Review: Ridge Racer Unbounded (PlayStation 3)

Reviewed by Harold Morris, posted Apr 5, 2012
Over the last few years I have become a big fan of the Ridge Racer games, both on consoles and handhelds. The DS and PSP iterations of Ridge Racer being amongst my favourite handheld racing games. This is why I was surprised when Ridge Racer Unbounded kind of snuck up on me. I hadn't really heard anything about it up until a couple of weeks before its release. When I eventually saw the demo video of the track editor I was really excited for it. From the video it seemed that they had combined gameplay elements from games such as Burnout and Split/Second with Ridge Racer, a combination which if implemented well could make Unbounded my dream racing game.
Apr 5, 2012
  • Release Date (NA): March 30, 2012
  • Publisher: Namco
  • Genres: Racing
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
The Ridge Racer series has been around for as long as many of us have been gaming. Making its début in the arcades of old in 1993 and released on the PSone the following year, its arcade racing formula has not really changed since. Crazy sideways drifting, nitro boosts, unique vehicles and a soundtrack that would not be out of place in a nightclub is what we have come to expect from every new Ridge Racer iteration. Ridge Racer Unbounded breaks away from this tried and tested formula in a big way. So much so that at times the only similarity between Unbounded and its predecessors is the Ridge Racer moniker. Straying from the formula it is renowned for is quite a gamble to take for such a well established series, but the gamble was worth it. What we have before us is a solid and very entertaining new addition to the Ridge Racer series.
Harold Morris
Ridge Racer is one of those games that has been around for a long time, sticking to the same formula. The mere mention of its name conjures up a vision in most gamers minds of what to expect from any new version. Ridge Racer Unbounded however, is an entirely new beast in the franchise. This time around Namco has handed over development duties to Bugbear Entertainment, known for the Flatout series. The genealogy of their Flatout heritage can be found all throughout Unbounded. It's very much still an arcade racer, but the similarities to any previous games in the series ends there. Playing more like the spawn of Flatout, Burnout and even Split/Second, Ridge Racer Unbounded is such a dramatic break from the series that most people would be hard-pressed to identify it as a Ridge Racer game.

Some core Ridge Racer features are still present in Unbounded. A huge selection of music tracks that wouldn't be out of place in a rave, cars that are based on real vehicles with that extra classic Ridge Racer spin, drifting in order to gain Nitro boosts and so on. That's where the similarity ends. Even the drifting mechanic in Unbounded is unique, not just amongst other Ridge Racer games, but to most racing games in general. Almost all other arcade and standard racing games utilize the brake button to perform drifts while others make use of the handbrake. Unbounded uses a dedicated drift button which lies somewhere in between the two. At first the use of the drift button is extremely counter-intuitive, with your instincts telling you that nothing more than a tap of it is all that is needed. However, the correct way to use the drift button is to keep it held down while continually adjusting your direction, accelerator and brake. At no point in the game is this explained to you, you only slowly discover how to use it effectively through continual trial and error. Despite the fact that I slowly became accustomed to its use it just never felt natural to me and I still find myself misjudging drifts even now. 

Some of the key elements introduced in Unbounded that have never been seen in a Ridge Racer game before are destructible environments and offensive takedowns known as "frags". Destruction is the order of the day for Unbounded, both of the city where all the racing takes place and your opponents. Gone are the mountain tracks you would expect to see in an average Ridge Racer title. Every race is confined within the urban boundaries of Shatter Bay City. Rich skyscraper laden districts, industrial areas, construction sites, urban vistas and highways are your racetrack this time round. Although the city is an attracive sight for the most part, (especially at night) after a while it can feel a bit samey. Much like in Split/Second you are able use your boost to smash through buildings and other barriers in order to create shortcuts in a race. Although these are not as epic as the set pieces seen in Split/Second, they are nonetheless extremely satisfying to pull off. The boost, which you gain through drifting, allows you to perform jumps that serve as your primary offensive weapon. A well-timed boost into the rear of the vehicle ahead of you will result in a Burnout style takedown. You can also boost into petrol tankers and piles of explosive barrels to produce a shockwave, which if well timed can take out multiple opponents in one fell swoop. You can also generally smash through smaller obstacles such as trees, walls, lampposts and so on without the need of a boost and with negligible damage to your car or any speed reduction penalty.

