Namco Bandai has unveiled another instalment in the classic Ridge Racer series.
The delayed European launch has left the PlayStation 3 with something of a problem - a sizeable proportion of its debut games are already available on the Xbox 360. Indeed, the likes of Fight Night Round 3 have been maturing on the shelves for over a year, while many of the others debuted on the 360 over four months ago. Internet gossip and many online reviews also point to several of these PS3 conversions suffering in comparison to the 360 'originals', an astonishing state of affairs considering that Sony's hardware is newer technology with a price tag that dwarfs that of Microsoft's console.
Of course, it's early days for the PlayStation 3 and any new piece of gaming technology takes time for game developers to get to grips with. That said, many studios (off the record of course) are not entirely happy with the SDK that Sony provides for PlayStation 3 development. The word is that Microsoft's programming environment gives better results more quickly. There's also the question of memory - Xbox 360 gives developers a full 512MB to do with as they will. PlayStation 3 on the other hand divides its internal RAM into two 256MB portions, with one section dedicated entirely to the NVIDIA-derived graphics technology. Up until recently, 64MB of the PS3's system memory was also sectioned off for OS use only, meaning that memory becomes far more of a precious commodity when developing on the Sony platform.
Clearly the PS3 is far from technically deficient up against the 360. While the 360's triple-core PowerPC CPU is an extreme piece of technology, Cell is no slouch in itself. It may only have a single core, but its satellite SPU processors are astonishingly powerful - just one of them can decode 300 MP3s simultaneously in real-time, and there are six of them available to be used in concert while the main CPU runs the core game logic.
You know when you get to the end of a fairly negative preview and it says, "there's every chance that the developers might manage to turn it around," and really what you're being told is that there's sod all chance of that happening? It's depressing. It's depressing to have to write. So then, imagine how refreshing it feels when you discover that they have.
This isn't one of those occasions, but for anybody who read about my first few hours with Ridge Racer 6, the next couple of pages will probably seem that way - and getting to the point of being able to write them bore all the hallmarks. In short, Ridge 6 was dreadfully boring. Ridge Racer is about going really, really fast and taking very sharp corners at impossible speeds; the game allows you to swing round them like you've just roped a rock on the inside of the bend, and the real skill is in making sure you can control the aftermath of these manoeuvres. It got the cornering right, but it was still slow and unchallenging.
But after a few hours I realised there was still an arctic reserve's worth of petrol waiting to be spent on the other side of that wall of lameness I'd been sledgehammering away at. Unlocking the other 70 per cent of Ridge Racer 6 was like getting Christmas over and done with and then discovering a special secret Christmas the following week that nobody had told me about. It wasn't even like one of those bad rom-coms about the shy, bespectacled girl with good grades who gets a makeover and turns out to be Salma Hayek. I had no bloody idea Ridge Racer 6 was about to turn into Salma Hayek. Hurrah for Salma Hayek.
Visually, Ridge Racer 6 serves as a bit of a cautionary tale. You can give developers all the horsepower in the world, but it's the artists that have to make the world look nice.
Although Microsoft has yet to announce an official list of Xbox 360 launch day titles - despite the fact that the new console is launching in the US in just over a week - word is that Ridge Racer 6 has been shipped to American shops.
Which means it's down for a launch day release, along with the likes of Quake 4.
So will we also see the game on European shop shelves when the 360 launches here on December 2? Publisher EA wouldn't confirm anything, telling us: "A UK release date has still to be locked down." And, in fact, Microsoft's just announced a UK line-up for day one and it doesn't feature, so the answer seems to be no. Expect it soon though.
The problem with Ridge Racer is that you're never sure whether Namco's going to show up. Ridge Racer's PSP debut was patched together in record time, but turned out to be one of the most accomplished and fine-tuned of the handheld's launch titles - still to be eclipsed in the PSP arcade racing stakes nearly a year after we first played it. But R: Racing was dull. Ridge Racer 5 didn't live up to its billing. And Ridge Racer DS was some sort of appalling joke with my money as the punchline.