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Ridge Racer Unbounded
Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: BugBear Entertainment
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Racing (Arcade)/ Editor/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
First, I have to say it. "Unbounded" is not a word. Something may be bound, or it may be unbound. The past tense of unbind is unbound. The preceding has been a public service announcement on behalf of all of my English teachers. We now return to our racing game review already in progress... Ridge Racer Unbounded features a darker setting than previous Ridge Racer games, both visually and thematically, set in the gritty, dirty world of a Dystopian dark future, where government has collapsed and a group of racers who call themselves the "Unbounded" run rampant on the dilapidated streets, fighting for their rights to race and taking over cities all over the world... or something like that.

Unbounded takes the free-reign destruction side of the indestructible car license coin, choosing original cars that show realistic damage, rather than licensed cars that are contractually obligated to remain factory fresh. This actually is to be expected for a Ridge Racer title, however, as they have always featured original vehicles.

One nice feature is that there isn't much of a traditional H.U.D. in Ridge Racer Unbounded. Instead, your time, score, kills or other vital scoring information is displayed against the environment in certain sections of the tracks. This tends to be just about the right frequency so that it's visible when you want to know the score. A few things are displayed in an H.U.D., such as your speed and how much energy you've collected towards your next boost.

Sound effects do the job, from the racing engines to the whine of the Power Boost, the crashing of broken concrete walls and the booms of explosive targets gettin' blowed up. My favorite audio aspect of Unbounded, however is the variety of Dubstep and Electronic music in the audio selections. I've taken to using YouTube to provide Dubstep soundtracks for me sometimes while I'm playing games, so finding Skrillex present and ready to play was a nice surprise.


Gameplay:
Fans of the Ridge Racer series may be a bit put off with this offering. It's presented as a Ridge Racer game, but originally, it was going to be a completely different game. Namco saw what Bugbear Entertainment was doing and thought that, with a little bit of massaging, it could be an installment in the Ridge Racer franchise. Die-hard fans may feel that it's far from the original Ridge Racer game, but in all honesty, there's been good deal of movement and evolution in the feel of the series. Unbounded brings with it some of the destructive fun found in the Burnout series, and, personally, I think the game is quite fun; whether it should be in the Ridge Racer series is something that fans can argue back and forth, ad infinitum, I'm sure.

Ridge Racer Undbounded has a few very different feeling offerings inside. First, there's the Story Mode, which has you progressing through a series of events, tracks and sections of a city. You initially have a single event available to you, but as you earn points in the events, others become unlocked and available to you.

There is also a normal online Multiplayer, which has you racing in the same types of events and locations as are featured in the Single Player Mode, but against real-life opponents over the Internet.

For me, however, the biggest draw is the Track Editor and the Cities of the World. Basically, you are given the ability to make your own tracks and events, pack them up in a city of your own creation and then publish your new city to the Ridge Racer Unbounded server, where players all over the world can download and try out your handiwork. Special challenges highlight user content, challenging players to attempt to beat the creators' scores on their own tracks. My most popular track to date is in my city, "Annistonia" (named for Psibabe) and is called, Fleet Enemy. In Fleet Enemy, you play the part of a policeman who has to attempt to single-handedly take down a gang of rogue commercial truckers in the middle of the night. Okay, okay... so I'm not going to be selling the movie rights anytime soon, but there's just something about rampaging around a city in the dead of night, rolling semi-trucks out of your way in an attempt to take out as many as you can within your five minute time limit that is somehow cathartic and soothing. (But you don't have to take my word for it. Check it out, yourself.)

Regardless of your arena, be it single player, multiplayer or user-submitted content, there are a few different types of races available. Domination Races are races, first and foremost, so you're trying to come in first - or as close to it as you can manage - but you're also awarded points to your score for wreaking general havoc on the city and your opponents. Drifting, blasting through buildings, destroying targets, taking out opponents in creative ways... all of these things contribute to your score in Domination Races. Shindo Racing is more about speed, with no destructive targets to be had. It's all about being fast and in control. Drifting earns you a boost, but it's just a speed boost, unlike the "Power Boost" from Domination Races that lets you bust through certain walls and perform a single-hit wreck-out on opponents.

Frag Attack is like Domination Races, but without the race element. Everything here is all about the destruction. This is the type of event I used in making Fleet Enemy, for example. There's a time limit and, within that time, you're trying to destroy a certain number of trucks and, well, whatever else you can, in order to make as many points as you can.

Drift Attack is pretty much what it sounds like, but be warned - it can be quite difficult to keep control of cars in Unbounded. I have seen my fair share of accidental donuts when simply trying to get back on the track. As popular as donuts may be with the kiddies these days, you have to have some forward motion to get Drift points, so playing sit-and-spin isn't earning you any love.

Another self-descriptive mode is Time Trials. The idea is to finish the course in under certain specified times. Mind you, with the editor featured in Unbounded, some of these Time Trials can be less quarter-mile run and a lot more obstacle-course-meets-jungle-gym... this must be what it's like to try free-running while in a car.


Difficulty:
I have to assume that the name, "Unbounded" originally came from the nearly boundless challenge presented in the Story Mode. I have played many a racing game before, and I am quite used to making my way through a few races, then finding that the difficulty has ramped up a bit and perhaps, having more difficulty with certain types of races than others, working my way through the type I excel at first, then going back to pick up the others as my skills and track familiarity have built up a bit. That, however, is not the case here. No, here, all of the races seem unreasonably difficult, starting from the first city, and all of the race types are difficult, although I found the Time Attack to be a bit easier than the rest, due to the lack of opponents, but races with opponents are just over-the-top and drifting vehicles are so difficult to control that it's frustrating.

I can't speak to what you might find on the desks of the developers at Bugbear Entertainment, but I'm fairly sure they've never heard of a rubber band... because I can't see one anywhere in the races. Most racing games use a feature to "balance" races... if you get far behind, all of the opponents slow down a bit. If you get out very far ahead, they somehow grow hidden booster rockets and go flying past you. This rubber band functionality can help to make a race closer (and hence, more interesting), but I generally prefer pure merit-based gameplay. That seems to be exactly what you find here, but the A.I. is good enough to work that to its advantage. As a result, I find it hard to finish a race in the top of the pack. If I manage to get out ahead, I don't have to worry about cars unnaturally catching up with me, but that's not often the problem.


Game Mechanics:
I truly don't understand why the game would be made to be this hard. The off-the-chart difficulty is almost the only detractor I've seen in Ridge Racer Unbounded. If you can get relief from the hard baked-in races by playing some user-submitted content or rolling your own events and playing them, then there are hours and hours of fun to be had in Ridge Racer Unbounded. If, however, you don't have Internet access on your PS3, then you'll miss out on a great bit of the content.

The only other thing I will gripe about has to do with the views. I realize that everyone else in the world uses third-person views, but dang it, I do better in first-person view. Unbounded provides a first-person view, but it resets you to the default far-away third-person view every time you select a new race. It keeps your view set how you had it if you're replaying, but if you leave and select a new race, you'll be back in third-person again. Argh! Also, when I frantically cycle through the views after changing races, I have found that sometimes the game glitches and I end up with absolutely NO H.U.D. when in first-person view. This can be really annoying, as I won't know if I've built up boost until I try to use it - and planned use of your boosts is very important in Ridge Racer Unbounded.

I highly recommend Ridge Racer Unbounded to arcade racers who like high-speed destructive races, drifting and a lot of shortcuts and have Internet connections.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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