However this resulted in two frustrating bugs that I encountered frequently. Firstly, debris from things you smash into have an annoying habit of getting stuck onto the front of your car. If you are like me, and enjoy playing racing games via a first person viewpoint, you will find your line of sight obscured by debris on a regular basis. Secondly, the general robustness of the cars in Unbounded can lead to the phenomenon of crashing straight into a wall or other barrier and it not being registered as a crash. This means you will quite often find yourself being forced to reverse out of the crash or resetting your car via the start menu. This is so time consuming that when it happens you may as well just restart the entire race. Such is the ferocious nature of the in game AI. I often found it is impossible to gain a podium place after experiencing this.

Another very neat and quite original addition to Unbounded is the way information is displayed to you mid-race. The hud is very clean and only shows your speedometer and position. Everything else is relayed to you by being superimposed over walls and other boundaries of the track during the race. This means you do not need to take your eye off the track to find out how ahead or behind you are from opponents, for example. The blistering speed you often travel at gives you little time to take your eye off the road ahead especially in Unbounded's mainstay -- the Domination events. Domination races are your standard Ridge Racer/Burnout/Split Second hybrid mode. You will find frags and destructible set pieces aplenty in every race. However, you will find yourself fighting hard to emerge victorious in what amounts to one of the toughest racing games I have ever played. With no difficulty settings and merciless AI opponents, I found myself continually having to restart races in order to even place in third. Any mistake in the later part of a race can easily see you lose up to six positions in the blink of an eye, with packs of AI opponents zooming past you. Some races are so frustratingly hard that I found myself just giving up on them entirely; and I am by no means bad at racing games, especially arcade type racing games. I find it odd that a game where the primary mechanic is taking out opponents can be so unforgiving to even the smallest of mistakes or crashes. You would expect to crash or be taken out at least once or twice per race. In some of Unbounded's races you literally have to race flat out out and flawlessly for the entire race otherwise you can forget about finishing in the top three. However despite the steep difficulty and frustrating nature of a lot of the Domination races I still found them exciting nonetheless.

The other game modes are frankly not quite as fun but thankfully they only amount to about 15% of the total racing. Now don't get me wrong, the other modes are not terrible by any stretch of the imagination. They just pale in comparison to the thrilling Domination mode. First up is Frag Attack mode where you have to take out as many opponents as possible in a specific time. The insurmountable opponent AI is toned down substantially for this, with groups of vehicles traveling in slow procession awaiting their demise at your hands. Your boost bar automatically refills every few seconds so there is no need to perform the usual Domination type maneuvers to fill it up. Other than an occasional evasive maneuver from your opponents this mode is pretty much a cake walk, but still pretty fun. Next up is the Shindo Racing mode, which is a normal racing mode without any frags or destruction on offer. This mode most closely resembles a traditional Ridge Racer experience. Your boost in this mode is just a normal nitrous boost which offers no offensive advantage. Although still fun, when playing it I yearned for the race to be over so that I could go back and play a Domination mode race instead. Next up is Drift Attack. There isn't that much to say about this mode, it is your usual drift as much as possible to gain points type of event that is standard fare in a lot of games. Last are Time Trials, which is the most fun out of all of the secondary gaming modes. In this mode you have to navigate a stunt course and collect tokens in order to progress. Quite challenging and with half pipes, jumps and loop the loops aplenty playing this mode is actually a pretty nice break from the competitive racing of the Domination mode.


