STAFF REVIEW of Ridge Racer Unbounded (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Ridge Racer Unbounded Box art E3 jokes aside, the Ridge Racer series has always has its own special niche within the racing genre. It?s known for its unique and exciting drifting race mechanics, at least that?s what Ridge Racer used to be known for. It separated itself from the Burnouts, FlatOuts, Needs For Speeds, and other arcade racers for years, but now with BugBear developing Unbounded, it seems like they want to be like other games rather than be known for what made Ridge Racer so unique.

Ironically, Bugbear is who made the FlatOut series and you can see the heavy influence as Unbounded is over the top with crashes that feels like it?s trying to be a merge of Split Second and Burnout. A great new addition though is the ability to design and create your own race tracks, share them online, and even compete on them with your friends; that is if you can get the online to work, but more on that later.

There?s technically a story, something about you being a new member of the Unbounded gang (see the clever title relevance now?), a notorious group of street racers, but that?s all I really mustered from it and all you?ll really care as well. You?ll be more interested in plowing through concrete walls or taking huge jumps just to try and gain a small shortcut over your rivals in each race all while some dreadful Dubstep music blares in the background. Load up your own playlist for this game, as the short song selections become very tiring quickly, even more so if you aren?t a fan of the genre.

In the career mode there are nine different city districts that you unlock as you progress, each of which have several individual events that have you trying to score first, second, or third place for the most points. As you collect points for racing well and destroying everything in your way, you?ll unlock new cars and events to compete in. You?ll be racing, drifting, competing in time trials, and more as you progress throughout the campaign. As you unlock new cars and events, you?ll also gain new pieces to use in the map editor to create your own races once you?ve dominated them.

Ridge Racer was always known for its corner drifting as much as possible, even on straightaways if possible. Unbounded decided to drop that main mechanic for the more action orientated destroy-everything-you-see approach instead. While the drifting still exists in Unbounded, it?s nothing like it used to be in the series, as it has a severe under steer and feels nothing like a traditional Ridge Racer in any way.

There are around thirty cars to unlock as you progress that are each put into their own categories, yet it feels like there?s no drastic difference between many of the different vehicles. While there are 4WD, FWD, and RWD cars, they all show different stats, but there?s none that seem like a ?correct? choice on events. Sure the 4WD vehicles grip better, making it harder to drift for more boost, but once you find a favorite or so, you can pretty much stick with it throughout most of the game, except for the events that force you to use specific classes or cars. Your vehicle?s taillights will leave a trail behind it while you boost, attempting to give you that sense of speed, sadly though it doesn?t even really feel that much faster for the few seconds you?re using boost though, and certainly doesn?t come anywhere near the sense of speed Burnout gives. You?ll also learn quickly that a vehicles strength meter becomes important later on, as to prevent you from being fragged (crashed, and yes, I realize that?s an odd term to use in a racing game) very often later on.

The game begins off easy enough, but you?ll quickly learn how unforgiving, aggressive, and unforgiving the AI becomes only a few events in. Sometimes rivals can boost almost instantly off the starting line while you have to earn yours the proper way. If you try and play Unbounded in a proper racing fashion, you won?t be earning many first place finishes; you need to learn to drive aggressively and go against all your instincts and try and hit certain obstacles so that you can fill your boost meter more quickly. Luckily there doesn?t seem to be a large ?rubber band? effect in place, but you also won?t ever gain a drastic lead either and feel safe out in front.

As I mentioned before, the drifting isn?t tight at all, and you will be grinding the corner walls quite often. Even the AI seems to hit and ride the corners in the tight turns quite often as well. Another issue you?ll notice quite early on is the irony in the name of the game itself. Unbounded means to have no restrictions, and you?re supposed to be able to drive without any repercussions of smashing into things, yet you?ll crash and be fragged quite often. As you get near an enemy, you can see their health meter above their car, yet you can never see your own, though you?re supposed to be able discern it from the visual health of your vehicle, yet I?ve been blown up many times where I ?look? like I have full health, only to be fragged by the slightest bump.

