Ridge Racer: Unbounded Review
Bugbear’s Ridge Racer: Unbounded (yes, it is a real word) has just been released for PC via the glory-hole that is Steamworks and I’ve been bally well playing it. A lot.
Like many, I first played Namco’s Ridge Racer at my local video game arcade, long before the internet exploded and home PCs became the behemoths they are today. The next time Ridge Racer entered my life, it was on my brother’s PlayStation, back in the early nineties. Since then, as I parted ways with consoles and Namco ignored the PC, Ridge Racer has been nothing more than a distant memory, a flicker of video gaming joy from the dark ages. Until now.
Here we are many moons later, and our brave new world has destroyed the local game arcade, mobile phones have more power than a Playstation, and various incarnations of the iconic racer have passed under the arcade and console strewn bridge. So, how does Ridge Racer: Unbounded squeeze itself into the already jam packed PC gaming arcade racer genre? By creating a unique hybrid of arcade precision drift racing and power-up driven, mind-shattering destruction is how.
Namco have chosen Flatout developer Bugbear to create the mutation that is Ridge Racer: Unbounded , and Bugbear have previously proven themselves capable of producing fantastic arcade racing games with stand-out releases such as Flatout 2 and my favourite of the series, Flatout: Ultimate Carnage. The major innovation in Ridge Racer: Unbounded is the implementation of a Drift button. This idiosyncratic device has caused some confusion with a portion of RR:U players and game reviewers alike, mostly because it’s been mistaken for a hand-brake. But it’s not a hand-brake, the ever-so helpful PR people have shouted, it’s a Drift button. A what button? A Drift button. Exactly what the Drift button does is hard to say; it’s sort of like a mix of hand-brake and Jedi power. Using it effectively takes some practice, in-fact, in my experience, it takes a lot of practice. Eight hours into Ridge Racer: Unbounded single player career, and I still wasn’t entirely sure how to make the most of this feature. Twenty-two hours in and I’d just about got the hang of it. Ultimately, the answer is trial and error. Then more trial and error. The restart button will become a close friend.
The single player career takes place in the fictional city of Shatter Bay , which is split into nine regions, each containing various events such as Domination Race (destructible environments, power-ups and combat style racing), Drift Attack (time limited drifting), Frag Attack (time limited combat) and Shindo Racing (pure drift racing with speed boosts). Most single player events feature twelve opponents, except for special events, which are a law unto themselves. Success unlocks further events, vehicles and regions. There are four classes of car: Street, Racing, Super and Shindo, totalling around fifty different vehicles to unlock. The online multiplayer mode hosts up to eight opponents and features events from single player career and very interestingly indeed, user created events. Ridge Racer: Unbounded includes a user-friendly track-editor, featuring masses of scenery and tracks from the entire career. User-created events can be fully customised, saved and uploaded for other players to attempt.
The graphics are clear, crisp, shiny and realistic. Tracks and events are based in urban environments of various types, containing detailed, highly destructible obstacles and short-cuts. The sound design is immersive and accomplished. Musically, the soundtrack is packed with contemporary “EDM” type music from the likes of Skrillex and Monkey Thumper. I began playing with the soundtrack muted almost immediately. The cars are realistically rendered and very shiny indeed. Damage modelling feels appropriate and ultimately leads to death by explosion.
Most events are highly entertaining and literally breath-taking. The AI are a real challenge from the beginning. I found Domination Races to be particularly adrenalin inducing and often requiring many, many attempts to snatch the prestigious first place. Thankfully, re-playing the same event many times never became a bore. This could be down to the explosive destructible environments and choice of short-cuts available, making every run-through unique. The physics engine utilised in RR:U is custom developed by Bugbear and effective. Vehicles seem neither too heavy or too light; sliding through bends with sensitive responses to steering, acceleration, brake and of course, Drift. The game runs well on my current, rather weak system, pumping out decent FPS even without tweaked video options.
Ridge Racer: Unbounded was developed by Bugbear for all the major platforms, which means of course, that it is a PC port (cue shrieks of horror). As such, at this time, it does not include the sort of tweakable options that we PC gaming obsessives love; re-assignable controls, steering wheel support, full video options, text chat and friend- adding functions being top of the wishlist. I have been playing using a wireless 360 controller, which RR:U is coded to support, so have not experienced any problems with compatibility, but users report problems getting other brands of game pad working. Online multiplayer functionality had a few hiccups at release too, but Bugbear have responded swiftly to patch bugs and communicate with the community.
A member of the Bugbear team, Fred, has been highly communicative on the Steam forums since release, recently posting, “We are working on multiplayer fixes. There are a couple of issues, that are causing most of the problems, so when those are fixed, it should be much more stable. And you will also most likely see games with more people in, as people are not thrown out all the time.” He added “We are also looking at other crashes and graphics glitches. Due to the easter, the patch won’t be out until mid, to late next week though.”
Fred also took time to address issues regarding controller support for RR:U, “For the controller issues, we will first concentrate on making it work properly with multiple controllers connected, so that is working ingame, and don’t crash. When this is in, external tools for remapping controls(like x360ce) should work properly on all configurations.
I can’t tell if custom control mapping will be done or not. If you ask me, then yes, but I’m not the one deciding. This is actually not as simple as it might seem to be. First of all we need to support both XInput and DirectInput side by side, which probably means, rewriting of the whole input system, a legacy code system dating 10 years back. Then there needs to be UI support.
Proper steering wheel support is more uncertain, while the remapping probably will make steering wheels “work”, the game handling is not really made for steering wheels, so it might even be impossible to make it work properly. This is also why some people say that x360ce intruduces lag, it doesn’t actually do that, but games with arcade steering have a lot of helpers, that only works properly with gamepads, so it might feel that the steering wheel is very slow and not working properly. Force feedback is another thing, that would need to be added.”
Ridge Racer: Unbounded is a well-made and polished arcade racing game. It’s fun, frantic and exciting gameplay provides moments of genuinely breathtaking, split-second, hair-trigger racing.
AMD 4200+ X2 2233 MHz CPU
ATI HD4670 512mb GPU
Windows XP SP3