Ridge Racer 6 Review
Everything's got to be better on Xbox 360, right? Take, for example, Ridge Racer 6. It carries on the tried and true formula of the series - completely unrealistic drift-oriented racing - and turns the graphics and frame rate up a notch. This is Namco's first Ridge Racer on a Microsoft console, and with the launch of the Xbox 360, it just might be your kind of thing. Turns out, though, that those who've enjoyed the hell out of the last games in the series might be the only ones that get into this one.
The main single player mode in RR6 is called "World Xplorer". This mode's "Ridge Universe", as the game calls it, is a long matrix of tracks that allow you to map a path through to reach the final races. You can hop on a straight line to the right through the easiest of routes to get there as quickly and easily as possible, or you can head upwards to find harder events before moving to the right. Your rewards for doing this will be more cars and other goodies as you go, but you'll still end up at the far right of the Ridge Universe by the end.
The races in this game are high-speed and require basically zero braking. All you have to do to make a tight corner is to let off the accelerator and turn - the game throws you into a very exaggerated drift, and this is your cue to punch the accelerator. Now you've then got to control your massive drift so as to keep as high a speed as possible and not skid directly into a wall or other racer.
Each race in RR6 has you starting out in last place out of fourteen, and you'll need to conquer your way to the front to win, because even second place isn't good enough for this game. You'll need to drift tighter, drive faster, and block your opponents to beat them. You've also got a useful tool in Nitrous, which replenishes whenever you're in a drift - the faster you are going while drifting, the more nitrous you'll receive.
Maximizing your Nitrous through drifts winds up being the first part of an advanced strategy in RR6. You won't gain any Nitrous while actually in a drift, but if you time it so you come out of one right as you start a tight corner, that extra speed you've got will lead to more Nitrous. Sadly, this is about the only real tactical element I could find in this game, and the rest is basically just controlling your car and not touching your opponents' cars.
All of the tracks (and there aren't very many; you'll find yourself on the same tracks many times as you go throughout the game) take place in fictional areas, although there is a nice mix of city environments, more open country, and even a bit of forest as well. Combine this, though, with completely fake cars, and this just feels like a totally fake game overall. You're driving a car that wasn't ever made in real life, on a track that isn't based on any real road anywhere, and using physics that don't actually exist in the real world. Namco, in a racing game I need something that exists in the real world to hold on to. Sadly, this game just doesn't deliver realism in pretty much any possible way. Well, I take that back; I guess they could have had us racing on tracks out in space or something.
This is the Xbox 360, right? Ok, that means we need to talk about the graphics. As expected, Ridge Racer 6 supports all widely-used HDTV modes (the game would never have passed Microsoft testing if it didn't). And the frame rate is locked at around 60fps pretty much the whole time, which is very nice. The sad part is that aside from a pretty impressive draw distance, and the inherent sharpness in picture quality one gets from using an HDTV resolution, RR6 doesn't actually have that much to offer visually.
Now, don't get me wrong, because this is by no means an ugly game. But the Xbox 360 launched with three racing games - this, Project Gotham Racing 3, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and this one is the least impressive. While the tracks you'll race on do look good, these visuals could have been squeezed onto the Xbox at its normal 480i/480p resolution (and maybe with a somewhat shorter draw distance) and might have suffered only a small drop in frame rate. It's better than what we've seen on past generations of consoles - there's no doubt about that - but this game has already been eclipsed by other Xbox 360 games right out of the door.
For the first time, you can now play Ridge Racer online. The game includes both "player matches" where you can just pick up a game, as well as ranked matches which will try and match you with someone close to your worldwide ranking (which the Xbox Live! network will track for you). After several online games, I've decided that online play will only make this game more fun if you find some decent people to play with - the thrill of playing over the internet is mostly minimized since hitting other cars doesn't really help you much anyway. The game also includes a two-player splitscreen mode, and the frame rate is solid in there, but most hardcore Ridge Racer players are going to be much more interested in the online modes.
The music in Ridge Racer 6 is a mix of genres that range from Jazz to Techno. Most of it stands out better in my opinion than the independent rock that goes into the Burnout soundtrack, although I liked Project Gotham Racing 3's more eclectic mix of music quite a bit more. The sound effects are functional at best, but you won't even notice them because the most annoying announcer in modern racing games is going to be the only thing you're thinking about as you take that next corner. Luckily, you can turn his terrible voice off - and you'll be desperate to do this after about the 12th time he freaks out because you navigated a perfectly straight section of the course without crashing. "How did you do that?!!!"
I did kind of like one option buried in the menus that just lets you pick your music and watch two racers go head-to-head on a track of your choice. You can switch musical tracks whenever you want, too. Granted, this isn't quite like the ability to watch live online races, but it's cool to have either way. Sadly, the in-game controls to switch music tracks won't work with any custom music you might have set up - only the native soundtrack can be fiddled with in this way.
Personally, I'm not really into the whole drift-racing style of gameplay. I enjoyed the PSP version of Ridge Racer because it brought something kind of unique to the system, and the game was easy to pick up and put down. But on the 360, the standards have been raised, and Ridge Racer 6 just doesn't add enough to the formula to make it worthwhile. Points go to Namco for their interesting Ridge Universe way of dealing with difficulty levels and all that, but the rest of the game just doesn't really grab me like even halfway-decent racing games will do.
Ridge Racer 6 brings one major unique thing to the table - all-out drift racing. It's got functional online play and an interesting way to go about delivering a career's worth of single player races, but when it comes down to it, the racing gets old fast. The music's merely decent and the sound's pretty flat, and you can't even rely on the graphics (despite this being a debut title for the Xbox 360) to wow you. It's a solid racing game for those that love the drift action, but for the rest, this one should be skipped.