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Was Ridge Racer Unbounded the most brilliant publishing decision of all time?

Justin Towell is getting back on the road over 10 years after the brief but complete bewilderment. Did Ridge Racer Unbound sound the series’ death knell?

If you look at Ridge Racer’s gameography and tears of frustration burn your cheeks, one title stands out as the final nail in his coffin: Ridge Racer Unbounded.

Nobody knows why the ‘ed’ is there at the end, but hey-ho. At a more fundamental level, it remains the Ridge Racer, which has absolutely nothing to do with Ridge Racer.

After being poorly reviewed at the time, it has practically disappeared from the collective consciousness. After more than a decade, it’s still available on Steam and runs at a solid 60 fps on Steam Deck. It’s only £7.99/$9.99, too, and with modern, bombastic, arcade-style racers that are few and far between, maybe it has something to offer after all?

Ridge Racer Unbound gameplay

Burnout changed the game

Playing Ridge Racer Unbounded in 2023 is a strange experience. Strange because it comes from a time when expectations of Burnout Paradise’s car destruction were vastly increased. And while Unbounded doesn’t quite live up to Paradise’s still-phenomenal damage modeling, it’s a decent approximation.

Cars dent, disintegrate, and catch fire in cool slow-mo, and the camera lingers on takedown cutaways (or “frags,” as they’re called here, which certainly steal Quake rather than burnout) for far longer than games dare today , Cars can reach the walls where you are confronted with a display of destruction physics.

After the PlayStation 2 brought solid geometry and distance from the genre, Unbounded descends from the PS3/360 era of gaming where the possibilities were more than skin deep. And so you get a plethora of physics objects to dash through and impressive walls and barriers to breach.

Shindo Motega Auto, Ridge Racer Unbound

destruction derby

It makes a lot more sense considering the game was being developed by Bugbear, who by then had already made the FlatOut games and would go on to make Wreckfest, a particular Traxion.GG favorite today.

But at that time there were also exploratory gameplay features that made the most of this new destructive potential. Sega’s early Xbox 360 title Full Auto features similar environmental destruction (only with a projectile-based weapon system that would definitely have been a step too far from the Ridge Racer template), and the obviously similar Split/Second (Velocity) was released a few years earlier that introduced standard elements into the racing action.

Ridge Racer Unbound building demolition

While Unbounded uses environmental set pieces to trigger destruction-based takedowns, it doesn’t have the scope or variety of Split/Second, which is a shame since the destruction itself was ahead of its time.

But we’ve come all this way without talking about why it’s a Ridge Racer game, and honestly it’s difficult to point to an area where it’s recognizable as such.

A woman’s voice announces the arrival of snazzy-looking fictional race cars, which is perhaps the most obvious giveaway, and you can drive with a bumper cam, although doing so would mean missing out on your car’s still-lovely reflective bodywork.

Ridger Racer Unbound Shortcut

Finally, there’s the drift mechanism, which is triggered with its own button, although it feels like an afterthought. It’s perhaps the most disappointing feature, as it doesn’t corner very well in tight corners and can get you stuck in a fishtail that puts you into a wall.

The game instead opts to do its own thing, using slipstreams and drifting to fill up a boost bar, which not only gives you a blast of speed, but allows you to smash through marked sections of scenery, either Smash rivals with the shockwave or simply take a shortcut through the local police station.

It also allows you to invade rivals and take them out spectacularly.

Ridge Racer Unbound Destruction

Ice Cream Pizza

It sounds like fun, but unfortunately the ingredients don’t produce quite as many endorphins as they should. The takedown mechanic relies too heavily on the boost meter being full, and frag-based events are too easy, requiring you only to touch enemy cars while accelerating to trigger the frag, meaning that the tiniest accidental touches unleash massive disasters from twisted metal.

Such constant extremes dilute the experience rather than deliver super rewarding moments of automotive vandalism. And worst of all, burnout has already made it better, albeit without allowing cars to smash through concrete pillars.

Unbounded also features an embryonic “revenge” system, but again, it’s too marginal and the payout isn’t big enough to successfully defeat your enemy.

Ridger Racer Unbounded Ask your rival

From an era

All in all, in today’s climate, it still has something that modern games don’t have. The arcade styles make for a pick-up-and-play experience that focuses on action rather than finesse, and the Steam version now runs so smoothly that it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t be somewhat tolerable upon release scores well.

But that is with modern PC technology and a completely different climate. Going back to 2012 and the console versions of the game were capped at 30 fps, the PS3 version also had screen tearing while at least delivering smooth motion, which wasn’t all that common for cross-platform games at the time.

The art style was somber even for these anxious times, and the visuals were a blurry, shadow-soaked dirge of black and orange. It didn’t look moody; it just looked dark.

Ridger Racer Unbounded Frag

Sometimes innovative

However, there are some elements that should stay with the genre longer. The way game information is displayed in the 3D environment itself is really neat, updating you on lap counts and race position deltas with billboard-sized text graphics surrounding you as you race. That’s cool.

It also requires skill to progress, with rubberbanding only seen in the Frag Attack events where the game tries to keep cars around you to give you a fighting chance to get the three star quota, even if you freak out. It’s therefore decently balanced, challenging without being frustrating.

There’s even a route editor. Completing career mode events will unlock blocks from the neighborhoods, which will be used to build your own race track.

Ridger Racer Unbounded track designer

You can then fill it in with sand pits and ramps, as well as destructible elements, with the results looking just as compelling as the main game. It’s impressively versatile, but lacks relevance when the servers are down. meh

false identity

Of course, the game should have been called anything but “Ridge Racer”.

Very nice that the name was given to a studio that had its own idea for the game and was allowed to take the risk. But unfortunately, that risk didn’t pay off and the series was left to rot. This was the last all-new Ridge Racer ever released for PC and console.

Blaming that one game’s demise would be unfair, as the series had already split up and stagnated by 2012, with the old PS1-style checkpoint-based racing transitioning to drift-centric, charge-based racing that didn’t even need your car to Be forward facing while in a drift state.

Ridge Racer Unbound

The series needed an injection of something. But in hindsight, Unbounded was an injection of beautiful madness that just would never work. The Joker to Namco’s Batman, if you like.

Ridge Racer Unbounded was too remote for Ridge Racer purists, too moody for blue sky gaming fans, too ambitious to be convincingly delivered on console hardware of the time, and just not as good as its obvious rival, Burnout, Ridge Racer Unbounded was doomed.

With modern technology, however, at least one of those elements has been addressed, and while it’s still not as good as burnout, anything on the same scale today has to be worth a look.

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