Unbounded's biggest draw is undoubtedly the track editor feature. It is a simple to use yet powerful tool which can be used to create and publish tracks online. As you gain XP through racing, you unlock more and more blocks which you can use to construct your own custom courses. Working through a grid based system the basic editor allows you to quickly and easily create tracks of quite a generous size that are pretty much indistinguishable from the professionally created ones. Once you are happy with the basic layout of your track you can move on to the advanced editor to place ramps, exploding barrels and so on. The advanced editor lets you quickly switch from a birds eye view of the track to actually being able to test the track with a car at a quick press of the select button. All game modes are supported with the editor so you are not just limited to domination type races. Once you beat your track and set a top score that you are happy with, you can publish it online and challenge others to beat it. Navigating custom tracks from other people is also a breeze and at a click of a button you are able to save any custom tracks to your favorites list to play in the future.

Finally I will briefly touch on the online competitive racing. Only briefly because it was one of my biggest disappointments and I don't really have a lot to say about it other than for me it was broken. Finding a race against human players online was difficult. I only ever managed to connect to more than one other player just once during the whole time I played Ridge Racer Unbounded online. All of my other races were against just a single opponent out of a potential eight with no AI to fill the gaps. This lead to extremely boring and one sided races that were hardly worth playing. I am uncertain if the issue was at my end or in the actual matchmaking, but either way a huge fundamental component of any modern racing game was lost to me. I can't say that I have ever experienced these sort of matchmaking issues with any other online game and going by the amount of players populating the user created online cities I doubt that the issue was down to a lack of players. So yeah that was a pretty big letdown for me and if it is an issue with the online matchmaking hopefully it can be fixed at some point.

Closing Comments

Ridge Racer Unbounded is a hell of a great game. The bastard child of a threeway between Ridge Racer, Burnout and Split/Second and an ambitious yet brave break from the usual formula we have come to expect. It may not have the epicness of Split/Second or the easy pick up and play accessibility of Burnout and Ridge Racer but it does do a good job of combining their main facets together and still maintaining its own unique identity at the same time. Despite the niggling issues I have addressed above, Bugbear have done Namco proud and have managed to produce a very entertaining package in Ridge Racer Unbounded. However it is a shame that these issues do exist because if they didn't Ridge Racer Unbounded could have been elevated from a great racing game to one of the best racing games out there. Even so it is still very very good and a title that definitely does enough to warrant high praise.
+ Great music and graphics with a solid framerate
+ Wide selection of tracks and vehicles to unlock
+ The track editor is both intuitive and easy to use
+ The racing is almost always thrilling in Domination mode
+ Easy to share tracks online with the community
- Destructible scenery can often obscure your view when using the first person view
- Opponent AI is mercilessly difficult with no option to change difficulty settings
- Tough to find online opponents
- Drift mechanic feels very unnatural compared to almost every other racer
8 Presentation
With good graphics and a rock solid framerate there is nothing much to complain about in terms of presentation. The minimalist hud and clever system of displaying mid race information helps you appreciate the aesthetics even more. Don't forget the ton of catchy tunes on offer for you to enjoy.
8 Gameplay
Borderline sadistic AI and a hard to get to grips with drifting mechanic can hamper the fun and frustrate. Combined with the issues I had finding races online with more than two opponents means I had to mark the score down a notch more than I would have liked. But the brilliant track editor and sheer fun of the game in general saves it from getting less than an 8.
9 Lasting Appeal
If online issues are fixed at some point down the road there is a lot of potential longevity to be found in Unbounded. Combined with the almost limitless potential of the track editor, its sheer ease of use and the easy way you can share your tracks online, Ridge Racer Unbounded has a lot more longevity to it compared to your average racer.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Ridge Racer Unbounded is a fantastic game with a lot going for it. If it wasn't for the tough as nails AI, unnatural drifting mechanic and online issues I experienced I would have happily given it a 9/10 or possibly higher. Despite these annoyances I had so much fun with its racing and track editor I just can't bring myself to mark it down too much. A real revolution in the Ridge Racer franchise, not an evolution, I would recommend this game to any arcade racing fan.


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