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Ridge Racer 7 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Ridge Racer 7 (PlayStation 3) review

"In 1995, Namco debuted the first of what would eventually become one the most well known racing franchises in the gaming industry. Always at the height of graphical achievements, Ridge Racer has earned its right to be the first to show off the true power the next-generation consoles have to offer. So it’s no surprise that you could find it on the shelves, right next to the elusive PS3, (or lack thereof), on launch day. "

In 1995, Namco debuted the first of what would eventually become one the most well known racing franchises in the gaming industry. Always at the height of graphical achievements, Ridge Racer has earned its right to be the first to show off the true power the next-generation consoles have to offer. So it’s no surprise that you could find it on the shelves, right next to the elusive PS3, (or lack thereof), on launch day.

I have played most of the Ridge Racers since its debut, but never really enjoyed the series as a whole. My racer of choice has been Flatout 2, and it’s still my favorite arcade racer. However, Namco managed to solve almost every issue I had with their series in RR7, and make this franchise better than I ever thought it could be.

Ridge Racer 7 takes place in a near future, where street racing is what’s hot, and if you’re not a racer, or a manufacturer, then you’re nothing. Ridge State is a community of racers and racing fans that have come together to organize the greatest racing competitions and televised battles the world has ever seen. It is your goal to build a relationship with the various car producers and prove your worth, so that they may provide you with the latest racing hardware on the market. All the while, you’ll be working your way through Ridge State Grand Prix’s to prove you are the best racer around, at least until you start meeting opponents online.

The Ridge State Grand Prix invites you into the world that is professional street racing. It is here where you’ll run through Manufacturer’s Trials, earning the respect that you so rightly deserve, and obtaining your first vehicles. You will also compete in UFRA Single Events, which are sets of challenges ranging from Time Trials, to Overtake 13, (which forces you to start at the back of the pack, and slingshot your way to the front by the end of the third lap). Each victory will earn you money and fame, money which you can use to upgrade and customize your machine for use in later races. This mode provides an insane amount of races for you to participate in, where completing all of the Manufacturers’ Trials and Grand Prix will only get you about 28% through. I don’t want to give away too much, but soon after the Grand Prix is completed, a storyline is revealed involving you as a marked driver by a group of unsanctioned and illegal street racers.

Namco really wants us to feel immersed by the community they have created, and they’ve done one hell of a job simulating just that. From the moment you enter the Grand Prix mode and are introduced with a welcome by the announcer, you feel as if the public is actually watching you. As you make your way up the ladder, a ticker at the bottom of screen is updated with News Announcements, sometimes pertaining to you in some way. The Mayor of Ridge State congratulates you for winning certain races, manufacturers make announcements that they are now primary providers for you when you earn 100 points for that specific company, rival racers make comments about you, and the community congratulates you on specific achievements. In addition, the ticker also scrolls ‘unrelated news stories’ that are fake, but add to the concept’s design.

Arcade lets you race at your discretion, giving you full control of which car type, track, and customizations you wish to utilize in the race. This is also where you’ll race head to head with your friends via split-screen. It’s great that they left the option to play multiplayer on one system in this reiteration of the saga, but this is also where all of the frame-rate drops in this game happen.

Global Time Attack allows you to race tracks alone, trying to achieve the best lap time possible to rank yourself against racers around the world. To make this even easier for you, they allow you to scroll through the ranking boards, and mark a rival adversary. By marking them, you can race their ghost to know where you stand on that track.

UFRA Special Events are downloadable events released by Namco via the Playstation Network. I have yet to see one of these events available to the US, however, if you were to complete the challenge with good enough stats, then you can leave a comment on an interview screen. I have seen a few different interviews from Japanese players scrolling across the ticker, so they’ve at least gotten a few Special Events.

This personification of the series does not disappoint, and only proves that there is still some life left in those tires. They’ve managed to keep everything that makes this license what it is, including physics-defying drifts, nitrous boosts, futuristic vehicles, and even the short-haired Asian model, (who never left our hearts), along with advancing the formula to the next level. While this might not be the preeminent racing game out there, it sports the finest use of online functionality I have ever seen in a console game.

The online component is where Ridge Racer 7 really shines. You can create or join a room with set rules and race others via the Playstation Network. Not only do you gain money and fame just like in Grand Prix mode, you can also earn Online Battle Points, which you can use to rank yourself against other players.

Some tweaking could have been used in the online battle. One of the biggest issues with this mode is collision detection during lag. The game won’t drop frame-rate at any given moment online, but a car can start skipping around the track a bit if that player is lagging. There really is no good cure for this, since it’s the player, not the game causing the issue, but many games before it have found decent solutions. For instance, Papyrus Nascar Simulator phased all cars that started to lag into ghost mode, and turned collision detection against that racer off completely. Namco didn’t learn from this. There have been a few races where the driver right in front of me lagged, and skipped backwards into me. Since it skipped movement completely, this causes a head-on at full speed effect, launching me halfway around the track in the wrong direction, screwing any chance I had at completing the race. This doesn’t happen very often though, maybe three or four times since I bought it, and usually if the owner of the room notices the lag, that player is kicked quickly.

