The learning curve’s tough in other ways, too. It took us the better part of an hour just to place in the first race, and we briefly wondered if we’d bitten off more than we could chew. You win experience points just for racing, though, so continual play eventually unlocks better cars to help you over the hump. The AI (thankfully) falls short of the ferociousness seen in FlatOut 2, but it’s definitely playing to win. Once you get used to it you’ll appreciate its aggressive edge and lack of cheat-y “rubberbanding.” It’s tough but fair.
In addition to the normal 12-car races, there are high-speed races, drifting contests, halfpipe-laden time trials, and cop-smashing semi-truck rampage events. While these add much-needed variation, Unbounded is at its best when you’re racing 11 other cars. The time trials in particular are just annoying, with each stunt ramp threatening to send you careening into a run-ending wall. Despite the great AI and respectable carnage, single-player starts wearing thin around the third district; there simply isn’t enough variety in tracks or environments. Early races had our hearts beating hard as we struggled to preserve our one-second leads; this intense feeling faded as familiarity took hold.
Unfortunately multiplayer may not fill the gap, as Unbounded’s online game feels like a ghost town. We’d wait upwards of 10 minutes just to find another player, much less the seven needed for a full race. There are well over 1,000 player-made “cities” (collections of up to five custom courses) available online - which you can download and race in - but it seems difficult to actually find many people playing in them. It’s neat that you can make your own courses, but it’s not much more than a novelty when you’re the only one driving laps.
Ridge Racer Unbounded almost works - it’s so close. Bugbear clearly knows what it’s doing, but seems hampered by the odd, shoehorned-in license and a repetitive single-player campaign. Unbounded’s testosterone-drenched theme and crazy destruction might appeal to the mainstream, but its considerable difficulty and lack of extras will send them packing just as quickly. Only enthusiast racing fans who appreciate Bugbear’s FlatOut legacy will have a chance at dialing into this one, and even then they’ll know that FlatOut 2 and Burnout do the destructive racing shtick better. Who is Unbounded for, then? It’s unfortunate, but our best guess is the bargain bins.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360 as the lead platform. We also played through sections of the PS3 version to see if there were any distinct differences, and we found no technical shortcomings during our playtime.