TheSixthAxis recently got the chance to see the latest build of Ridge Racer Unbounded, and although it’s still set for a release at some point next year and there’s still clearly a long way to go before this is anything like the finished product, there was plenty to get our teeth into. And crucially, our fears that the ‘Unbounded’ aspect would take away from the core Ridge Racer experience (of which we’re massive fans) were both qualified and nicely sidestepped almost immediately.
So, pre-conceptions and the notion that this one will be a little different (as indeed, was the aforementioned Criterion racer when it appeared) aside, it was time to see what Unbounded was all about. We were shown just one track, set in Shadow Bay, and although the drifting mechanic is still present and correct, this is a racer far more rooted in physics than the slide-happy mechanics previous games have been all about. Shadow Bay is a gritty, grey place, full of concrete and buildings, and is a definite nod to a more realistic, earthly setting.
It’s also a place that’s highly destructable, and that – rather than the notion of circuit-based racing – is the core principle here. Skillful driving (drifting, drafting and jumping) builds up your destruction meter, and once you’ve saved up enough you can use that power to crash through barriers and take out rival racers, Burnout-style. You can cause limited damage without the destruction bar, but it’s rather obviously going to be the key for finding those hidden shortcuts and last-lap battles with other vehicles.
And speaking of damage, each car’s made up of fifty distinct parts, and there’s a huge amount of real-time deformation on display when you do take an impact. Crashes are, as you’d expect, a little over excitable, but they look great and sound especially convincing. Damage on the courses is persistent, too, at least in terms of items being left on the tarmac for the remainder of the race – indeed, you can use this to your advantage and lay traps for racers behind you which can alter the flow of a situation quite considerably. Sure, it’s nothing particularly new, but it’s nice to see a Ridge Racer title that’s not constantly coated in a pristine gloss finish.
The graphics are nice, despite the slightly grim setting, with clever use of the UI being a particular standout. Your position, time and so on are plastered onto walls and buildings as you scoot around the course (think Splinter Cell Conviction) and the game tries to second guess which data you’d want to see at any point – it’s a clever concept and works nicely, leaving an uncluttered HUD but also giving the game a bit of a showy exterior which works well enough in principle.
The developers weren’t keen to discuss multiplayer (no matter how hard we pushed) but we did question them on something mentioned – there’s going to be a whole city to dominate, and that’s going to mean (we assume) players will be able to set targets and times for particular areas. We were shown a brief demo of something else too, which looked like portions of a city being ‘snapped’ together like building blocks, which hopefully means we’ll get the chance to build our own environments and challenge other players in our own bespoke areas.
Without such added extras, of course, Unbounded runs the risk of being something far too similar to a lot of games already out there, and that’s not to mention the marketing hurdle Namco are going to have to jump to convince die-hard Ridge fans that this is something entirely different. Until then, at least the driving looks solid and the game’s shaping up nicely.