Currently playing: Forza 4/Horizon (X360)
Medal of Honor: Warfighter (X360)
Etrian Odyssey 2 (NDS)
COD: Black Ops 2 (PS3)
Ni No Kuni (PS3)
Fanboy class: Dedicated enough to get decent RPGs and action figures.
Favorite music artists:
Boards of Canada
Nightmares On Wax
The Chemical Brothers
The Go! Team
Principles Of Geometry
It has been a little while since I last visited the Namco Bandai offices in Hammersmith, London. That time, I got to try out Enslaved before its release. Suitably chuffed with the game and the place where I was able to play it, I was looking forward to returning some day.
Indeed I did re-enter the building. This time, I had the opportunity to play not one, but four games. Two of them I didn’t try; I left Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations and Saint Seiya to Robert, a fellow member of the Destructoid EU e-mailer. He felt that Saint Seiya was very much a game in the ‘Dynasty Warriors’ vein, but with two-minute cut-scenes that happen in the middle of a battle, which irked him somewhat.
Ridge Racer is a well-known arcade racer that truly caught the imagination of the Playstation era, where Namco ported it lock, stock and barrel over to Sony’s new console. A couple of dozen ports and sequels later, and the series needed to discover a bit of new ground after the 3DS and PS Vita versions.
Which leads us to Ridge Racer Unbounded. A game that was described as awful by one of my other Destructoid emailer friends when he tried it at Eurogamer Expo last year. I was concerned about the direction the franchise was taking, feeling a diversion into Burnout territory was going to end nasty. I didn’t get round to trying it then, but when I got my hands on it six months later, I can happily say that I wasn‘t walking away with my friend‘s point of view.
You have a number of places to select in the city you’re going to race in. I believe progressing through each race will open up new areas that can be selected later, but there is also a level-up system (similar to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit) that will get you access to more new, fictional cars when access to a new level is reached. The points to get for this, of course, are achieved by doing numerous feats through each race.
Early on, there are about four race types (might be more later on, but I can‘t tell yet). You get your standard race, drift (better drifts add more seconds and points), a timed ‘stunt track’ race against the clock, and Domination, which is a race with a more aggressive slant in that destroying your opponents can give you a boost that can increase the properties of your car, like speed, for a few seconds. There was also a ‘Frag’ mode, which LightForceJedi spotted in his playthrough, but that was something I didn’t get round to.
Oh, I said ‘boost’, didn’t I? Yes, here is where I can start getting into where Unbounded starts to become influences by other combative-style racers. In order to be able to perform a boost (available in most of the game modes), the driver needs to build a certain amount of drift, air, takedowns of other cars and slipstreaming, amongst other things. This boost will give your car a visible streaming effect and a better chance of wrecking other cars. So far, so much like every other racing game that needs a nitro enhancement, including Split/Second. You remember that one, don’t you? The game where you use power-plays at certain points activating short-cuts and destructive events to destroy opponents? Well, it seems that Bugbear (the developers of Unbounded) have been watching, and they’ve included prompts for the boost to be used. In the early races I played, I saw these prompts appear on buildings and fuel-tankers/construction vehicles. Hit the boost button when close enough to a building to cause environmental destruction and give yourself a handy shortcut (plus a few extra points towards the next level). Hit one of the aforementioned vehicles and an explosion tears up any other racers around you.
Whilst it would be easy to say that Bugbear have cribbed those features from the Black Rock Studios game, it isn’t entirely a replication. For one thing, you must drive into the environment rather than activate it from a distance, so you won‘t turn into a piece of scrap metal and lose out so long as you start the boost to protect the car. Also, the shortcuts stay open once used, so if you thought a sneaky head-start would throw your opponents, there is nothing stopping those who know the track or witness the results of the boost from following that shortcut in the remaining laps. However, this might lead to tempting situations where faking an attempt to open a shortcut can force another racer to crash headlong into the hard entrance if they don’t (or won’t be able to) press the boost button themselves.
