Ridge Racer 6
Release Date: 11/17/05
Ridge Racer 6 isn’t exactly appropriately titled; even if we exclude the mobile phone RR game and R: Racing Evolution (which I think everyone should, on principle), we should be looking at Ridge Racer 9 by now. Wonky continuity notwithstanding, the RR series has always had a little place in my heart; any racing game that totally ignores the laws of physics, yet still offers a fun and playable experience, is a sure winner in my book. But the RR titles haven’t exactly been lighting up the charts as recent, and it’s not hard to pinpoint why exactly… after the awesome experience that was Ridge Racer Type 4, RR games simply… stopped being interesting. Rage Racer and R4 were awesome racing games, but you wouldn’t know that the same company produced Ridge Racer V (no, I don’t get the changing numeration, either, but it’s not my fault). It was a bare bones, mediocre racing title that did nothing to advance the series. RR64 and R:RE were both equally uninspired, and RRDS was flat-out awful.
Not that I gave up hope… faith was restored, partially at least, by the PSP release of Ridge Racer (supposedly one of the best in years, though I’ve yet to play it), and RR6 looked like it was going to be incredible. Static screenshots and video clips only reaffirmed my faith, and I swore this was going to be one of the 360 launch games that I HAD to pick up. I mean… come on, it’s Ridge Racer! Pretty landscapes, goofy looking cars, drifting, the works! They’ve got to get this right sooner or later, right?
Well… not exactly.
1. GAME MODES
Nope, no story here. Instead we’re focusing on what, exactly, you can do in the game. There’s a “World Xplorer” option (spelled wrong to show how hip they are, of course), which isn’t so much of a world anything as it is a tour of the various tracks, over and over again, in different cars. Your standard “Single Race” and “Multi Battle” options are also available, which essentially offer you the option to race individual races by yourself or with a friend. There are also two online play options available from the get-go. The first is “Online Battle”, which pits you against other players of varying ranks, either in ranking matches (which raise or lower your online rank, depending on performance) or player matches (which have no effect on rank). The other is “Global Time Attack”, where you take on a track in whatever car you choose, with the idea being to get the best time possible. You can also download the ghost cars of other players, so you can see how they race and try to learn from their skill (or laugh at them, if they’re not as good as you). And last, but not least, you have the option to view your garage and see how many cars you’ve unlocked across each class.
As you can see, there are a lot of choices available for you, which should certainly keep you occupied if you’re any sort of fan of the series, or arcade racing in general. There’s not really a lot of depth to these modes, however, and while that’s not terribly surprising, after playing games like Burnout Revenge and Project Gotham Racing 3, I honestly can’t imagine that too many players will be impressed with how little there ultimately is to do in the game. The online play is a new option that fans of the series will find exciting, but otherwise, there’s really not a lot of variety or depth here, which is something the game sorely needs.
Game Modes Rating: 5/10
On one hand, the graphics in RR6 are good. The car models look very pretty and shiny, and the tracks are all very well rendered. There’s no noticeable layering as you dip and dodge around the track, so buildings, hills, and other background objects fade into the foreground realistically, which is good to see. There aren’t any noticeable frame-rate issues that I could find either, so even in a tight lap with multiple opponents all over you, everything still runs silky smooth. Cars show the reflection of various light sources from around the track, which is a nice effect. Namco worked hard to take advantage of the power of the 360, and from a purely technically standpoint, they succeeded.
On the other hand, the graphics aren’t terribly interesting or varied. Cars vary in make, but cars of the same make (and there will usually be multiple lists of four or five cars of the same make in every class) are all palette swaps of one another. The tracks you race on repeat, and no visual changes are made to them nor is anything going on in the tracks that would make you feel as if the game world around you is alive. The occasional plane or helicopter notwithstanding, the track environments are surprisingly static. Granted, you won’t be paying attention to anything not on the track, but a little more effort would have certainly been appreciated. Worst of all, though, is the fact that cars show no physical damage during races. I’m not expecting Burnout quality explosions or anything, but broken mirrors and headlights or scuffs in the paint would have been nice. Cars do spark when they connect with walls or other cars, but that’s about as far as it goes. Also, your garage, as it is, is basically just multiple blank white backgrounds that the cars sit on, as opposed to, hypothetically, some sort of actual garage. Again, considering that other racing games have taken such initiative, the presentation here seems weak and effortless in comparison. Bottom line, RR6 looks nice, but it’s a static sort of nice. Like a high-budget action movie, the first time you see it you’ll be impressed, but it doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings.
