Ridge Racer Unbounded is a sizeable departure from previous Ridge Racer games, and almost seems like a spin-off of the series because the signature drifting gameplay is not included. The dominant mechanic this time is city destruction, and while this can be fun for a while it didn’t keep my interest for nearly as long as Ridge Racer 7 did.
The minimal plot of the game is expounded in the first 30 seconds of the game: You are a member of the ‘Unbounded,’ a bunch of people that race cars through Shatter City destroying things for fun. Your goal is to rise up the ranks of the Unbounded by winning races. Other than that opening video the plot plays no part in the game, and everything is begun from a menu of districts.
Each district in Shatter City has seven events in it, and there are nine districts in total. Each event within a district requires points to unlock, and while racing points are earned by coming in the top three and by fragging other players, as well as by destroying buildings or destroying collateral objects. Points also go towards your ‘Rank,’ and as you Rank up you unlock cars. Dominate enough races and you unlock the other districts which get progressively faster as you move from ‘Street’ to ‘Race’ to ‘Super’ cars. The packaging of the game is very simple, but what’s important is the racing itself.
The main type of event is ‘Domination.’ In these events you race against eleven other cars over two to three laps of a track, and the goal is to get into the top three. If you come third you ‘Pass’ the event, if you come second you ‘Complete’ it and if you come first you ‘Dominate’ it. As mentioned before, dominating events (such as Domination) is vital if you want to unlock the other districts.
These events follow a rhythm quite different from the previous few Ridge Racer games – instead of focusing on technical driving skills and drifting to build up Nitrous, Ridge Racer Unbounded focuses on city and opponent destruction. You can still fill your ‘Power’ gauge by drifting and drafting, but it fills quicker by earning rewards, such as going over 215Km/h or fragging another car (or three), or destroying buildings.
In order to destroy buildings (which you literally drive straight through) you must activate Power. Your car will ram through the wall of the building and come out the other side, effectively making a short-cut in the track. Often this leads to your car getting air or earning some other reward which fills your Power gauge up again. Stringing these Power uses together is the key to racing well in Ridge Racer Unbounded.
Drifting, meanwhile, is very different to previous Ridge Racer games – in Unbounded it does not get you around corners for ‘free,’ but you instead have to control your speed and drift if you want to make it round corners well. Instead of being a smooth, drift-dominated ride, Unbounded is a lot like other arcade racers, and so loses some of its Ridge Racer feel.
Other event types in the game include ‘Drift Attack,’ where the goal is to get a number of points by drifting, ‘Shindo Racing,’ where there is no building destruction or fragging of cars, ‘Frag Attack,’ where the goal is to frag as many other cars as you can in a time limit, and finally ‘Time Attack,’ where Power is earned from destruction and you must escape the district within a certain time.
Time Attack events sometimes take place on stunt tracks which have all kinds of ramps on them and are extremely difficult to navigate fast. These provide some variety, but Domination takes up almost all your time with the game because they’re far more difficult than the other event types and feel more fleshed out, too.
Unbounded’s chaotic racing can be frustrating – sometimes it feels like all I’m doing is repeating an event until everything goes my way and I win – I couldn’t feel much of a sense of progression as I played. If anyone takes you out or you crash, it’s tickets for your chances in the race. This doesn’t seem to apply to the AI racers – I’ve seen cars get fragged and then appear right in front of me again as they respawn. As you level up and unlock more advanced cars the events can get slightly easier, but the new cars don’t help more than a little so a tough event remains a tough event.
I also expected that as I got better I would be able to go back to those tough events that I scraped through (or failed at) and pass them with my improved skills, but I found them just as tough as before because of the huge amount of rubber-banding and chaos that takes place. Knowing the difference between collateral objects (which you can drive straight through) and immovable objects (which will destroy your car) is almost impossible at times and I found myself crashing when I really thought I could ride on through, impervious.
I should mention something that is usually frustrating in racing games but isn’t here – load times. You can restart an event (which I did a lot) instantaneously, and loading a new event doesn’t take more than 15 seconds.
The master racer in this genre is Burnout Paradise, and Ridge Racer Unbounded comes nowhere near that – the controls are far more loose and controlling cars is needlessly difficult and frustrating. The tracks are also very similar to each other and only have right angle turns because they are made out of city blocks pieced together in various ways – most unlike Paradise City which felt like a living, breathing city, Shatter City doesn’t ever develop a personality of its own or have enough variety within it.
Ridge Racer Unbounded does allow you to create your own tracks, but the block approach to track layout means no matter what you do the track doesn’t feel particularly different to the already existing tracks.
Ridge Racer Unbounded is a racing game that’s fun for a good while because of the thrill of destroying buildings and all sorts of collateral objects, but once that thrill wears off and you progress a little further in the events the racing becomes frustrating in its arbitrariness and it starts to lose its appeal as each event starts feeling like the one before.
Nevertheless, I was engaged with the game for over ten hours before I felt I had had enough, and if you’re in the mood for an arcade racer you can do a lot worse than Unbounded. The game probably rewards a lot more dedication, but with the tracks so difficult to learn because of their similarity to one another, it would require more dedication than I could give.