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E3 2011: Ridge Racer Unbounded hands-off preview

E3 2011

Ridge Racer Unbounded is all about the 3Ds: Drive, Destroy and Dominate. It purposefully deviates from the established Ridge Racer formula, moving away from the sterility of the previous titles while retaining the demanding nature of the past game’s final stages. Developed by Bugbear Entertainment, the team that brought you the delightful Flatout series, the game is definitely not Ridge Racer 8 (which I was assured is still entirely possible). Instead, as producer Joonas Laakso put it best, they’re simply “looking at [Ridge Racer] from a new angle.” I had a chance to watch a hands-off demonstration of an early alpha build of the game earlier today.

My fears going into this meeting was that the game wouldn’t be Ridge Racer. I had an idea of what Unbounded was going to be like from the trailers that have been released so far, but what I expected was something that deviated farther from the franchise than Unbounded seems to. The driving style appears to be very similar – it’s all about perfect drifts and high speed. Despite the fact that players can crash through concrete barriers, statues and basically anything they can find in Shadow Bay, the game’s setting, it still retains the unique look that characterizes the Ridge Racer franchise. The graphics, even this early, are excellent, particularly in regards to vehicle deformation. Each vehicle is built out of 50 different components, each of which can be sheared, crumpled and otherwise mangled over the course of a race.

I only had the opportunity to see one track, but I was left impressed by the design. Unbounded doesn’t put any barriers in your way to corral players to a particular path. As Laakso completed three laps around the game’s track, he took a new route through the city each time. New routes are highlighted when players fill up a meter through drifting, similar to the way destructible objects were highlighted in Split/Second. Taking certain routes can have devastating effects on the racers behind you as roads collapse and buildings are torn apart. The best part is that you don’t lose any speed as you blast through objects, which is very encouraging.

Shadow Bay is fashioned around New York City and Chicago and it is shown off beautifully through an innovative HUD. The only thing on the screen is your speed and the previously mentioned shortcut meter. Your lap and lap times are displayed in the game world, sort of like what Splinter Cell: Conviction did with objectives, at relevant moments, like when you pass an opponent or complete a lap. The developers have used this feature very creatively, often curving the information displayed to guide players seamlessly along the track. Another rather innovative feature is more commonly found in shooters – the location of threatening rivals is demonstrated on the bottom of the screen with a red jelly highlight, which is very similar to how developers demonstrate player health loss in shooters.

Perhaps most encouraging for me is that the developers aren’t going for a (probably) useless storyline like some other developers of a major racing game series that’s coming out this year that will remain nameless. Ridge Racer Unbounded is all about racing and destruction and the team at Bugbear is letting the gameplay do the talking. Even in this early build, there was a great sense of speed and freedom. It remains to be seen if the game lives up to this or not, but we’ll finally be able to get our hands on this title in February 2012. Hopefully it will live up to the promising demo that I got to take in today.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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