Graphics Rating: 6/10
The music in RR6 will come as no shock to fans of the series; goofy techno tracks and ethnic riffs greet you from the first race, and follow you through your many long and winding drives. There are a great deal more music tracks this time around the track, and while they don’t compare to previous RR games in terms of sheer quality, they are pretty solid, and you’ll find them enjoyable to listen to while racing. The various car noises all sound appropriate as well, though the nitrous sound effect seems kind of muted. As far as voice acting goes, there are only really two voice actors in the game; the menu announcer, who sounds quite good, and the DJ you listen to while racing, who you will want to mute as soon as you possibly can. Seriously, the thought that popped into my head was “Great, everyone has a personal DJ, and I just happened to get the whiny annoying one.” Terrible voice actor aside, RR6 is an aurally pleasant, if not perfect, experience.
Sound Rating: 7/10
If you’ve ever played any racing game, you’ll be right at home with RR6. You have an accelerator, a brake, the stick to steer, and the track before you to negotiate. The only new changes to the control scheme involve the Nitrous buttons, which are simple enough to learn. Basically, as you drift, you build up Nitrous into three separate bars. By pressing one button, you expend one full Nitrous bar; by pressing another, you expend two; and by pressing both buttons simultaneously, you expend all three Nitrous bars at once. The more Nitrous you use at once, obviously, the faster you go, and the longer you can maintain this speed. Using Nitrous when at low speeds can allow you to hit your top speed quicker, but obviously, the real benefit kicks in when you use a shot at top speed, as you can go faster than you’d otherwise be able to. Additionally, if you engage in a drift as the Nitrous disengages, you get what’s called “Ultimate Charge”, and your Nitrous bar charges at a larger rate. This is a nice new feature, though it is afflicted by a few minor issues. First, you can only use Nitrous when the bar is full, and you can’t simply use it, as an example, for a couple of seconds and cut it off, as in other games. This doesn’t necessarily make it less useful, but when you find yourself behind the first place leader by half a second with three-quarters of a bar of Nitrous, you’ll find yourself cursing that you can’t just use the Nitrous whenever you want. Also, in tracks that lack straight-aways, you won’t find the Triple Nitrous to be nearly as useful as controlled uses of Single Nitrous charges, which leads me to wonder why they even bothered with Doubles and Triples in the first place.
Now, let’s talk about Drifting. See, Drifting is what essentially makes Ridge Racer… well, Ridge Racer. If you’ve never played a RR game before, the easiest way I can describe it is for you to imagine “Walt Disney presents: NASCAR… ON ICE”. Basically, you go into a turn, release the accelerator, watch the car start to power slide (heavily in most cases), then hit the accelerator again and steer out of the power slide. Ideally, you can use this to take a turn with as little lost velocity as possible, but if you’re feeling randy, you can just keep power sliding until you make a complete circle. Not only is this highly ridiculous, but it’s the digital equivalent of the middle finger if you do it in an online race. The fact that you can do such seriously silly stuff as an actual feature of the gameplay (Namco even set the 360 degree power slide as an Achievement) is what keeps RR fans coming back each and every time. Unfortunately, that might well be the thing that puts a lot of first time players off: cars really tend to feel like they’re skating around the track. It can take a while to get a car OUT of a power slide, and when driving cars with Dynamic Drift ratings, you might well spend half of the race Drifting, purely by accident. Driving in RR feels less precise and more sloppy than a lot of other racing games, and this might seriously detract from your enjoyment.