Overall, I am pleased to say that playing the game was fairly satisfying. The cars handle fine; racers with a high drift value need to have the handbrake button held down for much longer than one with a lower value, although the lower-value drifters will take a lot more effort to control. You won’t be getting caught up on lamp-posts, brick pillars or small overpasses either; the cars can pile through those and turn them into debris. That is more forgiving than a racer that forces you to stop every ten seconds because your motor has been wrapped around a telegraph pole just by clipping it, but not lenient to let you get away with a firm collision with a sturdy building. There are small life-bars present to let you know who is on their last legs and who you need to avoid if you require a bit of preservation. There was also a track creation system present in the game that I didn’t get around to, as well as an ‘aftertouch-esque’ post-wreck camera shows awards points for the extra damage incurred to the unfortunate car as well as any racers that happen to plough into the vehicle. Early races are easy to ‘three-star’, but Domination races are tough enough to provide a challenge from the outset. An interesting amount of features in the short time I enjoyed the game that may lift it head and shoulders above other genre stablemates.
A series of games I haven’t got to grips with since the opening effort are the Armored Core ones. A quality giant robot game in the vein of Gungriffon, but with focus on customisable parts and weapons, the game has since been supported by a solid amount of gamers. Nevertheless, it has been under attack from the critics for recent instalments’ lack of significant progress and unwillingness to broaden its audience, pointing out the controls as an issue.
I sat down to the fourth official sequel of the series (a hefty amount of spin-off games were created for the second and third games on the Playstation 2), and decided to try to work out what button does what on the Xbox controller I picked up. From the main map, there were three types of mission, one that is connected to the story (I didn‘t bother going for those, and Namco Bandai wouldn‘t like me to broadcast spoilers anyway), another that sets-up an operation that can have its parameters changed like difficulty and operation type, and the most common being short missions to remove skirmish forces to achieve a S-F rank. In my first mission that I decided to try, the lower left-hand face buttons were designated for boost and jump-boost. This gave off a cool heat-haze effect behind the mecha, and launched me further towards where I needed to go. The trigger buttons deployed the firepower to whatever shoulder-missiles or guns were allocated.
After completing the mission, achieved by destroying all the enemy installations, tanks and mecha, I needed a little help to change what weapons were allocated in the workshop, where the mecha are assembled. One of the shoulder buttons switched between ‘body’ type parts and ‘weapons’ to allocate between each part. I found this awkward, but more or less understood what I had to do. I had to make sure my giant robot wasn’t carrying so much that it would affect its manoeuvrability, which was clearly indicated on screen.
Afterwards, Robert and another player decided to join me to play a mission (after sprucing up their mecha with new paint jobs, earning them an achievement. It should be playing the game that’s important, dammit!). We found that whilst some missions had the ability to hold three or more players, others could only hold two. It took a little while to get a game set up for all of us, but when we did, we managed to kick backside. The only problem was that we couldn’t find the final enemy to kill. This was solved in another period of play, where the R3 button switched combat mode to scan mode, pin-pointing nearby enemy positions. The only issue there was that you were out of combat mode, so you couldn’t scan AND shoot at the same time. That was unusual, but all it took to get back to taking pot-shots was another press of the R3 button. That, and the fact I needed to focus on destroying the tougher opposition with missiles rather than ineffective gunshot rounds (did I mention that there are three different types of firepower? Kinetic and thermal types being two of them?).
Before I finished my time on the game, I did manage to play against an A.I. character in their own mech. It took me two efforts to vanquish it, and when I did, my huge killing machine was heavily damaged. With my novice ability with the controls (and not being aware of the infamous Armored Core controller meme), I was quite chuffed.
IGN said that they ‘wish the series would commit to more than gradual improvement. At this pace, it looks like [they’ll] be able to give an unqualified thumbs-up round about Armored Core 5 -- say, four or five years from now.’ That was 2002. They were out by about an extra five years. I wouldn’t know what improvements have been made or to what degree; all I can say is that if you gravitate towards these type of games, it looks like it’ll be best to give this one a try if you have the patience.
Ridge Racer Unbounded is out in Europe March 30th. Armored Core 5 is available now in North America and in Europe March 23rd.