Neal Molyneaux reviews Ridger Racer Unbounded.
Publisher: Namco Bandai | Developer: Bugbear | Price: £39.99 approx
Available: Out Now | Format: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
As the gleaming and perennial racing property in Namco's roster, Ridge Racer has been present on several generations of console and arcade machine. Historically, it has been a glossy, high speed affair, often rolled out to showcase new technology at launch. In terms of gameplay, drifting in tyre shredding arcs at ludicrous speeds has always been the series' raison d'etre - however, that has all changed with Namco's decision to outsource the IP to Scandinavian developer Bugbear, following their success with FlatOut.
In Bugbear's hands, the game has been transformed into something just as thrilling - but infinitely more so. Pure drift racing is replaced with the destruction based carnage that the company is so famous for, as a grid of eleven cars tears through Shatter City, demolishing all in their path.
The bread and butter of the racing events is Domination mode, in which you seek to win by any means. Destructable scenery and trading paint with your rivals fills up a boost gauge which, when unleashed allows you to plough a shortcut through city landmarks, frag your rival racer or simply put on an uncatchable lick of speed to take you past your opponents.
Other game modes see you return to Ridge Racer's purer roots with drift challenges and time attacks, while frag attack events lean more towards the destruction of the Burnout series.
The cars available to you are unlocked by amassing score, which also grants access to further city districts and the challenges they hold. In addition, you are granted track building blocks to use in the custom track editor. This feature allows you to clip together city blocks and freeways like a Scalextric set to assemble your dream tracks - these are then published online and available for all to play. The most popular tracks are listed first, which sorts the wheat from the chaff and, the more you play - the more the variety of blocks available.
The vehicles featured are all from the Namco stable of imaginary car porn and range from custom Shindo Racing speed machines to lumbering juggernauts designed to dominate the road in frag events. Be aware that speed is not necessarily the deciding factor in winning a race and choose your mount wisely.
Initial play is a bewildering and frustrating experience - it takes practice to discern between scenery you can destroy and the more solid type that will stop your car dead in a shower of sparks and twisted metal. Tracks must be learned in order to progress and the unforgiving difficulty curve is pitched perfectly in order to lure you in to 'just one more try' as your tantalisingly close pole position is wiped out by a misjudged drift around the final corner.
It was a big decision for Namco to entrust one of their tent-pole franchises to a foreign developer, but Bugbear have paid that trust back in spades and brought Ridge Racer to entirely new heights. Unbounded stands out amongst the crowded field of destruction racers and the addition of the track editor means it will never be short of extra content to keep you coming back. A superlative example of international co-operation that has produced one of the finest racers you'll play this year.