As you destroy cinder blocks, street poles, walls, and numerous other objects, your boost meter will start to fill accordingly. Once full you can use your boost for a short burst of speed to try and overtake a rival, frag them (as it seems like an almost instant frag when boosting), or if you?re in the right spot, blast through preset spots for a ?shortcut?. These spots are highlighted and impossible to miss and completely optional, most of which will have you crashing through a solid wall, drive through the building, and then ramp out on the other side. Note that once you use your boost, you use it all in one go, so you have to decide when to use it wisely, as you need to start refilling it again afterwards. A fun thing you?ll learn early on as well is what happens when you run out of boost just before hitting one of these special breakable walls. If you happen to hit one of those walls without boost activated (doesn?t matter if it just ran out a split second beforehand) you will instantly crash even though your speed is fast enough. You have to be in boost mode to go through these walls or you crash, so make sure you do it at the last moment just in case.

The other main issue you?re going to run into from the very beginning is discerning what can be crashed through and what cant. This is where you need to go against your instincts and also drop all logic. Cinder blocks, cement walls, concrete pillars, and more are no match against your vehicle (actually, it doesn?t even slow you down at all, so you want to try and aim for them to fill your boost), yet the smallest median or awkwardly placed corner of a building is an instant crash. While you?re speeding through the bland palette of the city it?s near impossible to discern the good and bad kind of obstacles going full speed. Shortcuts are another issue, as you?ll learn that most of these don?t really give you much of a shortcut at all and don?t? really help improve your race position.

Most of the events you?ll be racing in are the Domination type. This is where the main goal is to place in the top three by any means necessary. These are the events where nearly everything is destructible and it?s you versus eleven others. As you drift and destroy everything you can just to try and fill your boost meter, it seems the AI can almost use theirs whenever they please, which becomes very frustrating. If there are not many corners to drift to fill your boost quickly, you may go a full lap or more without gaining boost, which can spell disaster if you?re lagging behind. While you can use your boost to frag other racers, there seems to be little reason to do so other than the small experience amount as they seem to respawn very quickly and catch up without many issues. Yet, if you get fragged, it takes forever to be put back into the race and almost near impossible to catch up.

The map editor is one of the more unique aspects of Unbounded, allowing you to create any crazy style of race with any number of ramps or exploding barrels you please. You?re able to place pieces on the grid in any way you like and then customize it even further to make the perfect track before uploading it online. I somehow made a track that seems to confuse the AI once I put walls and a plethora of ramps all over it, allowing me to easily get to the finish line and earning more experience for myself. That?s right; you can create your own track, race it, and still earn experience to level up. As you progress through the careers districts, you?ll notice that you keep seeing the same buildings, ramps, gas stations, and more, and that?s because it seems like the game itself was built with the map editor. While that?s not generally a bad thing, the fact that there are so few pieces to make the few short hours you play completing it feel unique is.

The big issue with the online aspect of Ridge Racer Unbounded is that I was completely unable to get it to work at all. Over the course of three days, trying multiple times, the servers never seemed available (my Xbox Live worked fine) so I actually never got to try and race online to see other peoples created races. While I did find a few people with the same issue as me, it seems like even if you can get it to work, much of the online system itself seems to be a hassle or broken as well, having many players crash or not being able to find games. I wasn?t able to confirm this or not unfortunately and not being able to download other racers creations means Unbounded has already been shelves and unlikely to be played again.

You?d figure that for a racing game the vehicles themselves would look fantastic, yet here they look blocky and not impressive at all. The palette used for the levels make it very difficult to properly judge upcoming corners and objects, as it all just seems to blend together in a murky mess. While Unbounded really has nothing to do with Ridge Racer other than the title itself, it does try and fill the voids with explosions and destruction that fail to inspire. This is supposed to be a reboot for the Ridge Racer series, yet it feels like it?s just trying to be a Burnout, Split Second, or FlatOut rather than a true Ridge Racer. Unbounded may be able to replace the Ridge Racer E3 joke, as that is what this title really is. Sadly this is nothing like a true Riiiiiiiiiiiidge Racerrrrrrrrrrrr!

Overall: 4.7 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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