Game of the Week: Ridge Racer Unbounded
What a difference a button makes.
Amongst all the doom and gloom this week - GAME's administration, THQ cutting more development jobs it can't afford, SEGA cancelling titles and "streamlining" its business, Raspberry Pi's delay, rumours of Prey 2's cancellation, not refuted, the lovely Yoshinori Ono's horrible health scare, the government charging us more to drink and smoke, and the threat of more industrial action in the UK (now abated, but only because of PR gaffes, panic-buying and mass safety concerns) - it's been hard even for resilient gamers to look on the bright side.
Against that backdrop, perhaps we should commend the release of Konami's Silent Hill: Downpour as astute timing, capturing the public mood, rather than a presumably random shuffling of keys and percentage points on a spreadsheet in an office building in Japan. Either way, it's a game that sounds every bit as gloomy as its contemporary surroundings, judging by Chris Donlan's review.
Sadly though that's not a compliment. The dull thing about Downpour is it's not very scary, which Donlan (we're not being formal - all his friends call him Donlan) puts down to the suspicion the game is laying it on a bit thick, trapping you in... a scary mine! Or a horrible old church! "In part, I suspect it's familiarity, too," he continues. "You know what you're in for in a Silent Hill game by now, and if a developer takes too many risks, the fans get annoyed. The problem, there, though, lies with the fact that predictability - even when it involves barbed wire and head injuries - inevitably becomes warm and comforting, and warm and comforting things aren't that useful when you're trying to scare peoples' pants off."
At the end of the rainy day, apparently it's "a stoically acceptable video game". If that doesn't capture the mood of a nation then I don't know what does. (And if that wasn't enough Silent Hill misery for one week, here's Silent Hill HD Collection cocking it up and getting kicked even harder.)
Elsewhere on the shelves - wait, there are no shelves - there's Naruto Shippeden Something-or-other, a review for which probably won't be forthcoming, while the digital domain welcomes Wrecked: Revenge Revisited, a driving game that we're reviewing on Monday and - spoiler! - we think is a bit rubbish. Here's a preview of Dan Whitehead's review: "The game itself is riddled with problems and flaws, but in among all the irritations there's a kernel of classic entertainment that makes itself visible enough that the game doesn't feel like a complete waste of time." It's still most of one though.
Our Game of the Week isn't a story of a potentially good racing game gone bad, however, but a very good racing game that I almost mistook for a terrible one.
Ridge Racer Unbounded
What a difference a button makes. At the start of the week I was absolutely sick of Ridge Racer Unbounded. It felt like a bunch of mediocre ideas from other racing games stapled to a phoned-in handling model (phoned in by someone who hates people who drive cars). Then I discovered that the drift button works in a way that a) makes no sense to anyone who has ever played a driving game or driven a car and b) isn't explained anywhere in the game either. Fortunately, and against all odds, this rescues the game.
"It is impossible to understate the difference that [the drift button] makes to Ridge Racer Unbounded. It might as well be renamed the 'fun' button. By turning into a corner early, holding down the drift button and then massaging the brake and accelerator as well, you can hurtle around any bend at almost top speed, carrying almost all those miles-per-hour out through the exit. Then release. It transforms the game. After a few minutes staring at the screen in disbelief, I elected to start the whole review again from scratch."
You can read the results in my Ridge Racer Unbounded review.
"The breakthrough moment comes the first time you swing early into a 90-degree corner, sideways before you even reach the apex, and feel that little surge of adrenaline as the front wheel sweeps past the edge of a concrete wall on the inside and you pile on the power and accelerate back onto the next straight. If you have full control of and can reliably repeat this moment in a racing game, then you are playing a very good one."
I love arcade racing games. I've played pretty much all of them. Ridge Racer especially, although Unbounded is nothing like a traditional Ridge Racer game. Despite my early concerns Bugbear's game managed to transcend both the hoopla about its lack of brand affinity and a morbid first dozen hours of misunderstanding to become probably my favourite example since the summer of Blur and Split/Second.
And given that the studios that made those games no longer exist, realising that they haven't been run out of existence entirely is exactly the sort of fillip I needed on a week that otherwise offered little to lighten anyone's mood. Buy it - if you can find anywhere still selling games this weekend - and perhaps I'll see you in there.