Ridge Racer has been around for years, it came about originally on the Sony PlayStation and has seen itself move from generation to generation largely unchanged from its arcade heavy roots. Unbounded however is exactly what it’s name suggests; a no-holds-barred riot of a racer. This change of pace, style, and approach is due mostly in part to Namco Bandai handing the reigns of the series over to external developer Bugbear Entertainment, known for their FlatOut action racing titles.
At first glance this doesn’t seem anything like a Ridge Racer title, heck even after a few minutes of play this doesn’t seem like a Ridge Racer title. The first game you’ll think of when picking up Unbounded is Split Second. The complete lack of HUD, the stylistic cars and environments, even the use of power attacks to open shortcuts and take foes out. Then elements of FlatOut creep in; the debris that gets strewn across the road for the remainder of the race, and the fact you can practically plow through any object in your path. Finally Burnout rears its beautiful head in the frankly pornographic car crashes and environmental takedowns. It’s a crude way to put it, but if Burnout and FlatOut had an illicit lovechild, and then that lovechild copped off with Split Second, Ridge Racer Unbounded would be the beautiful fruit of their labours.
This isn’t to say that Unbounded has no features of a Ridge Racer title though. To gain power for boosts, ‘frags’ (essentially takedowns), and environmental carnage, you’ll have to drift. Anybody who’s ever so much as glanced at a Ridge Racer title knows that drifting is what the series does best, and that hasn’t changed. Flick your back end out into a corner and oh boy does it feel like a classic Ridge Racer once again! You’ll have those nail biting moments where you nearly spin out, the astounding ones where you manage to essentially drift your way down a straight road, it’s safe to say the drifting has stayed as beautiful as it always has been. Visually this title also screams Ridge Racer, the cars are beautiful and the reflection’s of the scenery or lighting gleams off with stylistic beauty, it’s like driving though a world perpetually drenched in neon and nighttime.
Bugbear have also put in what looks like a rather hefty campaign into the series. Taking place across districts of a city, each district contains a multitude of individual events that range across your standard races, known as Dominators, as well as objective based events where you’re tasked with ‘fragging’ cars or drifting continually etc. It’s an interesting way to go about doing things, and again makes quite a nice change from the usual Ridge Racer template. At the end of each event you’ll be greeted with a screen doling out points based upon your driving prowess and the little achievements you earned in each race. These levels unlock extra cars and events as well as pieces for the course creation tool. Yes you read that right, you can build your own tracks for the game.
The course creation tool is a dark horse for Unbounded. Not only does it provide near infinite possibilities for new courses and extra content, they can also be shared online and played by others, meaning you’ll never be short of places to race though. On the surface the editor allows you to quickly, and effortlessly, click together pieces of track scenery to create a playable track within minutes. Careening through these areas at breakneck speed show you just how good the editor works as the tracks feel natural, even the shortcuts and destructible environments are placed within; even the varying sections are smoothed over, so it seems completely natural to have a railway bridge right next to a block of high rise buildings. Bugbear have however also provided an advanced editor for those who really want to tweak the finer details of the game. With ease you can swoop in and place your own environmental objects and really change how the course feels, if anything it seems that the editor could have been what Bugbear used to build their own tracks with.
Whilst the game is looming ever closer to its European launch of March 30th, it seems that it’s shaping up nicely indeed. It does have its little confusing issues, such as why some objects and walls can be driven though yet others will bring you to a sharp halt, but regardless of that fact it’s brilliantly fun. The multiplayer events and course creation tools show that there is a lot of content to come back for, and to enjoy over and over again. It’s the perfect introduction to a series that largely gets overlooked in the West – probably why Namco let a western developer put their mark upon the series. If you are a long time fan it’s also a great change to a wonderful franchise, really giving it a much-needed fresh look and feel. So far it seems that this is one to really keep an eye out on.