I think you probably get the idea by now that Bugbear?s take on Ridge Racer isn?t going to be staying too close to the conventions laid out in its classic Japanese predecessors. In quite a surprising change of pace for Namco Bandai, the series is being jazzed up in Unbounded to focus on hi-octane explosions and smashing the snot out of your opponents.
Of course, it is exactly this theme that has given many long-time purists pause for thought. And this is something I?ve been trying to come to terms with for a while now. Is it still elegant and classy? No. Does it still have an emphasis on drifting and score attacking? Yes. The ultimate question though, is whether it?s interesting to look at and play in its own merit?
When I played an early build of the game last year
, I was unimpressed. It felt rather hollow and void of atmosphere. A lot has changed since then. When you bring several friends into the fold, and you get to fully understand the nuances of the Power ability, you can find something of a soul in here. And once it all finally clicks, it becomes a rather engaging experience.
There?s a good number of game modes to play with friends here, the main one being Dominate which pits up to 12 players against each other in a straightforward race. You can get ahead of the pack with efficient uses of the Power, which can be charged up by performing drifts and other stunts in order to plough through buildings and weak urban structures.
Survival mode offers the same frantic gameplay, but does not allow a player to respawn once taken out. Drift Attack is a play for time, with seconds added to your clock by weaving around tight bends, and Frag Attack sees players commanding big rigs and smashing into cop cars for massive damage (and points).
The Power ability has had a lot of depth added, which allows players to engage in defensive or offensive racing tactics. Before, the only way you could charge this meter was by drifting. Now, there are multiple ?awards? that are handed out during a race that can help replenish your meter immediately. Things like keeping a top speed for a period of time, taking out a rival racer, landing massive jumps and escaping various hazards will allow you to plan out how and when you will obtain the Power - and more importantly, how to use it.
Activating the Power isn?t just good for smashing into things. It?s also a boost (which has been improved in this build, thankfully) and a shield so that you can escape from different hazards on the road (although it won?t save you from driving headfirst into a pillar, obviously). And your choice is whether to use it aggressively, and try to create some environmental hazards for your opponent, or go defensive and shield yourself from incoming trouble.
And it?s only really in the multiplayer mode that I was able to unearth this depth. Playing this game against the AI doesn?t really cut it - Ridge Racer: Unbounded
feels like a multiplayer game at its very core. And even though I was only able to race against 6 players in the build I played, after a few rounds I found myself having a lot of fun.
The tracks are still quite straightforward in terms of alternate pathways and destructibility. Of course, they would need to be in order to keep the action focused and undiluted with fluff. But, while the Power was great to use for tactical play, its primary use as a means to destroy various areas was somewhat nobbled after the first lap. With six people all gunning for pole position, all of the opportunities for wall-smashing carnage were exhausted.
The handling on the cars - both the all-rounder Wolfram GS and the more advanced Hurricana CX - still seemed to be quite iffy too, wobbling through straights and being overly keen on drifting around corners when you didn?t specifically want them to. It?s quite tough to keep a steady racing line at all times, but perhaps this is next on Bugbear?s hit list.
As a multiplayer experience, the game does very well to keep all players close together without rubber-banding, and the action remains fierce as a result even with all destructible walls expended. Die-hard Ridge Racer
purists may well be turned off by the emphasis on Split/Second
style action, and it?s hard to argue against it - by Bugbear?s own admission, this is not the same Ridge Racer
that we came to love over the years.
But if you?re not too hung-up over the name, in its own right its a strangely engaging title. You just need to kind of look underneath the Michael Bay-esque colour filters and visceral visual style. It should at the very least satisfy the many destructive tendencies of petrol heads the world over when it launches in early March.