Yesterday I was given the opportunity to head over to Namco Bandai in London to try out a handful of their upcoming titles, one of which was the super destructive Ridge Racer Unbounded. What is interesting about this entry is the game is not being developed in-house; instead Namco have opted to let FlatOut developer BugBear have a go. I’ll start by saying that if you’ve ever played a previous Ridge Racer title in the nineteen or so years it’s been around… completely forget everything you know or played. This does not feel like a Ridge Racer title and the only thing Unbounded shares with the long-running series is in its name.
Right from the start the handling feels completely different getting rid of the roller coaster/stuck on rails style racing you’d expect and instead opting for controls more in common with arcade racer Split/Second. Whereas before you could pull off ridiculous turns at the last possible moment, in Unbounded you need to plan every curve in the road. At first the drifting felt a mixture of unresponsive or oversensitive, but after a few races I was finding the sweet spot nailing hairpin turns with confidence. It felt good.
Much like Burnout and Split/Second performing jumps, drifts and impressive feats rewards you by filling a bar. When full this boosts your car momentarily with speed and strangely enough power. This can be used as a quick means to gain speed but ideally you’ll want to use it to activate the game’s many shortcuts or take out opposing players. Littered throughout each stage you’ll find breakable billboards, walls and more which can be smashed aside so long as you’re activating your power bar. Similar to the shortcuts, taking down other players must be done by veering into them with the ability activated. Choosing whether to save what you have in the tank in case someone tries to overtake or risk it by cutting a corner and running through an abandoned garage can add some exciting moments of strategy.
Unlike other racers where you usually do all you can to avoid obstacles, crashing into the environment around you in Unbounded doesn’t result in a massive explosion but rather lets you break right on through. It may seem odd and downright impossible to be driving at over one hundred miles per hour, bulldoze through the concrete pillar of an overhead bridge and drive away without losing any speed but it’s an idea that rewards the player for daring to demolish anything nearby with shortcuts and cut corners. Sometimes though it can be difficult to judge what exactly is destructible and what will activate a crash scene.
From what I saw of the campaign the idea seemed to be to take over certain districts of the city each compiled of a handful of events. I only got the chance to try out a standard race and time trial but I noticed a mode that had you focusing on taking out other racers as well as a drifting competition. It might have been because I was early into the game but sadly the eleven other computer-controlled racers didn’t put up much of a fight. I’m sure as you progress though this will change.
The online multiplayer was good fun (of which I won every single race) with races being both fierce and competitive. Since I was playing against humans they obviously had a better sense of aggression meaning contests would be full of takedowns and rivalries (I in fact formed one with the young competitor sitting next to me). There are however instances where racers can take quite a lead, making some events feel like a frustrating game of catch-up that you’re not going to win. Mistakes rarely happen since walls and barriers can simply be driven though so waiting for that opportunity where you can capitalize on an opponent may never come.
The menu did display a city creation mode which I didn’t get a chance to check out but it does promise the chance to create your own tracks to race and share online.
The game overall looks and sounds great. The cars look stylish and slick and the environments crumble and shatter with great detail. One thing that really stood out for me though was the way the game would continually stick race stats on the environment around you. Your score or how far behind or ahead you are of the next opponent would appear sprawled along a wall as you drive by. It’s a minor detail but such a stylish one that has really stuck with me. I love it.
Overall I had a good time with Ridge Racer Unbounded and think it’ll be right up the street of fans of Burnout or Split/Second. It’ll be interesting to see how the destructible environments play out in later tracks as well as get a chance to try some more of the race types but so far it seems as though this new direction BugBear are taking the racing series in is an exciting one.