The Ridge Racer series has been revving its engine since 1999, from PS to N64 and from PS3 to the PC, Xbox 360, Vita or iOS, but without managing to reach the position occupied by the likes of Burnout or Need for Speed (at least in the arcade area). Actually, even the “unbounded” in the title is an unhappy choice for a game that only copies (not carefully, anyway) other games… like the above mentioned Burnout, Need for Speed or even Split/Second.
The great “adventure” takes place in the fictional town of Shutter Bay, where groups of rebel drivers want to take control of the city and, of course, the best way is to win races. That’s pretty much it in terms of story, the rest being a long series of runs in various city districts, races what one must preferably dominate (that is win them).
Ridge Racer Unbounded doesn’t even bother with a tutorial, letting you learn via repeated tries of the same race that you have a drift button (akin to a hand break, actually, but if it were called that it wouldn’t have been cool), that you can destroy parts of the city and get rewarded for it or that it’s good to wreck your opponents. Cool, huh? You could say so, but there are things I didn’t understand, especially when it came to the AI and the gameplay itself:
Why do I need a special drift button? The break, acceleration and using them at the right time are more than enough to fill the nitro bar (called Power here).
Why doesn’t destroying buildings grant you tangible benefits during the race? Most of the time you lose places or move up just one or two instead of gaining a significant advantage, precisely because you gathered Power and kept it for use at the right place and time. But no, you’re back in line and when you get back on track after the cinematic it’s entirely possible to smack into a wall or go the wrong way because it’s too dark and the waypoints are badly placed.
The idea of a more consistent level destruction (buildings like the police quarters, metro, underground parking lot, bridges, billboard etc.) has already been tackled in Split/Second, a very entertaining arcade and which had a cooperative mode on the same PC. I lost many week-ends with Split/Second, the difference being that it had spectacular explosions (not just cut scenes), the AI really used the shortcuts and the alternate routes did put you out in front and were worthy advantages to exploit. Unbounded just throws the bone, but there’s no meat on it for you to enjoy a good explosion that destroys 3 opponents, a building and also puts you in first place.
Moving on, why do I get points for different actions that are useless in the end? Or at least they are used only to go up to level 30 to unlock cars and level blocks to create courses in the dedicated editor. Shutter Bay can be destroyed in some ways and it’s normal to be slower if you go through 10 pillars in a row, but when opponents overpass you in 30 seconds after the race has started one cannot help but wonder where do they get all that boost. On a straight line, no drift, no air time and without hitting anything.
For an arcade game to be fun, it has to have a good control system. Theoretically, because once you unlock more powerful cars, drifting is almost uncontrollable and I’d eventually opted to choose a weaker, but more stable car in order to keep a good line.
I would’ve also liked some intelligence in the AI, not just weird scripting. The opponents won’t destroy objects and very rarely use the routes opened up by explosions, probably because they already know they aren’t much of an edge to being with. But when they do use them, even if you replay a race, they will always do it, obviously following a scripted routine at all time.
The frags are also borrowed from Burnout (Takedowns) and, obviously, they encourage you destroy as many cars as possible. It is at this point in our story that you should probably deactivate the cinematic camera to prevent reentering the race in all the wrong ways. Yet of all the race types, Frag Attack is maybe the best one because you get to use a huge truck or a police car. These are also the only moments where police cars make a stand, the rest of the roads being quite empty (and when traffic appears, you are not punished for hitting those cars).