Ridge Racer: Unbounded Preview – Paradise Lost
Written Thursday, August 04, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Messing with an established franchise is a hell of a risk, which is why Ridge Racer: Unbounded is positioning itself more as a divergent branch in the Ridge series rather than a fully-fledged sequel. It is not Ridge Racer 8, Namco Bandai and developer Bugbear Entertainment (previously responsible for the FlatOut games) are keen to point out right from the get-go, which pretty much gives the dev team carte blanche to take the Ridge license and do pretty much whatever it likes with it. It's a far cry from the beaches, blue skies and palm trees usually associated with Ridge, but despite our misgivings upon seeing Unbounded (it is a word, apparently) for the first time, it could actually defy our expectations and take the resolutely none-more-arcade racer in a new direction.
First impressions are that Ridge Racer: Unbounded looks a lot like Burnout in its heyday, around the Burnout 3: Takedown or Burnout: Revenge era, albeit with a few neat tricks of its own up its racing-striped sleeve. First of all, it's very fast and rather pretty too, moving along smoothly at a fair old lick, which is especially important given that you'll seldom be stopping or slowing down in Unbounded. That's because you can pretty smash through any of the scenery in your car, be it a humble plant pot, a fence, a modest wall or a full-on concrete pillar. Finding out what you can and can't smash into will be part and parcel of the fun or frustration we'd wager, as during our hands-off demo it looked as though certain pieces of scenery saw your car being written-off completely; although it respawns back on the track just seconds later.
There's a story of sorts in Ridge Racer: Unbounded too, in which you join the Unbounded street racing gang lead by a fella called Kara Shindo. Therein lies the impetus for racing in Unbounded, as you strive to prove your worth behind the wheel and gain respect within the lawless urban sprawl of Shatter Bay, which is loosely based upon New York City. Shatter Bay is a fully interactive city, in that you can plough your car through almost anything, carve your own path and carry on with nary a scratch on the paintwork. As such, the game's cars look big and weighty with good reason, given that they're able to crash their way through concrete, bricks and mortar, carrying on totally unscathed.
Destruction in Unbounded isn't merely cosmetic either, unlocking shortcuts and scattering lumps of persistent debris and scenery across the track for your rivals to crash into lap after lap. You can even bring down bridges, set traps for your opponents to haplessly tear into or take out drivers in front of you using special abilities such as the 'frag' power, that blows your rivals off the road. Drifting, chasing, catching air and powersliding accumulates points towards earning these powers, which also include the ability to blast through areas designated by a triangular crosshair, giving you a surefire shortcut to pursue. Some destruction will also set in motion a devastating domino effect that can truly create a great deal of havoc on the track. Bugbear also assures us that there'll be hidden collectibles to find too, as well as awards for completing ambient in-game objectives, like knocking the head, legs and arms off of a statue.
Like Burnout, a head-on collision with another vehicle or a non-destructible wall will wipe you out in an instant and you're able to nudge rival racers into walls or pillars for Unbounded's own version of the always-satisfying takedown. Crashing is also suitably spectacular, with each car comprised of roughly 50 parts each, all of which bend, break and crack upon impact making no two prangs the same. Unbounded's cars are a mixture of all-new vehicles and a host of fan favourites too, although Bugbear and Namco Bandai has yet to reveal any of the old-school cars you'll get to drive. We imagine that some of the classic Solvalou's and Mappy's will make a comeback, as well as some of the more outlandish rides from Ridge Racer Type 4. Fingers crossed.
Drive, destroy, dominate is the mantra for Ridge Racer: Unbounded, but Bugbear has a few more buzz phrases to throw into the mix while talking about the game. Phrases like “racing warfare” or describing the city as a battlefield, covered in smoke, concrete, bricks and other detritus. This certainly rings true while watching our demo of Unbounded, and the game certainly looks the part, with some lovely physics on show, wonderfully shiny cars and decent smoke and particle effects. Visual touches like incorporating the HUD into the scenery are welcome too, lending Unbounded a unique look and sense of style all of its own, showing your race position, lap number and score without cluttering the screen. In fact, despite being at a pre-alpha stage, the game looks surprisingly good, even if it isn't quite what we'd expect a Ridge Racer game to look like.
The AI of your opponents is also supposed to be aggressive and adapt to your style of play, which should make the lap-based and point-to-point races challenging. If it's multiplayer you're after however, Bugbear is still somewhat cagey on the subject, stating that while frag-laden deathmatches “would make sense”, there's simply not enough demand for racing online. What's interesting though, is that a parting mention of “thousands” of tracks outside of the core Shatter Bay city suggest that Bugbear might have user-generated content or randomly-generated tracks in the pipeline. However, the developer is unable to discuss it further or go into specifics at this time. Dammit.
While Unbounded isn't traditionally what one would consider to be a Ridge Racer game, as a fresh take on the franchise, it's certainly intriguing, especially when it looks like vintage Burnout with a destructive twist. There's potential in the premise of being able to break through scenery and it's heartening to see that the powersliding and drifting that has always been Ridge Racer's trademark is still present and correct, as it should be. So, even in spite of our concerns that Ridge Racer: Unbounded might not necessarily be in the conventional Ridge Racer spirit, it looks as though it could very well be an accomplished racing game in it's own right regardless.
Ridge Racer: Unbounded is out in 2012.