Ridge Racer Unbounded PC Review
After many entries in the drift-happy Ridge Racer series, publisher Namco started looking to other games for inspiration. To go beyond even that, they started looking at entirely different developers, too, and chose Bugbear Interactive - creators of the Flatout games - to infuse what they hoped would be some new blood into their long-running racing series. What Bugbear has done was bring in what they hoped were the best elements of Split/Second and Burnout, mash it all together with the ridiculous drifting that Namco's racing games have traditionally included, and tried to make it all work together in this new title, Ridge Racer Unbounded. It was a pretty lofty goal, and unfortunately, I don't feel like Bugbear succeeded like they should have.
You'll get your pick of non-licensed cars ranging from muscular variants to sleek supercars, all ranging in several stats like speed, handling, strength, and drift. Events like Domination have you pressing B through a drift, and when enough meter has been built up, pressing A for a big speed boost coming out of a well-drifted corner. With these several seconds of boost, you can make use of the speed to simply pass opponents, smash into an opposing car to "frag" him (in Burnout speak, we mean a Takedown), or to bust through specially-placed obstacles on each of the game's tracks to find a shortcut or blow up nearby opponents with environmental damage - or, in some cases, both at the same time. Another event type has you doing a timed drift attack, meaning that going into a drift gives you points towards your total and can even extend the time you have left to continue. Still another is a less aggressive race, where you'll still drift in order to gain boost, but you won't be taking out opponents on the way.
Unbounded has no tutorial and just throws you right into a full Domination race, neglecting to teach you elements of the basics before just expecting you to learn them on the road all at once. This lead me to lose the very first race several times before I learned that holding the B button during a drift (rather than just tapping once) gives you more drift control, that I have to use the A-button boost to smash through tougher obstacles, and how to chain together frags in order to rack up enough speed boosts to get past about eighth place in the first three-lap race. After finally finishing that first race properly, I started doing much better, winning the next two races on the first try - then the game started to up the difficulty on me with tougher tracks, more aggressive opponents, and more. All the while I was unlocking cars, but they're only for use in specific events, so the range of cars that can be used in any one race is rather limited.
I played the PC and 360 versions of Ridge Racer Unbounded, and it becomes clear very quickly that the console versions were the primary aim for Namco and Bugbear. Sure, the PC version looks prettier in high-res and runs at a higher frame rate, but it feels like the game's logic can barely keep up with the fast frame rates I was getting, causing an unsettling jerky feeling throughout the game - even though the frame rates were doing just fine. Disabling SLI on my PC did help things a bit, but I could still see it even with one video card running. On top of this, the PC version only supports keyboard and 360 gamepad controls - I was initially going to complain about the lack of wheel support on PC, but after spending hours with the game, I can tell you that it's so arcadey and unnatural-feeling, it becomes obvious why Bugbear didn't bother. Simply put, the game would feel very awkward if trying to use a wheel. Admittedly, that's not a great reason not to include support that could have otherwise been there and might have been enjoyed by somebody, but I doubt people are missing much. If you're a serious sim fan, you should be staying far away from this game anyway.
Over on 360, things are much more well-suited to the platform, and the visuals are nice if not totally amazing. Playing with friends works well for what little time you might spend away from superior racing games - arcadey or not - but don't expect any revolution in gameplay, and don't expect this to be a true successor to the Ridge Racer name, either.
For that matter, I'm not sure that Bugbear and Namco really got off the execution they wanted with this game. I can see how the concept looked great on paper, where the best elements of the last few years of arcade racing all come together under one roof, but the concoction has turned a bit sour partway through the process. Frags aren't as satisfying as Takedowns were in Burnout, the dangerous environments aren't quite as deadly as in Split/Second, and the drifting can be fiddly and frustrating if you manage to tap a wall or turn just enough that the angle on a car colliding with you frags you, rather than the other way around. With that said, if you hammer on this game and do some work mastering the mix of aggression and racing, you get a unique kind of racing joy, but I am not sure it's worth it. And on PC, it's just not the right mix of action and aggression to make this entirely different set of PC racing fans happy. On 360, sure, but this is a pretty bad mismatch for the PC.
This PC review is based on a copy provided by Valve Software through Steam.