Mind the gap.
The high-profile racing franchises out there have different things going for them. Burnout has locked down crashing cars and taking down opponents. Motorstorm and Split/Second take charge of environmental destruction. Need For Speed has the glossy finish and Hot Pursuit game modes.
In that sense it's no wonder that Ridge Racer wants a piece of the arcade racing market, considering it's never been shoulder to shoulder with the simulation racers like Gran Turismo. Ridge Racer Unbounded tries to take down the competition with tons of explosions, the fragging of opponents, and an admittedly nifty track editor.
Lamentably, the execution is too muddy and feels too much like a "me too" racer than a rebirth for the franchise. I consistently had issues with environments being too dark or my screen being too soiled with road effects. For all of its speed and edginess, Unbounded often handles horribly.
As you drift around turns or pull off dangerous manuevers, you'll build up boost (sound familiar?) which can be used to "frag" opponents into fiery heaps of metal or trigger destructive shortcuts and hazards (played this before?). While that kind of gameplay has been well received in previous titles, it smacks of laziness here. "Well-executed", in some places, but there are even race tracks and UI cues that almost look they have been lifted directly from the competition. Shatter Bay seems eerily similar to many race tracks we've run around before in other games.
Ripping off all of these mechanics and cues would be a much more heinous crime if it weren't done well or balanced evenly. As an arcadey racer, Ridge Racer Unbounded will certainly fulfill any desire you have to crash over and over again. Nagging bugs and poor handling drag the action down on a regular basis, but you can pop the game in for an hour at a time and have some fun.
In the end, the only truly new thing Unbounded brings to the genre is the track editor. This is a neat idea and would add endless hours of gameplay if it weren't such a pain in the ass to use. Slapping blocks of track together is easy enough, but fine-tuning detaileddetails is a frustrating affair.
The camera is also a pain in the ass to use. Nothing lands on the track the way you want it the first time and who cares if you made your own track if there's nothing to do but run around it with the AI?
You have to give Ridge Racer Unbounded points for trying something new. The series has gone downhill at a blistering pace following industry embarassments like this one. Bringing fresh ideas to the table and executing them in a stylish matter is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Unfortunately, none of these ideas are original and they were all better accomplished in the titles that originated them. Take one of the older models for a spin around the block and see for yourself.