance, with bits and pieces of high-definition destruction flying everywhere as your vehicle darts in and out of traffic. The graphical shine loses a bit of its luster when you slow down too much, but there's no denying that Ridge Racer Unbounded is a pretty game.
More than that, it's also a stylish one. While you do have an on-screen HUD supplying you with information like race positioning and lap number, text will occasionally be written large across the environment that offers the same info without requiring you to look away from what's ahead of you on the road. It's a minor thing, but it works very well for keeping your attention where it always should be: on the race.
The controls are about as simple as racing controls can get. The right trigger makes you go, the left one makes you stop and move in reverse. The A/X face button triggers your boost and the B/Circle face button kicks in your E-brake, for drifting (which also fills up your boost meter). That's it. It all worked well enough in this build of the game, though the vehicles felt a bit too sluggish in how they controlled. The three reporters I got to see playing the game -- myself included -- all finished their races in third place. I got the impression as I raced that it had less to do with the skill of the AI drivers and more to do with the hard-to-manage controls.
That said, it's tough to pick up a racer and get a feel for it after a single race. The feel of Unbounded isn't so far off from FlatOut. While Bugbear is still fine-tuning various elements of the planned March release, my own troubles with the controls may have more to do with the need to spend more time getting accustomed to them.
That's how previews roll though, and Unbounded did its job well enough. Longtime fans of the series may take issue with the newly destruction-oriented focus, but the game looks and feels like a good enough time in its current, early state. Namco Bandai promises to reveal more soon about the game, particularly its user-generated content-driven racetrack-building multiplayer, so stayed tuned for more.