Ridge Racer Review - 

Ridge Racer is an arcade series with a huge amount of history. Appearing on multiple formats, and now the first true arcade racer of the next generation, does it live up to its predecessors?

As soon as you start the game, you can tell that you are in video gaming heritage territory, as Namco, the esteemed developers, have thrown in the Pacman arcade game for you to play before all the powesliding and racing kicks in. Most developers tend to put the minigames as part of the main menu, as a sub option, or integrated into the main game, as in Project Gotham and Geometry Wars, but the fact that as soon as you boot up Ridge Racer you hear that farmiliar ‘wukka wukka wukka’ of Pacman, makes the menu and overall experience somewhat disjointed.

Still, you can’t complain about a free arcade game, and it gently reminds you of Namco’s history, and the respect they deserve as gaming developers. The most successful console version of Ridge Racer is probably number 4, but in fairness, most of the games in the series have scored well, and so have attracted a legion of fans in their following. Undoubtedly the home of Ridge Racer is the arcade, and as such, it looks a little out of place in modern gaming. However, for those of us who love Burnout, Outrun, Mashed etc. and fondly remember the days of Sega Rally and the traditional ‘arcade’ racers, Ridge Racer is a welcome break from the high octane, high frustration racing sims of current consoles.

The idea of Ridge Racer is to complete a three-lap circuit, finishing first. It all sounds pretty simple, but there is one major factor that the player will have to reckon with – the drifting. Racing games seem to go from one extreme to the other. Some don’t incorporate drifting or powesliding in any way, and as such, racing lines are crucial, and others, like Ridge Racer, have your cars sliding round as if attached to bars of soap. There is one key difference though, in that Ridge Racer means the cars to act this way, and it works, setting it apart from any other games, eliminating the competition.

The way it works is that as you drive into the corner, and nudge the control stick to turn, the back end of your car slides out, and you enter a long sidewards drift. The only problem with this is that there’s a knack to it, and it virtually eliminates the possibility of correcting your car’s line or slowing down, to avoid bumping into something – as this triggers the drift, and going along a straight piece of road, that’s pretty suicidal.

After three or four races, you should have the hang of drifting in the easier cars, and there is likely to be one really hard race that will take many attempts, but once completed, you should have mastered the drift. With the huge amount of scheduled races that there are in the single player, the first 30-40 races are going to seem pretty easy. Also, the fact that you can choose a more difficult route will leave half of the tracks unplayed, as Ridge Racer is only really fun when the races are close.

The navigation of the game is pretty nice, it’s white and green, well suited to the 360, and the audio and general layout of the menu is spot on, it certainly stays true to its arcade roots. Its all done in a sci-fi kind of way, and while many of the courses don’t flourish futuristic features, you can tell form the cars that the game is set well in the future.

All of the cars ‘feel’ and handle in a unique way, and with 130 of these vehicles, that’s quite a mean feat. The figure we’re given of 130 is not strictly true, as the game classes different paint colours and slight design alterations as a new machine, but for the most part the vehicles are varied and look pretty good. Some of the cars are reminiscent of Volkswagen Beetles, others look like cheaply built kit cars. Don’t worry though, there’s plenty of beefy super cars for you to drive, all of which have been designed well and are attractive to race in. When you unlock a new car you are treated to a cut scene, giving you its name, stats etc. which is nice to see. You can win new vehicles by playing specifically marked races in the world map, and it is a good incentive to play further into the game, to get faster car classes and more variation in the vehicles.

As you start a race, you may notice a distinct graphical lapse from other games like Project Gotham, Call of Duty or Kameo, in fact, all of the 360’s games thus far have looked super, but there’s something missing from Ridge Racer. The graphics are gritty, and would have looked realistic on the old Xbox, but now, they look like arcade graphics. Whether this is good or bad will be left up to you, but I personally like it. The graphics suit the gameplay perfectly, and as such your cars don’t look out of place and the general quality of the graphics never drops.

You also have to bear in mind the ‘interactive’ scenery. There will be helicopters that fly overhead, vehicles that zoom above on an overpass road, and cheering crowds who throw confetti at the winner. The scenery is great too and is a refreshing change from any of the other racing offerings of late. Huge, well-scaled airplanes will taxi around you, a futuristic hub of skyscrapers all have individual lights and styles and it all looks pretty polished and complete, despite the initial graphical disappointment. There are no problems with frame rate, and as there are nearly always 14 cars on track, that’s a pretty good achievement by Namco. The draw distance is also spectacular, and you can see other cars racing in the distance, and plan your route ahead from a mountain top road.

The particle effects on the headlights and other illumination of the game looks really good, and is about the only area of real graphical flair in the game. You have to applaud the level of detail that Namco have put in though, as all the cars have meticulously crafted logos, decals and designs, and almost every aspect of every course looks like it has had weeks spent on its design.

The tracks are interspersed with jumps and multiple routes, and to charge up a boost and fly off one of the said jumps is sure to take your breath away.

The nitro, or boost, is acquired whenever you drift. The more you drift, the faster your drifts are, and the longer you hold them will combine to charge up your meter more. When one segment is lit up, you can boost for a fair amount of time, and the audio that accompanies this is exceptional. You can hear the air whizzing past you, and the other cars’ engines diminish as you overtake perfectly. You can leave your nitrous to charge up to a maximum of three bars, which unleashes a much longer lasting and faster boost. Incidentally, if you aim to time your boosts to be just running out on a corner, then you get a large bonus of nitro, as you take the corner much more quickly than normally (it should also be noted that you cannot collect additional nitrous charge, while boosting, you have to wait until it has finished or is finishing).

So, the drifting plays quite a major part in the game, and you are sure to notice the three different drift types, which hugely affects the way the cars handle. You have mild, which is easy, short drifts that beginners should use. Standard, where drifts are fun, of medium length, and fairly easy to come out of, and Dynamic, the hardest drift type, where long, sliding drifts are easy, but levelling out afterwards can be a huge challenge.

The aforementioned drift types are a welcome addition to the game, but a crucial flaw is the collision engine. If you hit a wall, you either bounce off, or get lodged there, scraping paint as you collide and drive along the wall, unable to turn out of it until the corner ends. If another car hits you, there is a sound like two plastic boxes hitting each other, and you get a welcome speed boost. If someone intentionally rams you, nothing happens, and they often spin out instead (which may in fact be a welcome addition).

The drifting allows for some show off moves, such as the 360, but I wouldn’t use it too regularly, as it is likely to get you in more trouble than it’s worth.

Fortunately, the rumble effects in the game allow it to stop the cars from ‘hovering’ on the road as it may have felt with this feature omitted. As you go over drains, curbs, or tiled streets, the rumble kicks in and adds a whole new depth to the realism which is often overlooked in this genre.

The sound as we’ve mentioned, is great, and suited to the arcade, although you may well want to turn off the grating DJ who insists on taking the arcade feel to the extreme.

The split screen multiplayer is well done, but some AI cars to race with would have been a welcome feature. There is also a handicap feature, which is much appreciated if you have a friend who has never played a Ridge Racer game before. Xbox Live is well done, and is good fun to race in, but not worth buying the game for that alone.

With Full Auto looking like a slightly over hyped affair, and Burnout Revenge not due out for a month or so, Ridge Racer appears to be the only real arcade racer on the 360, and as such, it should do well.

Ridge Racer, with over 200 races, 130 vehicles, a truck load of unlockables, and a well structured and well working online mode, should attract die hard arcade freaks and plain old racing fans alike. It’s a breath of fresh air in the games industry, even with all its prequels, and is a solid, decent Xbox 360 game.

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