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PREVIEW

RIDGE RACER UNBOUNDED

It starts with the drift.

Every Ridge Racer I've got behind the wheel of starts the same: catapult into the first lap's worth of sharp corners and fire through multiple combinations of brake tugs, accelerator releases, and sharp stick pulls until the correct sequence is found. All else - the explosions, the competitors, the track decor non-essential to the curves - background noise only.

Fourth race found the sweet spot. Release trigger finger. Lighting fast punch of handbrake, confident tug of stick, reapplication of accelerator a split-second later. The resulting slide loose and wild, early-stage Parkinson taps in the opposite direction of the drift to keep it under control. Keep from spinning out. Keep the wheels on track and chassis from crushing against the nearest wall.

A drift brewed through Bugbear's distillery rather than previous Ridge Racers. Liberal exuberance in its two-ton metallic flings compared to previously controlled and measured wheel spins; exciting in its voracity, but suitably bizarre in the extremity of drifts' angle and length.

Assimilation of the new technique complete with a child-like laugh and wide smile, it was time to turn attention to the why - and how the rest fitted in around it.

Ridge Racer Unbounded
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Tracks are wider, crashes into the sides halting your velocity like a magnet, both crafted to fit with the slams and shunts of the now aggressive competition. Colour palates for Shattered Bay's many streets darker yet no less vivid. Races through construction sites, main streets, into buildings all the amore angry and edgy than purebred racing stock: event names mark the tonal shift - Domination, Survival, Attack, Frag.

Its ballsy, car-crushing arcade flair. References are Criterion rather than Turn 10. Alterations that eschew the flavour the R.R franchise yet feel fundamentally correct for Unbounded. Its a beautiful car-collision of different styles, franchises and themes.

Yet with the genre's trailblazer Burnout relegated to the garage as its studio chase the Need For Speed, and possible competitors Black Rock and Bizarre consigned to the chop shop, Unbounded has been given an easy out from unfair comparisons in a genre once running low on fuel, now riding on fumes.

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But given what has happened to the competition, there's definite pressure to deliver.

In a talk with producer Joonas Lakso, we chat about the need for legacy, the requirement that studios need to deliver more than a single player campaign and the difficulty that brings. Of growing a community.

Hope hinged on Unbounded's until now hidden mode. The game will ship with two City Creators: one offers tracks in big lego block squares to attach together for easy fix. The ignition for long-running community lies with the Advanced version. References now FPS in nature: Halo's Forge World the closest as quick example.

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We get a drive by the A.C.C. Pre-event Lakso has stacked the same block of track in one continuous line to emphasis the heaviness of customisation. On a whim, he's marked each unseen link between with a repeating towering dinosaur prop.

What we see is more Hot Wheels and Micro Machines in style. Huge loop-de-loops, triple jumps atop tight lines of cargo containers. A heavily-angled corner ramp. A brilliant sequence of alternating walls and tiny one car gaps that'd not look out of place in a pinball machine. All built using in-game objects and 3D camera pans of the track, its different enough from the core campaign to offer enthusiasts - who its hoped will be the life-blood of the online community past launch - enough options to keep them occupied and other gamers playing.

Stats for standard City Creator weigh in at 150 blocks to tinker with. As for the Advanced, the studio is keeping quiet for now, but expect some acceptable limit, perhaps by way of memory capability masked as budget constraints, something we're told lessen as you progress through the game. Along with track creations you can customise events, extend care numbers, restrict traffic, alter the number of laps and the time of the race.

Campaign across the city and its districts is split by events: Domination the standard rather than specialist class, but sums up the gameplay style expected to clinch victory. Drifts activate and extend boost, which when fired allows you to punch through objects painted with a red target: city hall lobbies, petrol tankers, fast-food joints, and crumple competitors. Every strike is hammered with the excessive zeal and dramatic slow-mo you'd expect.

Ridge Racer Unbounded

While Drift Attack is fairly self-explanatory, Frag Attack - chaining together critical strikes on traffic and buildings, is different enough due to your means of transport: an articulated lorry rather than nippy speedster, and a hint that Unbounded's garage might offer more variation than sleek sports cars.

Like the arcade brethren before it, Unbounded is an unashamedly frantic and exuberantly violent take on the particular sub-genre, and a far cry from the chilled jazz-fusion and careful racing lines of Ridge Racer Type 4 - still the franchise's finest hour. But it's also promising to be a fine addition to both racing stable and the series.

There's been unfair dismissal of the tune-up to the long-running Ridge Racer even before the first gameplay footage. But better this redesign from a studio that's learnt from doing rather than looking - and its clear to see the change in gears Flatout's creator has made between franchises. The only people Bugbear need to feel apologetic towards is itself: and only if they loose the race against their own heightening standards.

We'll have a further coverage of Ridge Race Unbounded, including a full and frank interview with Joonas Lakso, in a few weeks time. For now, check out our GRTV interview with the producer, filmed recently at Gamex.

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