There's drifting, stylish unlicensed vehicles, and more drifting, but all kidding aside, this is a significantly different Ridge Racer than I've come to know.
For years, perhaps since its inception, Ridge Racer has had a unique style about it. The series was known for its extreme drifting mechanics, cars that aren't real but are based on popular modern (sports) cars, and just having a certain aurora about it that made it unmistakeable. Developer Bugbear has taken these elements and moved them in a very different direction for the series, borrowing from popular releases like Burnout, Split/Second, and Motorstorm. Ridge Racer Unbounded (RRU) is an urban racer with a focus on destruction, both of your competition and the environment, as much as it is about high speed, air, and drifting.
The opening of RRU introduces a mysterious woman who invites/challenges you to join the ranks of Shatter Bay, the fictious coastal city where the action takes place. Your goal is to dominate nine racing districts around the bay area, completing over sixty events. Completionists may strive to obtain all eighty-six rewards too, which include destroying over fifty specific targets within the Bay or reaching certain speed and airborne milestones. A nice overhead, animated map shows you Shatter Bay, the names of the districts, and the required rank and wins you need to unlock each area.
Event types include Domination Races, Frag Attacks, Shindo Racing, and Drift Attacks. Domination Races reminded me of Burnout in that while there is a circuit race going on with a set number of laps and a clear start/finish line, the sub-goal is to avoid being fragged by your competition and frag them whenever you can. Frag Attack extends this by challenging you to get the most frags, Drift Attacks obviously are based on drifting skills, and then Shindo is a traditional race where speed wins the day. RRU has a leveling system, and I'm happy to say that players do earn XP even if they don't win the event -- you still net points for performing frags and drifts and the like.
RRU utilizes a power meter that is a critical gameplay mechanic, especially in Domination races. The Power meter builds up by doing things like drifting and catching air. With it, you can enable a boost, and by boosting, if you ram a competitor, you can wreck them. Slamming into the side of an opponent with a Boost and setting them back a few seconds is always pretty darn satisfying. Power can also be used to destroy parts of the race course, kind of like in Split/Second. These events can open up shortcuts or cause havoc for opponents. In game markers will help you see what you can destroy in your field of view. So that structure that is slightly off the track might primed to open up for a quick shortcut, for example.
One of the things I always look for in racers, and actually in all games really, is how information is relayed to the player on screen. The HUD is a critical design piece that, while it's never made or broke a game for me, is important nonetheless. That said, I really like what Bugbear did with RRU -- the HUD is minimalist, giving you about as much of a view of the actual game as possible. And while the HUD is kept basic, with only the speedometer showing (and the music info if you switch tracks), you're still getting those other critical bits of info like lap number, position, and split time. Instead of appearing in a traditional HUD however, these items are presented as part of the game world -- on top of a building, under a bridge, emblazoned on the side of a building around a turn -- all in a clearly legible font. I don't mean to go on about something that seems so basic, but it really makes a difference when you are zoned into the race. By not having to stray your eyes for even a moment to check the HUD, you stay just that much more tuned in and immersed, and for a fast paced, skill-based racer like RRU, that's important.
Graphically speaking, in terms of technical impressions, I thought RRU looked great, although maybe just a little too shiny and glossy at times. Animations are smooth though, such as the destruction animations when you or another vehicle gets fragged. Framerates have also stayed consistently smooth, a must for any quality racing game. Load times and menu design are positive, but one area where the presentation does stumble is the included soundtrack. While including artists like The Crystal Method (one track anyway) and a few from Skillrex, I found the soundtrack a poor fit. You can skip to the next track by pressing right on the d-pad, or fire up a random song with down on the d-pad at least.
Speaking of controls, I thought Bugbear did a nice job with the layout and response of the controls. Given how important drifting is here, I was happy that there is actually a drift button (Circle). This is much preferred to having the player manually try to control a drift with holding break and trying to gauge the left stick properly. Don't think that drifting is a given in RRU, though -- despite the drift button, players must still control their braking, turning, and accelerating appropriately. In other words, there's still a lot of skill involved, especially as you continue to rank up and unlock new cars with different handling and speeds and so on. While I like the controls for the most part, I do wish there were manual shifting controls included. I prefer to race with a manual transmission as I just find that increased control and interactivity a big plus. That's not an option though, but the amount of drifting required here still gives me plenty to keep busy with.
Physics for arcade racers such as RRU are obviously going to be unrealistic, but one part aspect of RRU that took some getting used to was learning what I could plow through and what I could not. That is, what objects in the game world would cause me to wreck and which ones could I just drive on through? The results were confusing, even from the first race -- I was able to barrel right on through a few short brick walls, but a stationary truck caused an instant wreck. Looking back I don't recall too many of these instances, but I made a note during early play that I thought worth mentioning. Obviously, you don't want to drive into anything but the air in front of you, but that's regularly easier said than done.
In addition to the Shatter Bay campaign, there are two other significant modes available. The first is of course is an online multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, there is no local multiplayer available, only online support and up to eight players at that. Multiplayer is tied closely with the other mode, the City Creator, aka editor. Within the editor, you can create a City with up to five districts, each with their own events. Players can set the time of day, weather, required number of laps, AI difficulty, and several other parameters. The Basic Track Editor is easy to use -- you're presented with a 2D grid and three types of tiles to place. You have a start tile, a straight line tile, and a curve tile. As you lay down tiles, your Budget meter drops down, which is basically just keeping the size of your track in check. With the ability to rotate pieces, you can make just about any type of track that you want in a 2D plane here, it's quick and easy. Once shared, other online folk can select your created city and try out your events. You can gauge the reception of your creation by looking at the Population number, which I thought was cool.
With that, let's get to the summary...