Ridge Racer Unbounded

To quote football commentators everywhere, Ridge Racer Unbounded is a game of two halves. Before I go into that, though, a little background...

While Unbounded is the 26th Ridge Racer game (!), it really is quite unlike any other game in the series. Yes, it features cars, and yes, you can slide them around corners, that's about where the similarities end. Developed by series newcomers Bugbear, it's got a lot more in common with that team's earlier FlatOut series than it does with the "cornering on rails" games that have previously borne the name Ridge Racer.

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The game it's most similar too, however, is Burnout - a franchise EA seem to be happy to leave (mostly) in the past. Your goal is to race around a series of tracks in which coming first is something you're prepared to achieve at any cost - even (or especially, perhaps) if that means destroying your opponents on the way. It's very arcadey, very fast, and not even remotely similar to previous games in the franchise.

So let's take a look at the first half, as alluded to in the opening paragraph: the single-player "campaign" mode. Here, much as you might imagine, your goal is to take on a number of tracks grouped into several locations throughout the virtual city in which the game is set. You start with one location unlocked and, as you proceed, you unlock more. No surprises there. However, unlocking more content is difficult, because Ridge Racer Unbounded is hard.

Part of the (very high) difficulty comes from the fact that the AI are both good and nearly identical. So they move around the level in a pack that's separated only by a few seconds. They also seem to always be in magically better cars than you, no matter which vehicle you manage to unlock, which means they pull away from you on every straight, recover faster from every incident, and generally make you look terrible - no matter how good (or leveled-up) you are. So you'll either have a perfect race (and come first) or accidentally brush up against a wall (and come last). Finishing position, therefore, feels almost random, leaving you unsatisfied by any feeling of gradual progression or improvement.

What is satisfying, though, is the level of destruction on offer. In addition to being able to obliterate your opponents (which plays out by way of slow-motion tumbling wreck), there are numerous locations on every level which - if you have enough power - you can destroy to either give you a shortcut or heap more destruction on your fellow racers.

Ultimately, though, even that isn't that satisfying. The slow-motion cutscenes all but prevent you from causing serious carnage (limiting most wrecks to just one car) and, if you skip them, it can result in a weird (glitchy) return to your racing position. I've respawned with my vehicle inside other cars (causing weird shakes and noises until the other car is destroyed) or returned from a slow-mo sequence to find myself smashing (and subsequently wrecking) into a wall. Polished, this is not.

There's also no real variety in the game. You get to see most of the locations you'll ever see, very early on in your Ridge Racer career. Even when you move to a different part of the city, you'll see the same tracks over and over again. There's not much variety in the events, either, with the same handful playing out repeatedly.

So far, Unbounded is a pretty average and uninspiring affair - however, this game (as previously discussed) has two halves... the second half is the online and content-creation side of the title. This stuff is decidedly more interesting and a much more worthwhile way to spend your time.

Thanks to the game's rich editing suite, you can create your own tracks and even cities (a combination of tracks and events) which you can then challenge other racers to compete on. The depth on offer far exceeds what you see in the singleplayer, and - thanks to the random skill level of the player community - it all adds up to a varied and occasionally weird experience.

For example, one level we played was described as a puzzle. Constructed like a level from a first person shooter, you had to try to find your way to the finish line inside the allotted time. Driving a car around in a building was extremely bizarre, unique, and fun.

Another event was just like a level from the main game, except... full of vans. The content creator had filled every square millimeter of the track with, well, vans. Crashing through them constantly, while not something I'd want to do every time I play, was again - unique and fun.

And there's tens of thousands of these things; seeing what's out there, or creating weird new variants of your own, is extremely addictive.

Technically, the game is a bit rough around the edges. The graphics are bland, the camera occasionally glitches, serious slowdown is evident in some levels (particularly user-built stuff), and various elements of the experience were clearly shipped because they were determined to be "good enough" rather than "completely right". It really does have that "experimental first iteration of a franchise" feel about it, something that pervades the entirety of the experience. It's not rushed, exactly, but it's also a fair way short of polished.

If you're only here for the singleplayer stuff, and have no interest in making or playing user-generated content, it's hard to recommend Unbounded. It's not bad, but the arcade racer market is fairly crowded, so it's also not hard to find something better.

If, however, the idea of creating or playing in any of thousands of different player-made levels excites you, with experiences varying from the familiar to the far out, Ridge Racer Unbounded is a stand-out experience. It's just shame you have to put up with the cheap AI and frustrating general mechanics of the core game to get involved.

"Highly recommended for content-creation fans only"
- Ridge Racer Unbounded
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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