Ridge Racer: Unbounded is a game that more fully embraces an arcade mentality without abandoning the core principles that keep fans coming back to Ridge Racer titles, but there are several issues that hold it back from being truly great.
- Focus on destruction is a welcome addition
- Track creator has everything you need to build a house of destructible cards
- Multiplayer and persistent profile progression offer plenty of replay value
- The visual spectacle of all that destruction is awesome
- Tedious progression through the single-player campaign
- Technical issues mar what is otherwise a fun multiplayer racing mode
- No one ever says "Riiiiiiiidge Raaaacer!!"
Ridge Racer Unbounded Review:
Ridge Racer: Unbounded challenges fans to expand their perceptions of what the classic arcade racing series can offer. There's a new city. An elaborate custom track creation interface. A story wrapping everything together. And destruction. Lots and lots and lots (and lots) of destruction. It wouldn't be surprising to learn that Bugbear Entertainment's design documents for the game list "blowing crap up" as a key gameplay pillar in Unbounded.
Namco Bandai couldn't have chosen a better studio for building this destruction-centric take on Ridge Racer than Bugbear. The range of environmental decimation on offer in the developer's FlatOut games speaks to this, and the spectre of that off-road racer reverberates strongly through Unbounded's cracked pavement and crumbled building facades.
Shattering Shatter Bay
The new setting for Ridge Racer: Unbounded on the single player side of things is Shatter Bay, a fragile metropolis that feels like a stitched-together pastiche of familiar urban landscapes. The city is divided into multiple neighborhoods that are each home to an assortment of vehicle-based events. You'll of course run races -- both "pure" speed showdowns and destruction-oriented Domination challenges -- but you'll also zip through time-based stunt courses, earn points for drifting (still a big part of Ridge Racer), and even hop behind the wheel of a big rig for some good, old-fashioned car fraggage.
Now matter what your goals are for a given event, destruction will follow in your wake. The city of Shatter Bay is littered with objects that break apart beneath the weight of your speeding vehicle. Figuring out which scenery you can slice through and which brings you progress to a crashing halt is the key to success here. The general rule of thumb is that anything smaller than your vehicle will crumble beneath the weight of it. This can be anything from concrete dividers to fuel pumps to cosmetic enhancements jutting out of buildings.
What's more, there's actual value in tearing apart the world around you. You'll fill up an on-screen power meter as you decimate objects and vehicles, as well as for pulling off drifts. A filled meter can then be spent on a big burst of speed, enough to "frag" an opposing vehicle if you rear-end it at close range. You can also use it to break through specially marked destroy locations, opening up shortcuts -- that anyone can use -- and triggering explosions that take out surrounding vehicles.
All of your efforts are awarded with point bonuses, whether it's a slow-but-steady drip feed for driving through random objects or bigger awards for long drifts, airtime, frags, and breaking through destroy locations. Whether or not you "pass" an event, you'll always carry your score into your player profile, which spans both single player and multiplayer. There's a progression element here; earning points boost your level, which in turn unlocks additional vehicles, single player events, and customization tools.
The various pieces all fit together well, especially with Unbounded's solid underlying mechanics steering things along. This is still most definitely an arcade racing game, and one built around the idea of high-speed movement and drift-based cornering. There's a learning curve of course, particularly with the finicky hand-braking, but it's not at all difficult to get a handle on. The real challenge is getting a sense of the track layouts and which parts of the environment are safe to crash headlong into.
While all of this is good news, progressing through the single player mode in Unbounded definitely becomes something of a chore. There's no difficulty setting to adjust, and while the early events are definitely easier than the later ones, you likely won't be winning or even placing in many of the challenges on your initial attempts.
There's nothing wrong with a challenge, but the process of unlocking content quickly becomes tedious as you play and replay the same events over and over in pursuit of better high scores. The constant dangling carrot of boosting your racing profile level -- and unlocking content as you go -- will be enough for some, but the pacing of the single player event unlocks feels like a drag unless you're really dominating every event.
Let's also take a moment to nod at Bugbear's clean presentation. Unbounded compares favorably in the graphics department to other racing games out there -- especially with the level of chaos unfolding on your screen at any given moment -- but the overall sense of presentation also earns high marks. Information like lap progress and distance in time to the next competitor appears in the world around you as a graphical overlay on top of the surrounding scenery. You won't have to take your eyes off the road to find the information elsewhere; just keep on moving forward and you'll eventually have those details fed to you.
Shattering The Whole World
Your adventures through Shatter Bay are meant to be a warm-up, however. The real heart of Ridge Racer: Unbounded lies in its two-tier multiplayer component. On the one hand you've got bog-standard multi-player racing events, enhanced of course by the unique gameplay elements that Unbounded offers. You compete against up to seven other racers in a variety of events on pre-existing tracks or custom-made ones.
Yes, there is a track creation feature in Unbounded. A fairly elaborate one too. It's simple enough to grasp how the Basic and Advanced track editors work -- you'll need to use both to construct something -- though you'll definitely want to playtest your creations before putting them out there in a live setting. The tradeoff of delivering such a deep track editor interface is that you run the risk of creating an unbeatable challenge.
Using these tools you're able to build an assortment of tracks, each with their own objectives and rules, in your very own cities. A single city in the multiplayer mode is comparable to one of the single player mode's Shatter Bay neighborhoods. There's nothing stopping you from building more than one city of course, or from publishing your created city for others to try out.
This leads into the other component of Ridge Racer: Unbounded's online play: asynchronous multiplayer. Published tracks can be used in proper multiplayer races, but you can also hop into another player's created city to try to beat the creator's high score on each track in offline play. It's a great concept, though it doesn't feel fully baked. For example, there's no way to measure your own high scores against those of your friends. There also doesn't appear to be any use for the Domination Points you earn in multiplayer beyond bragging rights.
One final mention should be made here of how the online play is shaping up right this moment, a week after Unbounded's release. Traffic doesn't seem to be particularly heavy for proper player-versus-player online match-ups right now, even at peak nighttime hours. You'll find other races to play against, but expect to wait.
More troubling, however, is the overall performance. More than once, the game managed to completely freeze up my Xbox 360 console -- a newly purchased one, no less -- while loading a multiplayer match. This doesn't seem to be a widespread issue, but a quick Google search revealed that I'm not the only one having such problems. Hopefully it's something that a software update will fix, and soon.
The Checkered Flag
Bugbear deserves praise for the work that's been done here. Ridge Racer: Unbounded is a game that more fully embraces an arcade mentality without abandoning the core principles that keep fans coming back to Ridge Racer titles over other ones. The tedious campaign progression is unfortunate and the technical issues on the multiplayer side are impossible to ignore. The core experience is solid though; maybe not the kind of solid that holds cities together, but definitely that kind that will keep you coming back for more.
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Editor's Note: Ridge Racer: Unbounded was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game; however, we also played the PS3 version, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.