The Return of Ridge Racer

As I sit here watching a bit of Malaysian Grand Prix action (which, by the way, carries some awesome commentary: “he’s stuffed himself right up Kobayashi’s exhaust”, “Hamilton is right up the inside of him, and he does not like it one bit”; hehehe), I’m thinking it’s all been a bit quiet on the driving-games front recently. There’s been a bit of F1 2011 action to keep the die-hards happy, but today’s scene is quiet on the engines and far from afog with exhaust fumes. Well, auto-lovers, if you’re running on empty, start revving your metaphorical engines for Ridge Racer Unbounded, the new version of Namco’s classic that’s power-sliding its way to PC, PS3 and 360 in 2012. (But, you know, don’t rev too much, cos of the environment and shiz.)

In development with Bugbear Entertainment, the Finnish driving-dev specialists behind the like of Sega Rally (PSP) and the Flatout series, RRU is returning after quite an extended absence – and it isn’t coming back the same.

Presumably bringing their Flatout-spin to bear, Bugbear are promising that the latest update will be all about the carnage – swapping genteel racing for fender-bending – and fast-paced city-street action, transplanting the races to the close-knit twists of Shatter Bay. Whether it’ll land on the Burnout side of the track (probably, if last month’s vid below is anything to go by), or just introduce a bit of nudgeroo like yo olde Daytona isn’t clear, but we’re promised crashes. BIG crashes. Which is always nice.

Thing is, Ridge Racer was always a solid franchise, but that’s about all you could say about it – it never quite hit the heights of originality or gameplay to which its pioneering peers aspired. There wasn’t the inch-perfect arcade excitement of Sega Rally, or the sharp-focused realism of Gran Turismo – but yet it’s always had a place in gamer’s hearts. However, its rep was really just built on Namco getting in there early – they presented gamers with a simple racer stuffed with fast cars, and a few slinky women, right at the start of the original PlayStation’s rise to dominance. The new middle-ages market that PSX picked up, without a long heritage of picking their way through the quirks of videogame racing, just lapped it up. But what can it offer now?

Well, today’s market expects a bit more bang for its buck, but the door for a new racer is wide open – and stuffing a few new tricks under the hood seems is always a savvy play. Carnage and the city both play out well on next-gen. And there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple anyway – if we get a solid racer without all the faffing about, that might be a blessing. Here’s hoping Namco can stick it right up the genre’s exhaust pipe…

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