The cars, they feel heavy; drifting is weighty and unpredictable; things dent, crumple, explode - Bugbear’s take on the Ridge Racer universe might borrow Namco’s trademark for its tour of Los Angeles-esque Shatter Bay, but it doesn’t feel like a Ridge Racer game. There’s a distinctly Western feel to this slightly peculiar marriage, and it’s clear from the off that there’s absolutely no attempt to try to emulate anything the Japanese studio has output in the past three generations.
The cars look great, modelled on real-life vehicles.
Nor, you’ll notice, does Unbounded look like a Ridge Racer game. Ignoring the iffy aliasing and apparent up-scaling, the Finnish company have managed to wrangle a huge array of special effects out of an engine that also sports twelve cars on screen at once, at 30fps. Motion blur’s a given, but there’s plenty of smoke and some eye-searing boost trails in amongst all the persistent debris and half destroyed environments. It’s not an amazing looking game, but it’s a decent enough one.
The main game sees you taking on the city, which is initially locked out with just one area playable. As you ‘dominate’ events in each area (by placing first, normally) you unlock other districts, as well as levelling up – RPG style – for new cars and track editor parts. Each area is further broken down into a smattering of races and drift events, the former normally accompanied by wanton destruction and the latter opening up potential for some thrilling driving.
As you powerslide around corners, draft behind opponents and take out sections of the trackside, your power bar increases and once filled can be triggered for a speed boost and temporary invulnerability, letting you perform takedowns on other cars and also smash through otherwise impenetrable sections of the track to reveal short-cuts. All the while your current position and distance behind or ahead is displayed around the city on walls and buildings, although the default settings also show most of this data on a normal on-screen HUD.
Track design is decent, and the wide courses fit the handling well.
I have to admit to liking Unbounded more than I thought I would. When I saw it last year at E3 it was an unknown quantity shrouded by enforced mystery and the EGX demo didn’t really show what the game was all about – the full thing, with its progression system and non-linear event choices, is actually well produced and slickly done. I don’t think anyone’s pretending this is going to set the world on fire, but it’s a well timed tonic for those looking for an arcade racer.
Niggles? The in-car camera’s far too low (and completely broken in drift events, the game apparently happy enough to present you with the inside of an engine rather than the road ahead), there’s little in the way of a story, the rubber-banding is quite strong and there were a couple of times where I found myself clipping through the tarmac. But there’s clearly ambition here and where it really counts – the physics and handling – Unbounded’s a nice surprise.
We’ll have the full review soon.