Ridge Racer Unbounded Hands-on Preview
Some games have been around since what seems like the dawn of time, they have legions of fans and rarely change because… well they don’t need to. They have been around since the dawn of time and have legions of fans because they are widely considered to be ‘good games’. Eventually though, they are outdone by their competitors and they need to pull something drastic out of the bag and go for the reboot, they need that ‘Batman Begins’ moment if you will. Ridge Racer is the latest member of that club and, while the developers aren’t marketing it as a reboot, they quite easily could do.
A fresh tank of gas is just what the Ridge Racer series needs and that’s exactly what the guys and girls of Bugbear Entertainment and Namco have given it. Don’t start fanboy screaming just yet though, as everything you love about the Ridge Racer series still remains: the cars still have that Ridge Racer look to them and the sense of speed is still there, as is the ability to pull off those ridiculously long drifts around the game’s sweeping corners. The drifting, as you’d expect, helps to build your boost bar which can be spent on that extra bit of speed or, if you can save yourself, you’re able to blow your load on set sections of the tracks and do things like smash through thick concrete walls, creating shortcuts and altering the layout of the track for the next lap and the racers behind you. It’s not just these set piece sections that are destructible though; it’s possible to turn a fair bit of the track to rubble all in the name of building up your boost – as a loose rule if it has yellow and black stripy bits on it you’re going to wind up in tiny pieces scattered across the road, but anything else seems to be fair game for a good smashing.
Something that always bothers me about racing games – and games in general – is the HUD; they just clutter up the screen, distracting me, and I often think they make a racing game feel slower… but at the same time I like having all of the information such as position and lap times available at a glance. This is where Ridge Racer Unbounded starts to make some big changes to the racing genre; all of that information is now part of the track and curved out around the city street corners or splashed up high along the side of bridges. The closest thing I can think to how it looks is the way that your mission objectives are presented to you in Splinter Cell: Conviction – it’s like that except it feels faster and more organic.
Now for Ridge Racer’s next big thing, the game changer: the track and city creator. Your sandbox consists of sixty four blank blocks, which can be laid out however you want, be it a boring old square or a straight line, or maybe in the shape of Pac-Man, it’s completely up to you. Once you have that base grid set down it’s just a case of dropping in the pre-built sections of city and making sure the track matches up. The actual city designer tool isn’t that far removed from what the developers have been using themselves to build the courses and the idea behind it came about when one of the developers on the team suggested that anybody could build a professionally designed track with the tool. They set themselves a challenge to alter the design tool and make it so easy to use that anybody would be able to create a professional looking track in under one minute, and when (and if) they could achieve that then they would include it in the game.
Lucky for us they did achieve it and it has opened up Ridge Racer Unbounded to a whole new world of possibilities. Building your city and tracks is easy and the developers are likening it to playing with Lego. Each block is two and fifty meters in real world terms and most of the developer made tracks are made up of around thirty two. The track tiles themselves that you’ll be able to choose from can be more than one block in size, vary in shape and let you drop in anything from tight hairpin corners to a long sweeping chicane at the touch of a button. The core of the design tool is ultimately the track layout and all you need to worry about is matching up the road at the edge of each tile, and everything around you, such as buildings, lamp posts and trees etc., are filled in for you. If you’re worried about it looking samey all the time though, fear not as you’ll be able to actively switch between city, countryside, underground and other themes for your surroundings, allowing you to mix and match the theme of each tile as and when you like so that you aren’t constrained to just one style per track. The brilliance of the track designer really lies in its ease of use, all of the heavy lifting is done for you; the designer will take care of all of the short cuts, set pieces and the interactive HUD that appears around the city as you race. It really is that easy and I witnessed a playable track (that I got to have a race on) get built in less than a minute.
It doesn’t just stop there though… for Ridge Racer Unbounded to go the distance it needs to become a bit more than that and become sociable. Players will be able to create their own city as a hub world, which they’ll be able to share online with friends for them to drive around in as and when they wish. Dotted around your own city will be the tracks and events you have created for your friends list to compete in and, if they are better than all of your other mates at your events, setting the fastest time and top scores, they’ll get to “own” your city. You can defend your turf if you wish or try and take ownership of their city or just disappear off into the wilds of the listings and own some other poor bugger’s city. It won’t just stop at your friends, Bugbear Entertainment will be there constantly creating new tracks for you to try out and keeping an eye on the popular ones in the community, highlighting them for everybody to enjoy.
The possibilities and the longevity of Ridge Racer Unbounded are… well… Unbounded. It’s shaping up to reclaim its crown as one of the great arcade racers, while at the same time raising the bar and changing the arcade racing genre forever.
Games featured in this article
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