With all the well-deserved hype surrounding Project Gotham Racing 3, it's easy to dismiss Ridge Racer 6 as an also ran; something Namco shoved out the door just to cash in on the system launch fervor. After all, the arcade-y, drift-focused racing doesn't really deviate from any previous Ridge Racer game, and the paint jobs on the non-destructible cars look more like a high-res Xbox game than a 360 racer. Not really "next-gen" at all.
But turn the key and stand on the gas, and you'll discover Ridge Racer 6's secret turbo charger. What the game lacks in shiny chrome and iridescent paint, it makes up for in sheer content and drivability.
Not to take the auto analogy too far, but the game just drives like a dream. The on-track action isn't frightfully innovative, but the learning curve is so slight, it's practically a dragstrip. Ridge Racer 6 just keeps zooming through the series' trademark, powerslide-happy races, in which victory comes from stomping the accelerator through the floor and treating the brake pedal as if it's wired to deliver electric shocks when pressed.
These races aren't devoid of strategy, though. The trick is to learn when and where to use your nitrous boost (a phrase, by the way, that will have you turning off the in-game announcer within an hour). As is traditional in the Ridge universe, your nitrous charges when you power-slide. But be careful when deploying, using it too early makes it harder to earn more, while using it too late makes it impossible to recharge unless you're running a special, reverse-charge race.
You'll have plenty of time to perfect these subtle nuances, too: we're talking over 200 races to complete in the single player mode alone. There are also about a zillion unlockables and difficult Xbox LIVE achievements to reach. Then there's the classic Namco game you get to play while the race is loading, which alone could have sold bucketloads on Xbox LIVE Arcade. Simply put this game will give you some serious miles per gallon.
And let's not forget the 14-player online modes, which suit the Ridge Racer game play just perfectly. Unlike PGR3, in which contact can result in a race-ending wreck, Ridge Racer's arcadey physics and forgiving collisions make for intense pack racing in each and every contest. Provided you can actually keep up with some of the scary online competition. And with the game being popular in all three regions (North America, the U.K. and Japan) you can almost always find a full game online. If not, you can download other players' best times and try to outpace "ghost" cars replicating that person's race.
One thing about that online mode: it features a nasty bug that can completely ruin the experience, but is incredibly easy to fix. If your online games are plagued by loads of lag and a horrible frame rate, head out to the Xbox 360 dashboard and slide over to the "System" blade. Click on the "Computers" option and disconnect any PC listed there. Voila! Problem solved. Note that you can still use custom soundtracks in Ridge Racer 6 while playing online, but they have to be run off the hard-drive or a USB device such as your iPod or PSP.
Ridge Racer 6 didn't get much attention at 360 launch, overshadowed by the amazing driving sim Project Gotham 3. Ultimately though, you shouldn't look at these two games as adversaries, but rather as two hot rods that should share the same shelf. Both offer a completely different experience, and both excel at what they do.