Ridge Racer Unbounded review
I also – and I can’t confirm this – have a slight fear that the game uses rubber banding. When you’re driving, the lap number and the time between you and the nearest car is displayed in big, bold letters on the architecture around the track. It’s a really nice bit of visual design, as effective here as it is in Splinter Cell: Conviction. But in one instance, a sign in front told me I was “13 seconds ahead” of 2nd place. A moment later it updated and read “4 seconds ahead”. My brain either switched off for 10 seconds, or the game gives helpful nudges to offscreen AI racers. Either of these options is mildly troubling.
Thankfully, despite the difficulty, the game is generous with achievements and unlocks. Even when you’re driving badly you’ll regularly receive access to new cars, new districts and new races, as well as constant reassurance. You always feel like you’re making progress even if, like me, you worry that you’re not getting any better.
Aside from the standard Domination races, there are a couple of other occasional race modes, including the drift challenges in which you extend your ticking time limit by successfully power sliding. The best, however, are the frag challenges. With an almost constantly full boost meter, you have a time limit in which to destroy as many cars as possible. The first of these puts you inside a truck, surrounded by police cars, and it’s ridiculously good, smashy fun.
While unlocking new racing goodies, you’ll also receive new blocks for the game’s track builder.
First things first: the track builder was completely broken at release, and trying to launch it via the game’s menu caused an immediate crash to desktop. Developers Bugbear released a patch that fixed the problem within a couple of days, but that’s not good enough. Did no one notice before release that a major part of their game simply didn’t work on a PC?
Now that it’s fixed, it’s a wonderful addition to the series, and perfect for the PC. You construct tracks on a grid, connecting together chunks of track – corners, straights, bridges, tunnels – to create the course. Once you have your desired layout, you can hop in and decorate it with objects. My track ‘Wangtown’ (see boxout) in the city of GMan-hattan has an area I call Petrol Station alley – a dozen petrol stations, three gas pumps apiece, line the track leading up to a bridge. It’s gives Wangtown an explosive finish. Ahem.
It’s not as flexible or as core to the game as Trackmania’s own track builder, but it extends the life of the game beyond the already robust provided tracks. Once you’ve finished your design, you can upload it to a central repository. Or, if you’re not feeling creative yourself, you can download the tracks that others have made. Most of these are gimmick tracks like mine, focused on long tunnels, hundreds of exploding barrels, or AI-confounding loopthe- loops – but that just makes them all the more fun.
The real problem right now is that there are more player-made tracks than there are players. Using the built-in matchmaking option to find opponents, I’ve never been pitted against more than one other person. That’s a pretty bad sign for a multiplayer mode designed for up to eight players, and by the time you read this review, there’s a real chance that the game’s multiplayer will already be empty.
Despite its frustrating inability to explain itself, Unbounded is often fun even when you’re playing it badly. Plenty of recent games have tried to extend the explosive, action-packed racing genre and build upon what Burnout once got so right. Unbounded comes closer than any other attempt so far, finding a new formula by blending Ridge Racer’s inner city drifting and combining it with FlatOut’s building wrecking. Plus, now you’ve read this review, you know how to use the drift button correctly, and that the occasional shufty towards a brick wall can help as much as hurt.
If you need more than explosions and enjoy perfecting a skill through hundreds of hours of practise, Unbounded is one of the few arcade racing games that provides room for you to grow into it, along with a potentially endless stream of new tracks from the community to perfect. At the very least, do a YouTube search in a few months’ time and marvel at the heights of mastery reached by those dedicated few willing to invest time in learning Unbounded’s peculiar streets
Confounds your expectations to create a racing game as much about finesse as destroying buildings.