Ridge Racer 6 (Xbox 360) review
"Though the artificial intelligence for most of the cars is apparently set to “moronic Sunday driver,” the top five opponents really know their way around a steering wheel. Races begin with you at the back of the pack, fighting to work your way forward past buffoons who crawl around each corner and basically just get in your way. Then, as you finally make it to the lead, more aggressive guys will sometimes ram you from behind as you’re in a drift."
Not every launch title has to be a ‘killer app.’ Namco realizes this, and is betting that people who liked past Ridge Racer games simply want more of the drifting they’ve always appreciated. If that sounds right, Ridge Racer 6 is your game. If it doesn’t, well, there’s always Project Gotham Racing 3.
The Ridge Racer series has never really been about simulation. Ridge Racer 6 embraces that heritage. You won’t find tedious pit stops or car tuning. Instead, you find racing in its purest form. This is a pedal-to-the-metal, edge of your seat ride that will have you sliding and screeching your way through some of the prettiest environments you’ve ever seen.
Now, this isn’t the most beautiful racer ever crafted. The most impressive part of it all is the cars, which reflect everything like a dream. By comparison, the environments through which you’ll race are hit-or-miss. The rock outcroppings you find are bland, like someone looked at cardboard and decided it was the new granite. Other surfaces fare much better. Pavement reflects sunlight when you come up over a hill and stare at a line of clouds along the distant horizon. Traffic moves along a distant overpass while you race underneath. There are parks, waterfalls, barges, sheep and oceans galore, extremely visible yet never really distracting. The trademark palm trees also return.
Of course, the most welcome franchise alumnus is the power slide. It works pretty simply: you drive like a maniac, race into a corner going entirely too fast, then let go of the accelerator and crank the wheel to the side. Your car suddenly acts as if it’s positioned on ice. The front side remains mostly stationary while the back end swirls in the direction you choose. Then you stomp on the gas and pull through the turn. This makes tight corners possible, and maintains a good sense of speed with little fear of interruption.
Sliding is also the only way to feel your nitro meter. There are three slots available. You get more boost the longer you delay using it, but you might arrive at the end of the race without ever utilizing the feature. The best players will soon discover that because you get more boosts when sliding at top speed, careful timing can allow you to nitro your way through most of the last lap or two, provided you’re not scared to go into those sharp corners at full speed.
Those corners really are a pain in the butt, though, particularly if you’re not used to the Ridge Racer breed of racing. I often found myself gradually building a lead over my opponents, then wiping out on a simple corner just because the car started acting squirrelly when it shouldn’t have. It’s easy to lose momentum if you stay in a drift any longer than necessary, particularly if you overreact and the car begins to zigzag in the other direction.
Every time I saw rubber marks on the road as I took a corner, I gritted my teeth and waited for someone to pass me. Though the artificial intelligence for most of the cars is apparently set to “moronic Sunday driver,” the top five opponents really know their way around a steering wheel. Races begin with you at the back of the pack, fighting to work your way forward past buffoons who crawl around each corner and basically just get in your way. Then, as you finally make it to the lead, more aggressive guys will sometimes ram you from behind as you’re in a drift.
Thankfully, you can see them coming. Ridge Racer 6 allows you to glance in the rear-view mirror whenever you like, and it even lets you know when perhaps you should. A Pac-Man screen appears on the lower left side of the screen, showing the yellow hero chasing a ghost (if you’re about to pass one of your rivals) or running for cover (if someone is about to sneak by you). This nostalgic little tool is quite helpful, just in case you’ve decided to turn off the announcer.
You will, too, as he’s one of the most annoying guys I’ve ever had the displeasure of listening to. At first, he might just strike you as Chris Rock’s less screechy (but still very enthusiastic) little brother. Then, when he keeps commenting about how someone just let a nitrous boost out, or when he announces for the billionth time that you’ve just broken a track record (as you struggle to place third), you’ll start thinking violent things that really aren’t befitting a normal person. Thankfully, a trip to the “Options” screen silences him..
So, there’s a lot of drifting, some really good but not jaw-dropping graphics and even some artificial intelligence that will keep you on your toes. What else does Ridge Racer 6 have going for it? Well, there are two things.
The first is a robust single-player mode that lasts around 30 or 40 hours. It works like Outrun, in that you start at one point and can plot routes through the various courses. However, the 15 unique tracks (30 if you count mirror courses) are repeated frequently. The system soon grows tiresome. On the one hand, you feel like you’ve got a lot of control. The bubbles on the grid surround bonus items, so you get to choose a path that will surround those special icons and unlock new vehicles. However, there’s a catch: if you map out a trip that includes several races, then run out of time before you’re finished and can save, you’ve just wasted your time. Instead, you should select only one race at a time and endure more load screens.
Speaking of those, they’re not so bad. You’ll wait around 15 seconds between races, and you can restart or retry a race much more quickly if things don’t go your way. The longest you’ll ever wait to race is when you take the game online and try competing against other gamers. Then there’s the matter of joining or creating a game, finding a few competitors, and getting everyone to quickly make their vehicle selections. I’d go into more detail on that regard, but there’s really not much point. Ridge Racer 6 online is much like it is offline, but with smarter opponents and the possibility that someone will start talking trash.
Because of the online mode, and because the single-player option is going to take such a long time to complete, Ridge Racer 6 avoids being the slouch some people anticipated. Because the visuals are quite polished and the racing in general is quite satisfying, and since there’s really no solid competition unless you prefer something like Need for Speed: Most Wanted, recommending Namco’s latest is a no-brainer. It won’t change your notions about the franchise, but if you’ve always liked to power slide, rest assured: it’s still fun.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 23, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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