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ARTICLE

Gaming's Defining Moments No.15

Racing games and memorable AI are a rare pairing.

You get your early course vehicles that are passed as easily as road signs. Even latter challengers are little more than measurements of how perfectly you've aligned to the track's racing line throughout as you pass them between the last half and last stretch of the final lap.

Diversions along the road, nothing else.

1993's Ridge Racer, launch game for Sony's original PlayStation was no different for most of the title's length. Then came the curveball of its endgame: a one-on-one race against the suped-up 13th Racing - the Devil car.

The 13th was a mythological beast of the rack track from the off; a black shadow only glimpsed as it'd blast past you half way round the first lap and not be seen until the next. Because with an arrogance that riled as much as it amazed, the 13th would park up next to the starting grid, awaiting your arrival and let you build up a lead in your second lap - so it could repeat the same trick again.

This was years before Ridge Racer introduced the fictional car manufacturers that'd define the curves of its racing cars; the '93 original had a mix of colourful but ultimately bland rides. In just over the minute it took to complete your first lap, the Devil had cemented its presence indelibly in the mind. One of the greatest debuts in the industry, as well as one of the fastest.

The way it gripped the tarmac, the throaty firing of its engines, made it the franchise's Ferrari - we wanted to own it. But more importantly, we wanted to beat it.

Ridge Racer 3D
Sweaty brow and face twisted in concentration: not in shot.
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Nothing in your garage matched the top speed. What was required was what you'd unknowingly been building towards every time you'd raced Ridge Racer's small number of tracks: memorising the perfect racing line. The same one that the Devil kept to, and one you'd remain religiously to if you had a slim chance of survival.

It wasn't even that simple. The original arcade conversion lacked a rear mirror - requiring a processing power studios hadn't yet perfected this early into the console's life cycle.

So acknowledge - and fear - of the Devil's presence came only from the growing roar behind you. The only defence to block its overtaking, minute zig-zags while keeping to the racing lines that demanded the briefest touch of powersliding at key turns.

My car choice was the RT Solvalov, a screamingly yellow ride that was temperamental with its traction and handling, but offered a wider back bumper and so a larger blocking area, against the onslaught.

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Even nineteen years later I vividly remember the afternoon of restarts, curses and sweat-covered joypads that was my own private battle with the Devil. Remember punching the air as I crossed the finishing line in first for the first time.

This video doesn't do the battle justice, for it was a three-stage internal war: of perfecting the race track (1.31- 1.40 was a nightmare), of retaining your cool as you fought for placement, and against your own doubts: who could outrace the Devil?

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While the original Ridge Racer is still to make an appearance on PSN, you can either pick up an original copy of the game plus either PSOne or backwards-compatible PS2 second-hand, or try out the game's earliest, and best race tracks via the compilation of courses found on Ridge Racer 3DS released last year.

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