The past few years have been a bit odd for Ridge Racer fans. At some point during the series’ lifespan, subsequent releases of the games reverted into simple rehashes of previous tracks with little extra added, usually released to accompany a console launch. Namco Bandai has taken several attempts to revitalise the series, the latest being Ridge Racer for the Playstation Vita, which received less than favourable reviews due to it’s severe lack of content. One of Namco Bandai’s other attempts at redefining what a Ridge Racer game is was Ridge Racer Unbounded, taking the action from the track to the streets, in souped up muscle cars with a focus on destroying your surroundings and rival racers. Namco Bandai’s latest experiment with the Ridge Racer series comes in the form of Ridge Racer Driftopia, a free-to-play Ridge Racer game based heavily on Ridge Racer Unbounded, utilizing much of the same tracks, cars and gameplay features of the Bugbear Entertainment developed title. Now currently in closed beta, we have spent a couple weeks playing the PS3 and PC versions of the game to see how it holds up.
While Driftopia is based on Ridge Racer Unbounded, several fundamental changes in the game modes will alter how you play and progress through the game to access content. In the game, the only two main modes available in Driftopia are ‘Spirit Career’ and Timed Challenge. Timed Challenge is pretty much self-explanatory; at regular intervals (currently set to 1 hour) a track is set as the challenge and you try to get the best time on the leader board against other players. Your best time in these challenges will net you different tiers of rewards depending on how fast you are. Next, the main mode of the game, the ‘Spirit Career’ has you playing on a range of tracks you unlock as you increase your player level by completing races and challenges. The interesting thing about the Spirit Career mode is that instead of racing standard AI racers or other players, you race player ghosts. But, unlike how you’d expect a ghost to behave, these ghosts act as physical objects in the game and can/will crash into you or be crashed into. This makes it more than just a simple time trial but needs you to be aware of the other players so they don’t take you out of the race.
All of the games cars and modification items are stored in the form of cards in your player inventory. If you want to use a car, you need to put it into a garage slot. When starting a race, you can use a power up card to modify certain parameters for that race and when you crash, your car card becomes unusable. You can restore your car when this happens, but to do so spends repair kits, which are essentially Driftopia’s premium currency. The game starts you off with a small amount of repair kits and you receive a few from completing challenges and races. If you can’t repair your car, its gone forever, along with any improvements you might have made to it. Thankfully during the beta, all store transactions are free, so I made sure to simply get a large amount of repair kits so that I wouldn’t need to worry about loosing my cars. But, once the game launches proper, this could prove to be a very annoying mechanic as it is way too easy to crash in the game. With the sometimes quirky physics on destructible objects and the fact that other players can crash into your car, it doesn’t really seem fair that you need to pay for something that may not have even been caused by your own actions.
Other than the modifications that have been made to the game to allow for the free-to-play model, racing in Driftopia should feel similar for anyone who’s played Ridge Racer Unbounded. You can still drift wildly around corners, smash cars and objects out of your way and gain boost by taking out rivals, jumping off ramps. The destructible short cuts also make a return, allowing you to smash your tank-like car through walls and buildings to take short cuts and shave precious seconds of your lap time. Although, now you can take these short cuts at normal speed, whereas in Unbounded you needed to first build your power/boost meter to be able to boost through these structures. Since Unbounded was already a polarizing game among RR fans, Driftopia will probably be a hard sell for most, even those who enjoyed Unbounded as it doesn’t really offer much in the way of new content but instead restricts how much you can play the game without having it reach into your steam wallet for more money.
I’d estimate that Driftopia might find find more support from players who liked the look of unbounded or other arcade racers like burnout or split/second and wanted to try it out without having to buy the full game. The leader boards and timed challenges also add a bit of competitive fun when you are vying against other friends playing Driftopia, all trying to outdo each other and get the quickest time.
Update: Now that the PS3 Beta has been updated, here’s a look at some of the game play during one of the career races: