Ridge Racer: Unbounded

U-turn.

Five seconds can be a long time in a racing game, but there can't be many titles out there that cram more into that space than Ridge Racer: Unbounded does.

First you think, "Wait, this doesn't feel like Ridge Racer." Then you wonder, "What? It's a sequel to Split/Second?" Finally, you realise that it's neither.

The latest instalment in Namco's classic series seems to be an even three-way collision between Black Rock Studio's explosive excess, Burnout's blood-thirsty paint-trading and the knockabout madness epitomised by the new developer Bugbear's own FlatOut series.

The Finnish studio has a reputation for making excellent driving games that blend chaos and humour with a canny precision. It wouldn't be too surprising to discover that the team has made another here. But first off, what happened to Ridge Racer?

The answer is it's still there, in fleeting glimpses. It's invoked in the sodium gloom of an urban tunnel before your car ploughs into a pillar and the all-new procedural insanity takes over.

It's there in the drift mechanic. Although this element has gone through unspecified changes, it still helps power-up some of the game's best moments.

And it's there, apparently, in specific tracks that Bugbear hints will reference classic Ridge Racer routes. It's all about capturing "a certain Ridge Racer feeling", as producer Joonas Laakso puts it, before struggling to explain exactly what that feeling is.

Know what you mean, Joonas. There's something fleeting and special about Ridge Racer, something that can't be summed up by its long drifts or wide turns or those shimmering blurs of neon and tail-light tracers.

Ridge Racer saw Kaz Hirai ascending to the steps to the internet meme Pantheon of Fame, to rule benevolently alongside Tron Guy and a handful of sleepy kittens.

Laakso eventually settles on the word "spiritual" but he could just as easily have said, "enjoyably tranquilised". Despite the weight and the speed and the handling, a few of Ridge Racer's greatest moments can leave you feeling like you've taken a dreamy spin on a tea-cup ride while exploring your body's upper limits for Co-codamol abuse.

Ultimately, Laakso admits, it will be easier for some players to just ignore the Ridge Racer part of the title. That leaves Unbounded an odd and oddly appropriate name for what the team's come up with.

The Unbounded in question (I could write "the titular Unbounded" and almost certainly score a Googlewhack) are groups of street racers who battle it out across the highways of Shatter Bay aiming, apparently, to find out "who is the biggest badass". (I hope there isn't a trophy.)

The fight for pole position is a fairly explosive one. Bugbear was thinking about physics in driving games long before quite a lot of developers were thinking about physics in action games and Unbounded is the team's most dynamic title yet: concrete turns to powder, cars crumple in millions of unique ways following millions of unique impacts and oh yes you can drive through the wall of a building before popping jauntily out into the air on the other side.

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