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Ridge Racer Unbounded - Video Review

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Published on Mar 29, 2012

Ridge Racer Unbounded hits streets March 30th. Can this long established franchise retain its arcade roots or is it all change on the grid? Find out in our video review.

Ridge Racer and developers Bugbear are a perfect match. They're both behind a tradition of racers that don't quite hit their mark. Bugbear's FlatOut chipped a glass ceiling that Burnout 3 was busy smashing to bits, and Ridge Racer is a much-loved series that, arguably, now belongs to a different time.

This Year One revision attempts to shake things up but, in truth, the combination of developer and series makes for an uninspired mix. There are Split Second-style roadside detonations (here more fuel truck than multi-storey building), slow-mo takedown events à la Hot Pursuit (cars flip and fly, but weightlessness renders them more like crisp packets), and - just to remind you you're playing Ridge Racer - drift events.

It certainly doesn't look like Ridge Racer, though. Attempts at modernising a series predominantly at home on green valley-set motorways that tear through waterfalls and under swooping helicopters are refreshing, but Bugbear didn't need to ditch the iconography entirely. The action is now set in a urban sprawl called Shatter Bay, a dense megapolis low on space and high on muscle cars.

It's large enough to make a varied setting, but it doesn't achieve it. You'll race through industrial areas and speed downtown, and then through an industrial area, and then downtown again. Different time periods and weather effects are something, at least, and the gritty concrete-meets-neon aesthetic looks good in places, but it's nowhere near Forza, Burnout Paradise, or Dirt. Shiny and angular sports cars only have exterior and hood cams, and look positively flimsy compared with other racers' more robust rides. And at night, everything is orange. Everything.

So, the setting falls flat. Worse, however, is the speed. In a cardinal sin for an arcade racer, Unbounded is slow. Something's wrong when instead of gripping your controller with white-knuckle glee, veering away from incoming traffic and using every available second to plan and battle and correct approaching angles, you're looking at your watch while a corner listlessly coasts into view. Your internal monologue is less, "Omg omg omg" and more, "I supposed I should start turning left in a bit". You feel like you're waiting for the game to catch up to you. In a racer, it should be the other way around.

Dull tracks. It's a flaw born from the track creator itself. You can lay down pre-made road tiles (sadly, all urban themed) and populate courses with smashable dustbin bags, explosives canisters, and half-pipes. It's no ModNation or TrackMania, with broad tools leaving little room for fine tuning, but it's good for a quick mess around. A ramp over a block-long line of cars, or a loop-the-loop, for instance. Taking created tracks online is a welcome touch. Trouble is, every course in the career uses this limited system too. It gives the game away, robbing Unbounded of its magic. It's like the chair you put together yourself - you know exactly where it wobbles.

It may not have a varied setting, and track design is mostly lacking, but there's a decent variety of race types in the career. There are always a handful of events open, meaning if one proves too hard, try another (perhaps a concession for the lack of difficulty options). The best is domination. Think Burnout's takedown events but, well, without the Burnout bit. Instead of racing to the finish line, your goal is to ram into other cars. Barges will chip away at a health meter, while speed boost-assisted attacks, or even scrapes, will take them out the race instantly - effective, even it feels a little scripted.

Checkpoint races, a dull token in other games, are given life here by impressively destructive environments. Smash through bridge supports and scaffolding and fountains and shop fronts. It's a smart decision by the developers and, in doing so, you won't slow down, even if objects break apart like styrofoam as a result.

This destruction lends itself to Unbounded's most compelling feature - or what it thinks is a compelling feature - shortcuts. Fill up your boost meter through trading paint, drifting and near misses and your HUD gives you a head's up. The downside? After you've blazed a trail through mall, museum or monument, other racers can use your shortcut, so it's not a brilliant advantage. To upshot is that it won't knock many seconds off your time, especially with the game's reliance on elastic-banding.

In the end, while there's a career mode that offers decent moments (like swatting away dozens of exploding cop cars as a massive truck), and the opportunity to race on user-created tracks, Ridge Racer Unbounded is a game running dangerously low on creative juice.

VERDICT - 6.4

Solid, playable but ultimately uninspiring, Ridge Racer does its best to catch up with the pack - but it's built from used parts

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