Ridge Racer Unbounded: Crashing through expectations

You know Ridge Racer, right? It's that arcade racing stalwart that occasionally revives itself for a new platform launch or awkward update, but consistently delivers drift-heavy, if not somewhat stale, racing mechanics? Or maybe you know it like I do, as a game to occasionally obsess over, to replay over and over while its electronica soundtrack bounces along in the background.

Either way, Ridge Racer Unbounded is none of those things. Sure, Unbounded's driving still leans heavily on drifting, and the soundtrack is still composed of bouncy, synthetic beats, but Unbounded is an entirely different beast from previous entries in the series. It combines elements of both Split/Second and Need for Speed to concoct a hybrid Ridge Racer experience like none before, and -- at least thus far -- creates a surprisingly refined experience as a result.%Gallery-130924% I wasn't given a chance to check out Unbounded's craziest addition to the Ridge Racer series, track creation, but was instead offered a brief playthrough of one of the game's Bugbear Entertainment-developed levels. The demo build was unfortunately locked in the automatic transmission setting, but the assistance of a drift button allowed me to characteristically slide around turns and past other cars. That is, if I survived the turn.

In Unbounded, other players come after you. Around turns, I found myself repeatedly fired into a corner or spun around, often due to my lack of foresight. This effect was compounded when boost came into play, either assisting me to nudge someone out of the way (and into an abutment) or allowing me to straight up blast through designated areas. Not that you can just go around crashing into people and things constantly, as your car takes damage from most interactions -- a fully destroyed car is penalized with precious race time, offering a risk/reward twist to the game's, um, twist.

Reps from Namco couldn't tell me whether the final game would include a feature close to my heart, manual transmission support (yes, even in arcade-style racing games). They were sure to point out, however, that Unbounded will ship with brand new tracks rather refreshing classics as other main series Ridge Racer games have. Which isn't to say those tracks can't be recreated using the race builder mode, of course.

With a wide open 2012 launch window, there's still plenty of time for Namco and Bugbear to convince gamers that Unbounded is a worthy competitor to arcade racing's most recent titans (Need for Speed and Burnout, namely). And for me, thus far, it's made a great impression.

Of course, I'm open to more convincing.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.