Ridge Racer without a doubt has had the greatest library of fictional racing cars ever conceived. If I were to choose which were the best cars from any series I wouldn't even think twice about it. I fully admit that Sega made superior tracks and better overall racing experiences. I will also admit that Sega created the environments that I wish I could actually drive through and live within. The flipside of the statement is that I wish I could drive through those levels in a Ridge Racer car. The cars featured in Ridge Racer Unbounded however were completely forgettable.
Gone were the sponsor logos, gone were the nods to Namco's legacy games. All of the cars in Unbounded were designs poached from contemporary muscle cars. Even the exotics and super cars introduced in the title did not go very far to find inspiration. These were cars that you could find on the street and on the freeway. When Sega created a library of fictional motors in OutRunners they were cartoonish homages to the popular cars from around the world. Sega was one of the first studios to appreciate the aesthetics of a legendary car and create their own interpretations of them. They would not have been as well remembered if they had ripped them off wholesale. Other studios had also created a library of generic cars for their own titles. The designers working on Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row were notorious for creating cars that were eerily similar to production automobiles. These studios changed a few details and names so that they couldn't be sued for copyright infringement. The cars in Unbounded were as generic as those from the popular sandbox games. There was simply nothing memorable about them.
By comparison the cars in previous Ridge Racer games could never be forgotten. These cars ran from racing versions of everyday drivers to one-off prototypes. Yet each of the fictional cars also retained a sense of realism. It was not hard to imagine that many of the cars in Ridge Racer could have been spotted on the road. In some cases the cars were reminiscent of autos from the past and in many other cases they were predictive of the trends that would shape the industry 5, 10 or even 20 years down the road. The range of diverse driving experiences could be found in many Ridge Racer sequels. The manufactures from previous games would return along with some familiar rides as well as new models in each revision of Ridge Racer with the exception of Unbounded.
The most elite of the cars in Ridge Racer also looked very unique. The final cars that players could unlock, the ones with the impossibly fast acceleration and insanely high top speed, were the most desirable rides ever invented in a racing series. The Angel 0 and Devil 13 were at the top of the list but they were joined by some equally memorable cars as well. Some of the cars were based on designs for prototype racing classes that never got picked up by the major racing circuits. The designers at Namco breathed new life into these cars and gave them a purpose. They invented manufacturers that would become responsible for these prototypical machines through the life of the series. The manufacturer Terrazi for example was based in Japan. The company seemed focused on technology in everything they made. Some of their fastest race cars took on some bold designs. Such was the case for the Terrazi Terrific.
The Terrific was nothing short of an exposed engine with a wedge-shaped wing. It was a radical concept that still managed to find some sense of believability. Audiences could have imagined that the Terrific would have appeared in the 24 Hours of LeMans as a prototype entry. All of the information gathered from the car would be filtered down to every other car Terrazi manufactured. It was the same thing that actual manufacturers did with their most radical designs.
The special cars in Ridge Racer Unbounded lacked the standout features of the Terrific and other Namco designs. They were nice to look at but again, there was nothing memorable about them. The regular cars looked like current muscle cars while the special class was made up of classic muscle cars and hot rods. These were not the typical hot rods either but instead the fabricated, chromed-out cars that would appear in custom car shows. All of the designs were rooted in American culture and didn't quite reflect the global racing community.
It was quite an insult to the Japanese, German and Italian manufacturers when the majority of special cars in Unbouded were US bruisers. Diversity helped sell the experience to the original generation of Ridge Racer fans. Every particular taste was well represented in the library of cars that Namco had introduced. The design of the Unbounded cars was nothing more than heavy handed pandering to the west. The gameplay itself could also be called pandering as well.
When I saw the special class in Unbounded I imagined that the developers at Bugbear Entertainment jumped online and did a Google search for hot rods. What they turned up were the award-winning designs of artists like Thom Taylor, Boyd Coddington and Chip Foose. Again all they had to do was change some details and colors so that they couldn't be called out for poaching their designs. Any car fan worth their salt should be disappointed at the lack of originality that the studio employed while creating their lineup. It was an insult to the work that all the previous Ridge Racer teams had put into the series. Even the ones that left for Sega would have been ashamed at the lack of originality.
Perhaps the biggest insult to the legacy of Ridge Racer were the locations, level designs and overall theme featured in Unbounded. The graphics did look amazing, they were some of the best racing graphics in a long while. With that said there was nothing memorable about the setting. The next blog will explore what Namco had established and what Bugbear had done to the world of Ridge Racer. I hope to see you back for that.