Ridge Racer: Unbounded review for Xbox 360, PS3

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PS3
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes

Calling Ridge Racer: Unbounded an actual Ridge Racer game is a bit of a stretch. I guess since Namco owns the license, and people are familiar with the name, it made sense to use it, but Unbounded handles a lot of things differently, drifting included, than previous RR titles. A lot of that comes from the fact that it?s not developed out of Japan, instead being developed by the fine folks over at Bugbear Entertainment, who were behind the vastly underrated FlatOut titles.

Unbounded still has a heavy emphasis on drifting, which serves as the primary way of building up your in-game boost called Power. Boosting has two purposes, not the least of which includes causing destructive havoc on the track, either by forcing other racers to crash or using it to burst through destructible objects and buildings to create shortcuts.

There?s definitely a similar feel in tone to more modern titles like Split/Second, or the more popular Burnout series, but the car handling and physics feel wholly unique. So much so that the game is actually difficult to play and wrap your head around at first, almost to an extreme. Seriously, I?ve not played a racer this punishing since first laying my hands on the PS1 era Gran Turismo titles, which is saying something for an arcade style racer like Unbounded. There?s a good chance you won?t auto-win your first race, second, or even third.

The cars all feel a bit heavy, which is nice when it comes to slamming through Police Stations and other drivers, but less so when you?re trying to fine tune your drift angle in the middle of a sharp curve. But, over time, you learn to adjust and it starts to feel natural. It?s also pretty satisfying when you start to understand the drift system a little better, which isn?t quite a simple matter of applying the E-brake quickly and gunning the gas. Instead there?s a mixture of holding down the E-brake, labeled as an actual Drift button on the control layout, and applying brakes, then switching to gas at the apex of your drift. It?s definitely more involved than I would have suspected, but also means that you?ll be trying to master the mechanics for a lot longer than you might expect.

The online side of the game is fun, but there?s not quite enough variety in the online modes for me to be completely satisfied. There is a cool concept buried within, which involves a track creator that?s surprisingly intuitive and easy to play around with. You can create your own city, name it, and upload up to five different track designs for people to play around with. You?ll test each track before uploading, assigning your own best time to each track, which is the goal to beat for other players. You can also opt to race competitively against other players, and these user created cities can be used there as well.

The single player campaign is pretty beefy, with a number of locked up hubs to gain access to, each of which contain 7 events. These events are further divided into types, like Domination Races that make full use of all functions and stand as your typical races for Unbounded, or the Shindo races that replace the Power function for a more typical boost, taking out the emphasis on knocking other players out and using shortcuts.

There?s also Frag events, which are more focused on taking out a certain number of cars within a time limit. Then there?s the time trial events, which contain some of the more interesting track design elements like half-pipes and loops, and tend to feel like an oversized Hot Wheels track. The campaign will take some time to get through, especially if you?re looking to finish first, and the AI difficulty is no slouch either. Outside of some typical rubber banding that gets to be pretty noticeable on the tail end of a race, the single player side is a lot of fun to play.

While I totally understand the need to use the Ridge Racer license for marketing and what not, I do wish that the inclusion of its name to Unbounded came with a few extras or other surprises for actual fans of the series. Some cars taken from previous Ridge Racer titles, a throwback track or two, and more musical tracks or remixes would go a long way towards appeasing non-newcomers. I suppose anything can be added in with DLC, but if you?re going into this based on the Ridge Racer name alone, I?d highly urge you to try out a demo or rental first, as there?s very little to tie this back into the series as you know it.

Still, it?s a great racer. Bugbear has thrown together a sizeable amount of content on the single player side, and a competent track editor breathes some life into an otherwise lackluster online mode. If you?ve grown tired of having your hand held through tutorial after tutorial, and incredibly easy arcade racers, the challenge offered by Unbounded is sure to appeal to you. I?ve definitely found myself enjoying this title a lot more than I would have anticipated, and urge racing fans to check it out.

Grade: B