Also available on: PS3, PC Developer: Bugbear Entertainment Publisher: Namco Bandai Games Genre: Driving
Ridge Racer: Unbounded fails to heed the British Army maxim of 'Proper Preparation Prevents P**s-Poor Performance'. Bugbear's first stab at the long-running racing franchise suffers from a glaring absence of any in-game tutorial, meaning players are left to blunder around the tracks, choking on the dust of some pretty fierce computer-controlled competitors. But getting through this initial toil reveals a pretty decent racer, and one that offers a different Ridge Racer flavour.
Unbounded's single player campaign takes place in a Shatter Bay, a homogenous take on various American cities, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco. This metropolis has been transformed into a playground for the Unbounded, street racers fighting for domination of the city and then the world. Shatter Bay has been split into different playable districts which are unlocked as you progress, offering new options for destructive racing.
Each area has a familiar mix of events, ranging from core races in Domination to time challenges and battle circuits. The game essentially mixes the series' trademark drifting of Ridge Racer with environmental destruction, encouraging you to smash up city-based tracks and take down rivals. By drifting, jumping and smashing scenery, you fill a power meter for deploying a nitrous boost, enabling you to fly through shortcuts or 'frag' (destroy) other cars. Unfortunately, though, Unbounded lacks the sense of fun and exhilarating destruction of games such as Burnout and, possibly more so, Split/Second: Velocity.
Compared to triggering ships to crash across the road or cars erupting into balls of flame, Unbounded's sense of carnage feels rather basic. You blow up obstacles for seemingly no reason at all, or plough through buildings, triggering rather repetitive cinematics. Speed boosts don't feel as powerful as they should, while shortcuts through buildings or structures don't appear to accrue any sort of advantage in the races. Taking down rival drivers lacks that much-needed sense of dastardly skill, instead appearing like messy shunts that are needlessly over-egged with super slo-mo cinematic visuals.
Things aren't helped by the fact that the cars are not much fun to drive. The sense of speed is there, but this lacks the impact of other titles, and many vehicles have skittish handling under braking. Then there is the drifting, where the lack of a tutorial really tells. Drifting in previous Ridge Racer games meant feathering the brake around corners, which some gamers felt was too forgiving - and they were possibly justified to feel that way. In Unbounded, the game requires you to hold the button down throughout the whole of the corner, using it not as a handbrake but an actual 'drift' control - the problem is, no-one tells you this.
Knowing how to drift really changes the dynamic of the game, making it immensely easier to glide around the corners, power up the boost bar and compete against rival drivers. But until you are aware of this trick, much time is spent desperately wondering why the game is so hard. Even when you do get the hang of drifting, Unbounded is a tough challenge. The game is similar to Rockstar's Midnight Club: LA in that regard, as opponents mercilessly punish any errors and then disappear far off into the distance. Sure, the sense of achievement increases with this approach, and winning is so much sweeter, but the long periods spent fighting it out for tenth place in the early stages is just rather demoralising.
However, for those willing to put in the effort, there is a decent game in Ridge Racer: Unbounded. Eventually mastering the drifting is immensely satisfying, enabling you to hit the apex sideways and then gun it out of the corners with a pleasing fluidity. Whilst the game is certainly tough, it offers incentives to stick around by levelling up and awarding points after every race, enabling you to access new and faster vehicles to stand more of a chance against the competition. Shindo Races, Frag Attack and Drift Attack stages mix up the 'meat and drink' of Demolition events, in which you compete against other drivers to finish first. Overall, there is a good mix to the campaign that keeps things interesting.
Time Attack stages provide a surprising treat; mixing crazy ramps, massive jumps and destruction for ridiculous racing against the clock. Then there is the course creator, which is also a welcome addition. You can put together some pretty impressive tracks with the building blocks, including straights, corners, bridges and ramps, along with finer details. The interface is a bit fiddly and the system lacks the depth of something like ModNation Racers, but it is pretty good fun to make your own creations and then share them online. You can also take on other people's tracks via the world feature.
Ridge Racer: Unbounded lacks the sparkle of games such as Split/Second or Burnout. The destruction elements feel a bit weak, the cars control poorly at times and the computer AI is truly merciless. The biggest problem, though, is the lack of a proper tutorial in the game, a sure-fire way to alienate many players almost instantly. However, anyone who takes the time to master the drift controls and has the gumption to battle it out with the competition will find a lot to like in Unbounded.