Voice communication is not available here, so Namco provided an alternative. You can choose from predetermined phrases like, ‘Hello’, ‘OK’, and ‘That Was Fast!’. This comes with some good and bad results. One of the good results is the fact that these phrases are translated depending on which region you’re playing in. So if you say, ‘That Was Fast!’, then the Japanese players will see the same phrase in their native tongue, allowing for better communication through the language barrier. Unfortunately, Namco didn’t think of everything when they created the list of phrases. While racing online, I’ve seen multiple players cheating by standing still in the middle of the road, or slamming on their breaks in a turn just to throw you off. If the leader of the room doesn’t catch this, they won’t kick them. Meanwhile, there is no phrase like, ‘Kick this player, he’s cheating!’. On the other hand though, you won’t get cursed at and called names while playing online like so many other games.

Another great feature of the online functionality is the ticker at the bottom of the screen that is viewable while in any of the menus. As long as you’re connected to internet, the PS3 updates with the latest data from the RR7 server, and scrolls the names of the top racers from around the world. It also scrolls the interviews taken from gamers for completing the Special Events mentioned previously. Let me tell you, the idea of your name scrolling across the television screens of Ridge Racer players around the world is great incentive to continue playing this game.

The graphics are about what one would expect a PS3 launch title to present. They are beautiful to be sure, but not much better than what the 360 did with Ridge Racer 6. Obviously though, it’s the best looking Ridge Racer in the series. The lighting effects on the various tracks are wonderfully rendered. Light bounces off of the moist cavern walls on the Mist Caves track, where you are taken behind a rushing waterfall. Multi-colored lights lining the tunnels in certain tracks really show off the power of the Playstation 3 when they bounce off of your machine’s paint job. The vapor trail effects of the tail lights in dark tunnels and while using nitrous are also wonderfully done. The initial “Press Start” screen before the main menu sports the best graphics though, which plays camera tours of vehicles, and a photo shoot of the lovely spokes-model of the series.

The sound is unfortunately less than par when compared to the rest of this game’s presentation. The surround sound does a wonderful job of letting you know when a car is directly behind or beside you, but if they are in front, the engine sound fades quickly. The screeching of tires and engine sounds emitting from your own vehicle are much louder than they should be, and overshadow the rest of the sound effects in the game. The music is a compilation of HouseTechno that all sound alike and are so repetitive that you’ll eventually just turn the music off altogether. Namco didn’t allow us to use our own library of Mp3s either. However, on the upside, the announcer during the races is an energetic female who can have the ability at times to get the player as excited as she is. Not only is she hyper, she is also mean at times, screaming things like “You’re in last place! You’re a LOSER!”. This can funny, but at the same time, anyone who is new to racing games could be turned off by it.

Drifting in a video game has never been easier. Letting your foot off of the gas as you curve into a corner, then slamming it back down again initiates a drift, which is automatic and comically unrealistic. Ridge Racer has never been a simulation in any way, and this has not changed here. This game is all about accuracy and flawlessness, as skimming a wall can bring you to a dead stop, where most other games would have just slowed you down a bit. Hitting another car, or a wall, will have detrimental effects on your overall standing in a race, and may cause you to retry the same event multiple times until you get it right.

Slipstreaming is a wonderful addendum to the series, as it adds some much needed tactics to the gameplay. By staying behind someone, you can gain a boost of speed due to the lack of wind resistance. Now, this might not be revolutionary to the genre, but it’s the best use of the feature I’ve seen thus far. Unlike most racing games, (simulations included), you can actually feel the slipstream here. You’ll sense a moment of friction when you push yourself into someone else’s slipstream, and getting back out again, which sometimes results in some messy crashes. However, once you master this art, then this will become a necessary blessing to win the later matches, and could turn the tide on some close competitions. Good luck wiping the smug smile off of a friend who just slingshot himself from your slipstream to the lead just before the finish line.

Slipstreaming alone will not win the race. Nitrous is also required to go anywhere in Ridge State. Nitrous is charged by various means depending on the upgrades the player uses. It is up to he or she which customization is right for them. The same can be said about all machine customizations, as they can all have specific effects on things like grip, handling, speed, and drifting angles.

The machines themselves are very well designed, and look futuristic. Even the names of the cars, and manufacturers themselves sound realistic, like ‘Bisonte’ and ‘Danza’. The further you go in the Grand Prix mode, the more obscure vehicles you can unlock as well, like a hovercraft and even a jet engine on wheels. These are cars that are in the testing stage and aren’t available to any of your in-game rivals, excluding online opponents of course. Altogether, there is a wonderful selection of cars, more than enough to satisfy even the most hardcore of racing fans.

If only the same could be said about the tracks. I have not played Ridge Racer 6, but from what I’ve seen and heard, the tracks are exactly the same for both games. However, if you haven’t played it yourself, then this won’t be an issue. The issue is the fact that there are only about 20 different tracks to choose from. A lot of which seem to look like others, and only a good three or four of them are extremely fun. The others can become boring and repetitive quickly.

With an online mode that draws the player with notoriety as the bribe, a seemingly unlimited amount of competitions, the ability to max out Manufacturer Points for all of the companies available, and car customization, Ridge Racer 7 has the ability to stand against the other existing racing franchises and survive. If you’re a racing fan, then this is a wonderful addition to your PS3 library. However, if you’re not a fan of this genre, then go try Flatout 2, because this game probably won’t convert you.

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Community review by remylabue (January 04, 2007)

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