Aside from all of this, however, the single biggest complaint I can lobby against RR6 is that, well, everything I just told you about the game is essentially all you’re going to get. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the racing, sure, but nowhere else. RR6 does nothing to distinguish itself from any of the RR games that came before it, let alone any of the other racing games presently on the market. It’s nice that the gameplay remains so familiar, but “familiar” is a word that can easily be substituted with “tedious”. Racing around in a circle for hours gets old eventually, and when that’s all you can do, well, it gets to be something you don’t want to do. It’s a damn shame too, because what’s here is fun and plays well, but there’s ultimately just nothing to it.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 6/10
There are a ton of cars to unlock by playing through the World Xplorer mode, and over 100 races to participate in, which will keep most arcade racing fans entertained for a little while. You can also unlock Pac-Man to play, in case you’re one of the five people in the world that just hasn’t had enough of that frickin’ game. The Online racing is also pretty fun, if a little limited, and the Time Trial mode might keep you coming back to beat your best time and prove to the world how good you are. Unless you’re an arcade racing fanatic, though, you won’t find yourself coming back to this longer than it takes for you to beat it, and for a lot of people, RR6 won’t justify its existence in their 360 beyond a rental period.
Replayability Rating: 6/10
The first series of races in RR6 are quite easy, and first place should come with little difficulty. As you move up to the second and third classes, however, you begin to see the challenge ramp up, as the cars get faster and the computer opponents play harder. The difficulty upgrade is surprisingly well-balanced, and by the time you clear out each tier of races you should have all the skills you need to start clearing the next tier. Online, the matching service will try to match you up with players of equivalent rank so that you don’t get smoked in the first lap, and it allows you to match yourself up against better ranked players if you think you’re up to the challenge. New players should have no difficulty picking this up, and old school RR fans should find themselves taking spots like a pro all over again. Players of significantly high skill will, as expected, smoke newer or less skilled players with no issue, but that’s essentially a fact of online play, so the only option you’ll have is to suck it up and get better. In short, you don’t get much more balanced than RR6.
Balance Rating: 8/10
None to speak of. The game is practically a carbon copy of every other Ridge Racer game ever made, only with Nitrous and online play. There are no new and interesting gameplay modes, no interesting and exciting features… hell, they didn’t even bother to try and do anything but re-release a prettier version of RRV. If you’ve ever played a RR game in your life, you’ve pretty much played this, and if you’ve played any racing game at all in the past few years, you’ve seen every last idea that RR6 can throw at you.
Originality Rating: 1/10
Well, despite everything I’ve said, the first time I busted out a 180 degree powerslide, cut off the first place opponent, then kicked in the Nitrous and blasted past him for the lead… yeah, I was hooked. Assuming you can deal with the game as it is and simply accept that yes, this IS Ridge Racer, you’ll probably feel the same way. Races increase in difficulty and push you to race your best, and earning first place is usually a sweet, hard fought victory. If you’re a fan of racing at all, you’ll love the experience for as long as it lasts, and if you’re not a racing fan, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in RR6.
Addictiveness Rating: 8/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
Ridge Racer fans, and fans of arcade racing in general, will certainly want to check this out in some form or fashion. Unfortunately, between the fact that the RR name is held in substantially less regard than it used to be, and the fact that two other racing games came out on launch for the 360, there’s probably not going to be much interest in the game outside of its fanbase. Aside from that, RR6 is so much of a bare bones racing experience that it probably won’t inspire those outside of the fanbase to take it home for anything more than a rental, assuming they even look at it in the first place.
Appeal Rating: 4/10
Well, I really want to love Ridge Racer again, but RR6 just wasn’t the game to make me feel that way. Rage Racer had all sorts of fun and interesting car tuning options, R4 offered an interesting story mode, and sadly, RR6 is still taking the game back to its roots with arcade racing and nothing else. It’s still a fun game after all these years, and hey, any game in which I can do a 360 degree powerslide and still come out of the turn properly is definitely something I have to like. But ultimately, it’s still the same game it’s been for years now, and until Namco actually DOES something with it…
Look, you know what? Everything I said about Soul Calibur III, and how it was stale and all that? Same exact thing. Either Namco needs to come up with something new and interesting to do with the Ridge Racer series, or they need to hang it up for a while. Maybe they could move the people who were working on localizing this onto a more interesting project… like localizing Namco X Capcom sometime before I die.
Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10
Game Modes: 5/10
Overall Score: 5.5/10
Final Score: 5.5 (AVERAGE).
Short Attention Span Summary
Another disappointment from Namco. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the game so much as there is that’s just old and tired. Chalk Ridge Racer up as another series that needs a definite break or a massive re-invention. As it is, it’s just another bland racer in a sea of racers, and though it pains me to say it, you could do a lot better than this.