Namco (now Namco Bandai) published a game called Ridge Racer Unbounded in 2012. The game was developed by the Finnish studio Bugbear Entertainment. To say that it was a change of pace would be a severe understatement. The debut trailer for Unbounded was very dark and brooding. It had none of the atmosphere of the classic arcade series or even the more recent console updates.
In the intro players could see a pristine white race car driving down the streets of the gritty Shatterbay City. It turned down an alleyway that was littered and covered in graffiti. Clearly this town had seen better days. There were a few sponsor logos on the white car, leading audiences to believe that it was a traditional Ridge Racer car. The unseen driver pulled up to a dark corner of the alley and got out. The steam rising from the sewers obscured the character somewhat.
Audiences didn't get a good look at this character but based on her body shape and haircut they could assume that it was Reiko Nagase or a Reiko clone. This driver found a black muscle car in the shadows and got in it. Apparently the racing scene in Shatterbay City featured sinister-looking unmarked muscle cars instead of the sponsored racers from Ridge City. It was a sort of yin and yang for car fans. If this was Reiko then she became an illegal street racer at night when she was not an idol for the residents of Ridge City.
The new "edgy" Ridge Racer Unbounded intro talked about the "outcasts." Apparently Reiko, or someone assuming her role had become one of the marginalized masses. Speaking for them she declared that "we are the unbounded, we are the lawless." What that meant was sort of nebulous. Yes they could have been illegal street racers, like those in the Need for Speed series but as the intro played out it became something much darker.
As the intro continued the character fixed the rear view mirror in this new car and winked at the player. It certainly did look like Reiko was driving, only she had slightly longer hair. The license plate on the back of the car read RIDGE. Bugbear was clearly calling out to fans of the franchise in the new opening. What happened next would leave those fans speechless.
Instead of taking her ride onto the streets the character hit the accelerator and came barreling out of the alleyway. She blindsided a taxi cab, sending it flying into other cars and buildings. She plowed through traffic seemingly without remorse or regret. The character went from a friendly face to a crazed psychopath in a matter of seconds. At least in Carmageddon audiences were "in" on the joke that it was a dystopian future and all of the participants in the macabre race were out of their minds. Why the character would do this in the very beginning of Unbounded was not known.
It made little to no sense that Namco would agree to sign off the franchise name on a title this violent . The studio couldn't even commit to naming R: Racing Evolution a sequel to Ridge Racer. That game featured actual cars and no violence whatsoever. The Ridge Racer legacy seemed precious to the company a decade earlier. What the game had become was unrecognizable from its roots. The next blog will begin to peel apart Unbounded layer by layer and try to understand it.