Before I deliver any evidence for that statement, it’s important to note that Unbounded doesn’t deliver the experience gamers have come to expect when purchasing a Ridge Racer game. Developers Bugbear Entertainment has bravely re-booted the franchise into an action-packed city racer in which destruction is as much a focus as actual racing. Ridge Racer Unbounded is set in the fictional city of Shadow Bay, with the single-player content arriving in the form of seven events in each of the cities nine districts (that’s 63 in total).
The environments in this city are varied, and as a result Unbounded’s overall presentation is impressive. Graphically, the latest Ridge Racer is right up there with the best. The city in which Unbounded’s events take place is consistently pretty, even if it doesn’t have the wow factor of 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. The way the game reminds the player of important in-race statistics by displaying message on the environment is a rather slick way of letting the gamer know how far they’re from the next racer or their position in the race, and it means the bottom of the screen isn’t too clogged up.
Unbounded’s gameplay is where it really shines, however. Developers Bugbear Entertainment have got the drifting system, a common feature in Ridge Racer games that let you easily speed around sharp corners, spot on. Drifting is essential if you want to win races, and if done correctly can be incredibly rewarding. This isn’t a game you’re going to breeze through, and over or under-doing a drift can have disastrous consequences. One the other hand, getting it right is incredibly satisfying and can be the difference between first and second place in a race. The balance here is perfect and the risk-reward system when playing this game is an absolute delight to play.
Bugbear does well to keep things fresh with a range of game modes, most of which are fun to play and offer up enough variation to justify the excessive number of events in the single player mode. Perhaps the most enjoyable of the modes is ‘Domination Race’, in which twelve racers blow each other up and smash through buildings in order to achieve a podium finish and pass the event. The amount of objects that are destructible in a Ridge Racer Unbounded is remarkable, and Domination Race takes full advantage of that, allowing gamers to use their boost to smash through building, as well as ‘frag’ (take out) other racers. Crashing through buildings to create shortcuts creates an epic set-piece moment and, if used tactically, can help win you the race.
Elsewhere there’s a classic Ridge Racer mode called Shindo Racing, which removes the destruction in favour of old-school racing, in which you jump behind the wheel of a large truck and take out cop cars or other racers. Both of which are enjoyable enough to play, and whilst they lack the thrill of Domination races, they ensure gameplay doesn’t become too repetitive. Perhaps the most challenging and often the most infuriating of the modes in Unbounded is Drift Attack, in which you earn points for prolonging drifts around corners. I often found myself frustrated as I span out whilst trying to maximise my score, and whilst drifting works well in other modes the emphasis on it here means it can get pretty difficult when going for the highest target score. My personal favourite mode though is Time Attack, which tasks players with time-trial goals on a stunt course full of ramps. The action here is fluid and fast-paced; offering the kind of frantic edge-of-your-seat fun expected from any great racing game.
The content doesn’t stop with just the modes featured in the single-player game. Unbounded features online multiplayer reminiscent of games like Blur, except with the slow motion set-pieces of Burnout. When it comes to online racing, there are few better than Unbounded; even if it lacks the community features present in Need For Speed’s autolog system. Bugbear have also ensured that people will be playing Ridge Racer Unbounded for a long time by including a detailed track editor, ingeniously divided into two sections to ensure that people can easily make a decent track without having to spend hours on it.
The ‘basic’ track editor allows you to easily choose your course layout, but the ‘advanced’ editor allows you to edit the actual track to your heart’s content, adding ramps or obstacles as you please. It’s immensely detailed and has potential to deliver some incredible user-generated content due to the large Ridge Racer community. Unbounded isn’t just a great racer, it’s also a ‘Play, Create Share’ title good enough to rival the likes of ModNation.
There are a few minor gripes with the game, but in all honesty they rarely detract from the overall experience. The tracks you get straight out of the box can get a tad repetitive, with sections being used multiple times across districts, and the dubstep-filled soundtrack can get a little draining. Crucially, though, these flaws don’t get in the way of your enjoyment of the game, leaving Unbounded as a very strong overall package.
I fully appreciate that your gaming budget has already probably been used up with pre-orders for blockbusters like Max Payne and Assassins Creed. I also understand that Ridge Racer Unbounded won’t have necessarily been on your radar. But whether you’re taking out a competitor in the last few seconds of a race, smashing through an office block or drifting around a corner to overtake another racer, Ridge Racer Unbounded is thoroughly enjoyable.
It’s not a game without flaws, but it blends the best things from Burnout, Split Second, Need for Speed and a variety of other street racers to create the racing game of the year so far. Unoriginal? Maybe, but it’s damn good fun too.