While by no means a terrible game in its own right, Ridge Racer: Unbounded had the misfortune of being wrongly tied to one of the most acclaimed arcade racing game series in history: Ridge Racer.
Indeed, we at VVV have very fond memories indeed of Ridge Racer, but Unbounded sadly didn't fit the bill and was something of a misfit. Developed by BugBear, the Finnish folks that brought us the smashing FlatOut demolition derby series, it brought a decidedly Western take on the well-established Japanese jalopy that felt like a cut-and-shut job which welded Flatout's gritty, gratuitous destruction, Split/Second's building-breaking bonuses and Ridge Racer's signature high speed drifting. Put simply, it should not have been labelled as a Ridge Racer game and would have worked better as an original IP – which, incidentally, BugBear may have already recognised with the recent announcement of Next Car Game.
With the damage already done, it seems that Namco is looking to attract old fans and bring the franchise firmly back to its roots with Ridge Racer: Driftopia, an upcoming free-to-play title due for release later this year for PS3 and PC that, you guessed it, focuses on what defined Ridge Racer: drifting.
Or at least that was what I was hoping to see before watching the accompanying announcement trailer. Unfortunately, Driftopia doesn't quite appear to be the return to form the marketing may have you believe.
Indeed, Driftopia appears to be running on the same engine as Unbounded once again set in the urban Shatter City, retaining the same graphics, physics, and appetite for destruction with an added focus on drifting. But since drifting was already an integral part of Unbounded's races anyway (not to mention the fact there was a dedicated drift mode available too), it's difficult to see exactly what Driftopia will add to the experience with no additional details revealed. Drifting in Unbounded was somewhat troublesome too, thanks to its clunky physics and a confusing dedicated drift button.
Still, we shouldn't grumble. After all, Driftopia is a harmless free-to-play title, right? Well, not quite.
Because, as with the majority of free-to-play titles, additional content will be the available to purchase via micro-transactions in the form of car packs, repair kits and XP boosts for impatient players as shown in the trailer, which may not go down too well after the colossal backlash directed at Real Racing 3 for using a similar system.
It's a similar business model to Ridge Racer's last outing on the PlayStation Vita, too, in that additional content could be bought to bolster the barepones game which only contained a handful of tracks and cars. It was a gamble that didn't payoff, however, as fans ultimately felt cheated by the initial asking price. Driftopia therefore seems like a by-product after Namco's failed experiment with Ridge Racer Vita and Unbounded's lackluster sales performance.
Hopefully the dawn of the next generation will see the belated return to form of Namco's fabled franchise – after all, it wouldn't be a PlayStation launch without a new Ridge Racer game racing loyally alongside it.