GAME NAME: Ridge Racer Unbounded
DEVELOPER(S): Bug Bear
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 30 April 2012
Usually the optimal racing line in a driving game isn’t the one that goes through a concrete column. Your usual instinct is to avoid this ugly piece of architecture but in Ridge Racer: Unbounded you’re playing it wrong if you’re not leaving a trail of rubble on the tarmac. That’s how far this new iteration of Ridge Racer has steered from anything resembling past endeavours.
Developers Bug Bear has borrowed an engine part from Burnout, a power boost from Need for Speed, a brick or two from Split/Second and whatever spare parts were left of their own Flatout series to build this ludicrously destructive contraption. Your objective is to take the streets in Shatter Bay (which resembles of New York), by impressing the leader (Kara) with your destructive driving style. The small amount of narrative and accompanying intro to the game are all but laughable and the tutorial even more so. Chances are highly likely that you’ll lose the tutorial race. It’s no walk in the park. The AI is aggressive and has cheating abilities that rival those found in Mario Kart. Persevere past the first two hours though and this game opens up to become something completely different.
In Unbounded the surest way to top up your boost-powering nitrous meter, aside from smashing into other drivers or slip-streaming off them, is to tear up the track itself by carving up concrete, flinging yourself through walls or annihilating any bollards that stand in your way. It’s physical, jolting and thrilling and after years of carefully avoiding collisions in racing games… it’s liberating too. Smashing through walls to pass another racer is very rewarding as it takes some doing to build up your power meter, but smashing into a tanker – which blows up everything within a 100 meter radius and disintegrates opponents – is even more satisfying. There’s a good variation to events such as drifting and Tagging (like a Takedown in Burnout) but generally most events focus on the racing aspect. The vehicles are still made up of imaginary concepts but choosing the right car is very important. Choose the wrong car for the job and completing just one event will become a trial.
There’s more to Unbounded than simply tearing tracks to pieces though – you can also build the tracks in one of the most accessible level editors we’ve seen since Excite Bike. It’s racing LEGO essentially, allowing you to slap together pre-made bits of track to make up your own courses. It will take two minutes to create your own course with wicked turns through construction sites and past the occasional Chinese restaurant. Should you crave something a bit more in-depth there is an advanced level editor for the kind of person who likes to make fully functioning bread slicers in LittleBigPlanet. Then there’s a multiplayer mode where you can play in Shatter Bay locations or on your own course.
It isn’t all sunshine and asphalt though. Visually Unbounded has some catching up to do and those nifty imaginary cars could stand a little more variety. The sometimes frustrating AI will get on your nerves but it somehow doesn’t detract from the joy of wrecking everything in sight. The brand new direction for the Ridge Racer franchise definitely needs more fine-tuning under the hood, but for once Ridge Racer has defied the laws of physics.