When it comes to racing games, I have nowhere near the experience some of the other ‘gear-heads’ we have on staff or in our community. This being said, I still have a passion for racing games that extends well past the days of Ubisoft’s Speed Devils Racing on the Sega Dreamcast. With the exception of Forza, I have always preferred to play arcade style racing games as opposed to the simulation racers, so when Ridge Racer Unbounded arrived at my home office my interest piqued as it had been awhile since I gave one of those over-the-top racers a spin. So how does it play? Well not too shabby; however, after some extended playtime I cannot help but think to myself that there are some better arcade racers already on the market that feature plenty of destruction and chaos much like Unbounded does.
As it name would suggest, Ridge Racer Unbounded plays very much like previous Ridge Racer games, but without some of the gameplay limitations we have come to expect with the franchise. In other words, taking out other racers and smashing into buildings is the name of the game. Sure it is not the ‘be all end all’, but it is certainly a big part of the game. Racing finesse and hitting top speeds will only take you so far in Unbounded. Being able to time your take downs, using power at the appropriate times, smashing into buildings, and of course good overall racing will get you far in the game. I should however warn you, Unbounded will take some practice and a lot of patience.
Before you launch yourself into any of the races, you are greeted with a slick little intro where you are introduced to the game’s storyline. Much like other racers, the storyline really has no bearing on the gameplay, and frankly the development team could have done without it, but for those of you who are curious, you play as a rookie member of sorts in a group of street racers who are looking to cause havoc on the streets of the fictitious city of Shatter Bay. Whether it is smashing through a mall or side swiping a storefront, you and your band of street thugs will do whatever it takes to take control of city. Regardless of the game’s storyline, or lack thereof, your main purpose in the game is to race, ideally finish first in each race, and accumulate XP throughout.
The game’s single player progression system, where I spent the bulk of my time, has you racing in seven individual events across several districts. On the surface this does not seem like much, but to my surprise Unbounded offers up a deep single player campaign that has you trudging through one race after another. Much of the depth could be attributed to the game’s difficulty level, as many races will require several attempts in order to place first. Nevertheless, it is a game you can really sink your teeth into for weeks and months on end.
The individual races offer up some variety as well. You have your standard races where it’s a battle to finish. There are also drift events, time trails and elimination events. Each event has a three star scoring system to go along with the games XP system. Playing Unbounded earns you XP, which unlocks different tracks contained within the fictitious city. XP also unlocks new cars. As suggested however, getting first place in a race does and a three star rating does not come easy as Unbounded is a punishing game truly geared for the more seasoned racers.
Did I mention Unbounded takes a lot of patience and practice? I was simply stunned by the level of difficulty that, surprisingly, is not adjustable. This is unfortunate as the difficulty level is bound to turn off some of those gamers who are new to arcade racing games. It took me several attempts to eventually finish in first place in the very first race of the game. Very rarely was I able to finish first in my first attempt at any given race. Sure, a challenge is good, but much of the difficulty has to do with the unforgiving AI and some of the game’s structures that are mysteriously not destructible. Also, in every race you start at the back of the pack, so you really have to fight your way to get out in front. It makes the game challenging, but one wrong move and your race is pretty much over.
The races themselves are very enjoyable. There is certainly a sense of speed and intensity with every race. All the races are contained within the city so there is little room for error as the game has no open vistas or highways where you can put the petal to the metal for long stretches. Tight turns, blinding sun, and objects that do not break will have you on the edge of your seat. Also, trying to accumulate as much XP as possible also adds a significant element to the game. Aside from winning, which gets you the most XP, smashing though objects, large buildings, and other cars (called Fragging) will also get you XP. The sequences where you ‘frag’ another vehicle are quite neat as you are introduced to a short slo-mo cut-scene. It takes you away from the race and can cause you to lose focus at times; however, I still found the segments entertaining. During these scenes the game takes control of your car while you are admiring your destruction, so there is no need to rush or skip the scenes all together.
Being able to succeed in Unbounded also depends on how well you are able to use your vehicles power meter. Drifting, causing damage, and going airborne fills your power meter and when it is full you press A, and then you are given a nitro-like boost. It plays out very much like many other arcade racers but the difference here is that power is required in order to frag opponents or smash through walls which some open up short cuts. Good solid racing alone will not fill up your power meter so it is crucial that you quickly learn how to drift, go airborne and cause damage. In terms of the latter, do not expect everything to be destructible. There were occasions in the game where I would have my sights set on an object only to find myself slamming against it, effectively knocking myself out of the race. Needless to say, I just found the objects to be somewhat inconsistent as some were able to be smashed and some did not. Also, I never found the short cuts really helped either. I often found these hidden short cuts but they never really gave me an advantage. There would be times I would be just behind a car but only remain just behind that same car after zipping through the short cut. This was a frustrating experience indeed.
Admittedly, I have never been strong in the drift department. This unfortunately really showed during some of the drift challenges. I struggled to no end just to get a 3-star finish, which is the least you need in order to proceed or “pass” a track. I wished the game could have taken me on a little tutorial of sorts and showed me how to pull off a successful drift but sadly no such practice or tutorial mode exists.
Control wise, Unbounded is solid. Overall I had no complaints as this racer plays out like so many other racers already on the market. The sense of speed and handling is there. Also, I found some noticeable differences from one car to another. Accelerating, breaking and turning are all handled with ease and anyone the least bit familiar with racers will have no problem picking up the game’s controls.
The multiplayer aspects of the game are quite strong and are simply a thrill ride. You can only play with up to eight other players online, but despite this the races are a blast. The satisfaction you get from fragging another opponent is fantastic and the level of competition online is intense; but what makes Unbounded stand above many other arcade racers is the track creation system that allows you to share your custom tracks with others. It is not the easiest track creator to use as it can be finicky and difficult to maneuver at times. If you can manage to create yourself a track and share with the world, the results are satisfying, not to mention it gives Unbounded plenty of replay value as the track combinations are endless.
Visually, Unbounded is a good looking game. It is the best looking racer I have seen? Absolutely not; however, it does offer up some sharp looking environments, wonderfully detailed vehicles and a city landscape that does rival games in the Need for Speed and Burnout franchise. Sound wise, the game delivers. Unbounded features licensed tracks from dubstep producer Skrillex. The game also features tunes from The Crystal Method, Noisia & The Upbeats, Scratch Perverts, Unknown Error, OVERSEER and RuN RiOT. All in all, I was happy with the games music. Not to mention the games sound effects are equally pleasing.
While Ridge Racer Unbounded is a departure from previous games in the franchise, it does not suffer from this somewhat drastic switch. The races themselves are enjoyable and the game is one of the more challenging arcade racers on the market. Unbounded is a good game but certainly not a great one. Simply put, there remain some better arcade racers on the market as Split-Second and Burnout Revenge are just two that come to mind that offer up a better overall experience. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a good little smash em’ up arcade racer that is the freshest game in town, then Ridge Racer Unbounded for the Xbox 360 may just be right up your alley.