Ridge Racer: Unbounded is not a typical Ridge Racer game. It’s made by an American developer for one, and as such, it takes pride in deviating from the Ridge Racer formula as much as possible. It takes more inspiration from Burnout and Split/Second than other Ridge Racer games, which is certainly a step in the right direction. It wears these inspirations on its sleeve, which makes for a better game overall, but Unbounded can’t quite reach the same innovative and exciting heights as those games that it aspires to imitate.
Wrecking opponents is a major part of each race. Unlike Burnout or Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, simply ramming other racers won’t do much damage. To wreck someone you must first fill your “power” meter by drifting, getting airtime, or driving in an opponent’s slipstream. Once this meter is full, activate it for a boost and during this time even the slightest tap on any nearby vehicle will turn it into a fireball. In a nod to Split/Second, there are various shortcuts hidden throughout the tracks that can only be unlocked by activating this power boost and ramming through a wall. If you try to break the wall without the boost, you’ll just crash.
This power boost is one of the more interesting things about Unbounded. It isn’t just for racing and it isn’t just for offense, it’s for both. Combining these two acts into one adds a nice element of strategy to the races. You also have to be wary of other racers using it, which adds a nice extra layer of tension to the racing.
The cars all handle well, but more importantly (for a Ridge Racer game) the drifting feels intuitive without being overly simple. It’s easy to enter a drift, but there’s an art to maintaining control for long periods of time, tap]ing those breaks and gas just enough to prevent you from spinning out. It’s very rewarding once it clicks. But it would be more rewarding if the car that you drove made an noticeable difference on how well you drifted. None of the cars that you’ll unlock are significantly better than the cars that you start with. They all drive differently at least, each one has its quirks and pros and cons, but there’s little reason to switch if you find a favorite. I got attached to one of the early cars and rarely drove anything else. I shrugged at each new vehicle that I unlocked because I knew it wasn’t better than what I had.
There’s a nice variety of race types: Domination is the standard destructive race, Shindo Racing is a pure race in which you earn regular boost instead of power boost, Frag Attack has you blowing up as many cars as possible with infinite power boost, and Drift Attack and Time Attack are self explanatory. You’ll spend the vast majority of your time playing Domination, which isn’t necessarily bad since Domination is fun, but the game doesn’t take advantage of the variety at its disposal.
The biggest flaw of Unbounded is its environments, or rather environment—singular. You never go beyond the city, and the city never changes. This probably stems from the fact that the tracks are made (or seem to be made) with the in-game track editor, and the editor uses a naturally repetitive system of tiles. This tile system makes for an intuitive and easy editor, but it also leads to lots of reuse. You’ll see the same section of track over and over and over again. This repetition would be fine it was limited to user created content, but I expect more variety in the actual campaign since it’s made by professionals with supposedly superior tools.
That said, the user created tracks are some of the best in the game because they’re not limited by a desire to make things look realistic. For example, what seems like a normal track will suddenly open up into an insane obstacle course of ramps angling outwards in every direction. The user generated content tends to push the editor to its limits; gamers try to break it and to break you. Sometimes their tracks are frustrating, usually they’re fun, but they’re never boring.
There’s an actual multiplayer here as well, but few people seem to be playing it. Such a small community would kill the online component of this game if it weren’t for the user tracks and the personal leaderboard attached to each one. It’s a nice touch that ensures that you can always race against someone’s score even if you can’t find an online match.
As fun as it is to race in Ridge Racer: Unbounded, it wears out its welcome by the halfway point. By the time that you unlock the fifth district, you’ve seen all the tiles that the game has to offer and you’ve driven enough cars to pick a favorite, so the second half of the game just feels like I’m replaying the first half over again. The first half was fun—with the great drifting, the environmental destruction, the offensive power boost, and the surreal user-made tracks—but I’d rather play something new.