Ridge Racer 7 doesn't usher in a bold new era for next-generation racing, it won't justify the sky-high cost of the PS3 and - true to its lineage - it's as unrealistic as a racing game gets. Now that we've established what the game isn't, let's talk about what it is: fun.
When the 360 launched, hardcore gamers quickly shelved let-downs like Perfect Dark Zero in favor of Ridge Racer 6, which - despite its so-so graphics and lack of any real innovation - provided one of the system's most solid, lengthy game experiences. It's the same case with RR7. It's not the kind of fresh, next-generation experience you'd buy a PS3 for, but it's the game that racing fans will easily lose themselves in.
If you haven't played a Ridge Racer title before, all you need to know is that it's an arcade-style racer that focuses almost entirely on insane, over-the-top drifting through turns - if you're playing the game right, you'll never even use the brake button. While Gran Turismo-loving gearheads might scoff at Ridge Racer's complete lack of realism, the series' unapologetically arcade style is a godsend for fans of games like Burnout, OutRun and arcade classic Daytona USA.
If this type of racing suits you, then there's a lot to love about RR7. It's by far the deepest, most feature-packed title in the series, with a long list of amazing courses. The only downside is that about 80-90% of the game's content (especially the tracks) is taken from 360's Ridge Racer 6, so if you've played a lot of that game, you'll get a feeling of "been there, done that" right from the start.
RR7 does introduce some cool new features, however. Most important is the addition of slipstreaming, which provides a nice counter to the classic RR strategy of blocking out an approaching car - in trying to stop him from passing, you may just give him just the boost he needs to leave you in the dust. Another welcome addition is the ability to upgrade your cars' engines, turbos, tires and other parts. This feature isn't as deep as in full-on tuner games, but there's just enough parts to allow for a nice amount of customization without slowing down the game's fast, arcade appeal. You can even customize the look of your rides with custom paint jobs and decals, which encourages a more personalized online experience. Speaking of which...
Online multiplayer in RR6 was a blast and it's been polished and improved for RR7. You can race up to 13 other players in a standard race, split the field into two teams, or race in pairs. You can also team up with a buddy to tackle Pair Time Attack and - as in single player time attack - go for a world record. Furthermore, you can put your skills to the ultimate test in special competitions that will be available for download. Racing online really gets the adrenaline flowing, especially since you can earn Fame Points and in-game cash (used to buy new parts) just as you can in single-player. Nothing beats drifting side-by-side with a dozen other cars around a long turn.
There is a massive offline mode as well, the Ridge State Gran Prix, which packs in over 160 races. This mode is the heart of the game, where you drive to impress car manufacturers, unlock a total of 40 different cars and take on 20 courses (40, if you count their reversed versions). With varying race rules and challenges, this mode can be incredibly addictive, always tempting you to put off sleep for just one more race.
At the Xbox 360 launch, most racing fans passed over RR6 for the prettier, more realistic Project Gotham Racing 3. It would be a real shame if gamers missed out again, because - although the core gameplay hasn't changed much in over ten years - Ridge Racer is as fun as ever. It runs as smooth as butter, and with the rare ability to be displayed at 1080p for HDTV owners, it's plenty pretty enough. Give Ridge Racer 7 a test drive and find out why it's one of the most under-appreciated PS3 games at launch.