Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ridge Racer Unbounded: Meh.

I've been a fan of the Ridge Racer series for a while now, though I only actually own two games in the series: Ridge Racer V and Ridge Racer on the PSP.  Through emulators and MAGFest I've played a few of the earlier games in the series, such as the arcade game Rave Racer and the Ridge Racer N64 game.  While the graphics in each are different, each iteration shares some tracks from previous iterations while adding new ones that fit.  I actually quite loved being able to play tracks from Rave Racer in the PSP version.  Unfortunately, due to lack of PS3, I missed out on Ridge Racer 7, but I've heard it was just what anyone who'd played any of the other games in the series would expect out of it.

So imagine what went through my mind when I saw Ridge Racer Unbounded on Steam.  Well, you don't actually have to.  At first I was like "hey, new Ridge Racer, awesome!", but then I scrolled down and noticed that Namco only published the game and didn't develop it, and was like "don't know if want".  Reading the description further cemented the "don't know if want".  It has a track editor, which is cool, but it makes no mention of the classic Ridge Racer tracks.  That kind of thing, giving content from previous games a facelift and chucking it in the new installment, is the kind of thing they typically mention if they've done it, and it's something that anyone who's a fan of Ridge Racer expects from the series.

That all happened a month or so ago.  Then today I was browsing Steam and noticed that they'd put up a demo for the game.  Before checking it out, I figured I'd read the forums and look for issues people have been having.  Among the more notable issues:
  • No wheel support - not a big minus for me, but still, a modern racing game without wheel support?
  • No ability to rebind the keyboard controls - there are apparently a few different presets, but you're stuck with those and can't define your own controls
  • No gamepad button to reset the car - pretty much every console Ridge Racer ever has had a button to reset the car pointing in the correct direction on the track.  It's the last-ditch "oh shit" button, basically.  It's kind of cheap when abused, so I don't use it, hence, not a big minus for me.
  • A few people mentioned the lack of classic Ridge Racer tracks - confirming my hunch from the lack of them being mentioned in the game description
Speaking of the description, it seems to focus on crashing and destruction, neither of which have been themes in past Ridge Racer games.  One of the review quotes says "A brighter, sleeker, and more explosion filled Ridge Racer" (  Ridge Racer has never been about explosions.  Another review quote basically says that it has nothing to do with any of the previous games in the series.

To me this has all the look of a racing game that someone developed and then got the rights to slap the Ridge Racer name on it and release it.  Just from the description alone I can tell it has very little to do with previous games in the series.  Sure, they included the Angel and Devil cars, but is that it?

So with all that in mind, I downloaded and installed the demo from Steam.

The demo ran surprisingly well on this computer that I built in 2004.  Only my graphics card, a GeForce 8800 GT, actually meets the game's hardware requirements.  Even though I have 2GB RAM, I always treat memory requirements as "the game needs this amount" rather than "your system needs this amount".  There was slowdown, but it was generally only when things were being destroyed.  If I tried to play it like any other game in the Ridge Racer series and avoid crashing into stuff, the framerate was perfectly acceptable.

One thing I found annoying that you can't entirely turn off: when an event happens, like when you power your way through something that it goes "OMG LOL DESTROY THIS" in big letters as you get close to it, it switches to a different camera angle and shows a slow motion cinematic of your car flying through all the debris.  It also does this when you crash into something or get "fragged" by another racer, and that's what you can't disable.

Which brings me back to the question I've been asking all along: "Is Ridge Racer Unbounded really a Ridge Racer game?"  To which the answer is a resounding "No."  It looks great, and it could be fun in multiplayer with some friends and with rebindable controls, but it's carrying the Ridge Racer label while doing nothing that anybody expects of Ridge Racer.  Hell, you even have to push a specific button to drift.  If you do the old method of brake-steer-gas, that works in all other Ridge Racer games, it doesn't work.

In summary: For me to get any enjoyment out of it at all, I'd have to play it like all the other games in the Ridge Racer series.  You know, the whole "avoid crashing into stuff" thing.  Which is clearly not what they were going for here.  To reiterate what I said in the previous paragraph, this is not a Ridge Racer game at all.  It doesn't even come close to offering what fans of the series are used to.

The verdict: Don't bother.

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