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Ridge Racer Unbounded Review (X360)

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Ridge Racer Unbounded Review (X360)
Namco Bandai
Ridge Racer Unbounded isn't really Ridge Racer. Lets just get that out of the way first. It has more in common with Split/Second or Burnout than classic Ridge Racer. The focus in Unbounded is on destruction and playing dirty instead of style and graceful powersliding like past RR games, but, hey, that's cool. Pack in a ton of tracks and race types and even a custom track editor, and Ridge Racer Unbounded is a pretty solid package. Not so hot is a brutally steep learning curve that can, and will, turn some players away before they really get into it. We have all of the details here in our full review.
Game Details

  • Publisher: Namco Bandai
  • Developer: BugBear
  • ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
  • Genre: Racing
  • Pros: Stylish visuals; fun gameplay once you "get" it; lots of content; track creator
  • Cons: Can be brutally frustrating; a lot of trial and error; destruction element isn't that interesting

Just what is an "Unbounded"? The Unbounded are a group of street racers looking to cause havoc in the city of Shatter Bay. Considering that you can drive through buildings, shatter bridge supports, destroy walls, and much more during the course of a race, causing havoc isn't too difficult. The city has nine districts, each with a bunch of events, and you progress through the game by earning enough XP to open up the next set of races and better cars. You don't actually have to win every event to make progress, which is a good thing because early on Ridge Racer Unbounded is pretty brutally difficult. Events are things like domination races, where your goal is to destroy as much as possible while also trying to win, straightforward normal races, drifting events, elimination races, and time trials.

Unbounded also offers multiplayer racing, of course, but it also has a surprisingly robust track editor where sharing your custom tracks with the rest of the world on Xbox Live is incredibly easy. The track editor is a simple tile-based affair (each tile is a straight, or turn, or has different obstacles / explosions / etc. and you just lay them out however you want) and you earn new tiles by playing through the game. The track editor is pretty awesome.

Gameplay

Namco Bandai
The gameplay in Ridge Racer Unbounded is both its greatest strength, but ultimate weakness, however. It isn't the graceful drifting of past Ridge Racer games, but instead focuses more on destruction similar to developer BugBear's FlatOut series games. On the surface it is pretty simple - the cars handle pretty well, and you earn "Power" by drafting other cars, destroying breakable objects, and by powersliding. Power can then be used either as a sort of nitro boost or you can use it to blow up explosive objects, ram other cars to destroy them, or even drive straight through certain buildings. The problem is that this isn't a game where you just powerslide around every corner, build up power, and then rocket to the front. Not every corner is really suitable to drift around, and if you drift on the wrong corner you'll probably end up spinning out (NeoGaf suggests holding down the "fun" (drift) button on every corner, but that is terrible advice). Not every shortcut through a building is really faster than taking the normal route, either, and honestly the whole destruction element is kind of flat and boring compared to Split/ Second where blowing stuff up had a huge impact on the race. Instead, the game plays out in a repeating pattern where you play a track a few times, fail miserably, and then figure out which corners to drift on and where to best use your power so you can win easily. When you first start the game, expect to suck at it. It took us about 10 tries to finally win the very first event, and that was after coming back to it with the 3rd or 4th car you unlock.

It makes the game seem almost more like a puzzle game than a real racing game. You play each track a few times to figure it out, and from there on you can win on that track every time. It is a pattern of frustration and then victory that kind of gets old after a while. It makes Ridge Racer Unbounded less of a game about skill, and more a game about simple trial and error until you get it right, and that isn't a pattern we especially like in a racing game. There is no satisfying middle ground where you drove as well as you could and ended up in 5th or something. You are always either struggling and sucking and in last, or you have figured the track out and win by 15+ seconds. It is a bit of a grind from race to race as you struggle, then win, then struggle, then win, then struggle, then win. I'm not saying is isn't fun, but it is a different sort of fun that actually kind of isn't fun. Picture it like Burnout Revenge or Split/Second are a trip to Disneyland, while Ridge Racer Unbounded is a visit to the World's Largest Ball of Yarn somewhere in the Midwest. Fun. Sort of.

Graphics & Sound

Visually, Ridge Racer Unbounded is a nice looking game with slick menus and nice overall style. The cars aren't licensed, but look good and smash up nicely. Our only complaint with the graphics is that the game is really dark on a lot of tracks and it makes it hard to actually see the destructible objects on the side of the road (important since you need to destroy stuff to build up power). Other tracks are bright and sunny, though, so it isn't a consistent problem, but it makes a pretty poor first impression when the first track in the game is almost too dark to see. A great thing about the graphics is the simple HUD where lap times or your position are projected on the side of buildings around the track instead of always cluttering up your screen. Very neat.

The sound is also pretty good. Solid vehicle sounds. Good sound effects for all of the destruction you're causing. And an okay dubstep soundtrack that you can easily avoid by using custom tracks on your Xbox 360.

Bottom Line

Namco Bandai
All in all, Ridge Racer Unbounded is a bit of an uneven experience. It makes a pretty terrible first impression with a brutally hard first few races that will likely turn a lot of players away in frustration very early on. If you keep at it and get over the hump, though, you'll find a game with interesting gameplay ideas, nice presentation, and a wealth of content to open up. It never shakes the pattern of trial and error, though, which makes it a struggle to fully embrace even when you do figure out the gameplay quirks and "get it". It is a bit of a grind, to be honest, and there are other racing games that do the destruction Unbounded is focused on better and a lot of games that do the straight up racing much better as well. If you're desperate for a new racing game, Ridge Racer Unbounded makes a solid rental.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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