This was one of those things which had to be done. I’m still a little amazed that I have this game in my collection seeing as I played an early build back at the Eurogamer Expo last year and hated it with a level of hatred saved for only the most heinous of things.
My original intention was to gleefully ignore the game and let it sink as I was confident that it would. Then I read the reviews and, instead of a critical mauling, I found that some respectable publications, such as Eurogamer and Edge magazine were giving the game very high scores and praising the game while others fell in line with what I was expecting. It was one of the most divisive games I have read up on for a long time and there seemed to be no middle ground. So, I decided to check it out as I was able to acquire a copy without having to pay full retail.
Now, if you’ve been keeping up with the game at all, then there’s nothing much to add. This game is basically Ridge Racer in name only. The mechanics are more in tune with burnout and Split/Second as opposed to the “pure racing” that Ridge Racer Represents. There’s also no Reiko Nagase so you KNOW that this isn’t a canon RR game now!! There are several events available in the game, all of which ram home the point that this is not anything like the Ridge Racer you know. The main one is domination, a standard racing fare with destructible environments, hidden shortcuts and the ability to take out (or “Frag”) rival cars. Next up we have Frag Race, where you just eliminate as many cars as you can in a set time limit; time trial, where the developers make weird stunt tracks with lots of ramps, half-pipes and god knows what else, pepper the track with tokens which shave seconds off your time and just tell you to get to the end within a certain time limit; Drift events, where you drive and perform drifts to accumulate points and extra time and finally, there’s just plain old racing (though this is not a common event).
The unofficial slogan for Unbounded seems to be “Forget everything you knew about Ridge Racer” but it may be more accurate to say forget everything you know about EVERY racing game! And that was part of the problem when I first played it and it seems many others have hit the same wall. The developers of RR:U actually changed the method of drifting in their game to the point where it’s pretty alien and there’s not a single tutorial or set of instructions to explain this in the game! If you haven’t played Unbounded yet, let me say this, if you try to play this game like any other racing game, you will fail HARD!!!
In Unbounded, the handbrake button has been changed to the “drift” buttons and to drift in the game requires you to hold down the button while simultaneously doing the usual steps of release accelerator -> brake -> accelerate like in almost every other arcade racing game. Except that the drift button also slows you down so you need to balance the presses with the other inputs to ensure that you don’t slow down too much or spin. And it’s VERY tricky to do well! My technique is basically down to lightly tap once on the brakes and then continue to tap the drift button repeatedly to maintain the drift and speed. It’s not perfect but it kinda works for most situations and the game is more enjoyable once you break from the ways you are used to. However, there are quite a few other problems which rear their head when you play…
- Drifting: As I said above, drifting is very different from other racing games and is quite hard to do. It requires a fair bit more thought and concentration but when you get it right, the feeling is sublime!
- Pure Racing: It may sound odd, considering how the game has been marketed, but for me, the most fun to be had is when you’re on the racing events. Just 7 other cars, you and boost. No shortcuts, no Frags. Just pure racing and it’s here where I think the game excels
- Track editor: the game allows you to make your own tracks and, once you’ve unlocked a number of parts from the main game, it’s pretty in depth! Sadly, it can be abused for easy exp points to unlock other stuff, but the system itself is solid.
- F**KING CHEATERS!!: Let’s get this out of the way first because it’s pretty much unavoidable. This game cheats like hell! The most obvious method is by the blatant rubber banding which is performed by the AI. We’re talking Mario Kart Wii levels of rubber banding here! It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 seconds ahead of the pack, just one mistake, a corner taken too wide for example, will have your lead not only disappear but more than likely your position will be knocked down to outside the top 3! You don’t need a catastrophic error like a crash or spin for it to happen either! They will always be right on your ass! Furthermore, I have seen some races where opponents will simply drive past you and gain a massive lead WITHOUT BOOST! At several points, the car in front of me managed to maintain the same distance from me while I’m boosting and they’re not. That just isn’t right!!
- Fragging: Fragging is basically the equivalent to a takedown in other arcade racers but with the difference being that you can only really do it if you are either boosting or drifting. It hits almost ridiculous levels as you are practically invincible under normal circumstances until someone boosts or drifts, at which point, you become as strong as wet tissue paper. Even if you are fragged, should your flaming wreck of a car hit another car before you restart, the other car would come out pretty much unscathed. You need to get into several head-on collisions with traffic before your car hits “damage critical” levels but you still need one mighty shove before you get fragged. On the other end of the scale, if you’re boosting, you just need to touch the bumper of another car to get a frag. If you’re driving side by side and jostling for an advantage, boost is it because as soon as one of them boosts, the other is fragged! There’s simply no consistency beyond you frag if you’re boosting/drifting and you get fragged if you’re not!
- A general lack of understanding: The developers said that they didn’t add any tutorials or help because they didn’t want to hold the players hand when they played. The problem is that not explaining things made it arguably worse! Many shortcuts (which are marked but can only be accessed if you are boosting. If you just drive in at top speed or your boost cuts off just before you hit, you will crash!) don’t seem to provide much of an advantage in terms of distance from other racers, if any BUT they do often provide significant boost power. This isn’t explained so while you can get a free boost bar from taking shortcuts, it’s often not economical to hold your boost you’ve accumulated until you reach one. Also, when you frag an opponent, at times, you can earn a lot of boost power while at other times, you get next to none. At this point 2/3rds of the way through the game, I still don’t know what controls how much boost you get!! All these question marks hurt the game because it makes it very difficult to think up strategies and plan ahead! And there’s always the guy right behind you just waiting to frag you!
Ultimately, I think the game is above average but has so many flaws, it might just stand out for the wrong reasons. From the looks of things, many of the low score reviews are “playing the game wrong” by adhering too strongly to traditional control styles while the high scoring reviews are giving the game too much credit. My experience with the game paints it as an incredibly frustrating and confusing racing game with some high points appearing from time to time. It says a lot when I say that the time I have the most fun on the game is when I don’t have to worry about frags, shortcuts or any of the stuff which was pushed so heavily in the advertising of the game! It’s best when it’s just being a racer! The other side events feel out of place (especially time trial) and domination will frustrate many a gamer as this is where the cheating is most obvious and prevalent. There’s a solid base to be found in unbounded but it needs a lot of refinement before it can stand up to the big boys. The burnout games are still the kings of the destruction derbies while racers still have the standard Ridge Racer titles and Reiko Nagase to hold up the series.