There is no doubt in my mind that I am terrible at racing games. No matter how many I play I can’t seem to ever stay at the front of the pack. I have to face facts; racers are not where my gaming talents lie. Namco Bandai’s Ridge Racer Unbounded, developed by Bugbear Entertainment, made me enjoy every minute of my time behind the wheel, in spite of it all. Burnout was the last racing series I was into. RRU is very much a clone of Burnout but not in a negative way. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say, and I would imagine that the Burnout series is blushing right now. There are significant differences in the two games once you dig in, though, so read on to find out why RRU may be the game that moves this genre forward.

Car + Wall = Spectacle

Unbounded does so many things right, but the rubber hitting the track is what matters most. Here, the racer succeeds on so many levels it is hard to not fall in love with it. The racing is fast, the crashes are over the top and the stunts are action movie quality. That’s right, stunts and crashes are now part of the Ridge Racer formula. As you speed through a track, you are given different goals. Some of the tasks are simply winning the race through expert driving. Others will require you to destroy opponents on the way to the checkered flag. This portion of the game was a highlight for me. Once you blast another racer’s face off with a well timed boost and an introduction to a wall, you are treated with a cutscene that slows down everything to allow you to watch the destruction. I still prefer Burnout’s more elegant collision scenes a little more. RRU has the vehicles explode into tiny pieces as soon as you start the crash scene, with only the frame withstanding the punishment. That is a minor complaint and you may find the explosive crashes more satisfying here.

In addition to wrecking the suckers that are just trying just to race through the track, you also have destructible locations that are semi-shortcuts and huge point boosters. Once you have your power (boost) meter maxed, the hud will point out destruction zones that you can bust through. Seek them out and you will race through a building, parking garage or other structure before tearing through the other side in an action movie type scene, explosions and all. It is satisfying to a ridiculous degree, every single time.

I'm pretty sure I see Batman up on that building.

Every car, environment and menu is beautiful. You can tell Bugbear Entertainment had a good handle on squeezing power out of the aging systems. Even at high speeds, there was no noticeable pop up or frame stutter. Even more impressive is how buttery smooth this game runs with all the explosions and effects that occur through just one section of track. If there is a better looking racer out there, I haven’t seen it. All relevant information is also presented as a hologram against walls in the city. It is non-intrusive and allows you to get the information quickly, without having to take your eyes off the road.

I have to confess, it took me a very long time to beat the very first race, but even when I lost, last place, sixth place, fourth place, I earned experience that unlocked new tracks and cars. Winning races does allow you to progress to new circuits and unlock new custom pieces for your player-created tracks, but win or lose you still move forward in the game. This choice, alone, makes the game enjoyable. If I had to do the first race ten times to progress to a second race, this review would be very, very different.

Seeing this in a race, in front or behind you, is generally a bad sign.

There are multiple racing styles as you progress through the career mode. Some are the destruction races I talked about already. Others are the previously mentioned generic races. Then there are drift challenges, time trials and a few other options. Each feels like a different style of racing, and continues to keep you focused by not letting boredom set in due to repetition. The racing feels good once you hit the track, and each car feels unique. If you plan to drift a great deal, take one of the cars specifically built for that. Want to just frag the other guys to kingdom come? Take a car with high strength into a race. The options are pretty open to play how you want as you progress through each challenge.

The soundtrack will be hit and miss based on your musical tastes. Chemical Brothers tracks were the only ones I was familiar with, but the music is consistently tech and house inspired. The cars sound fine, though I don’t really like the high rumble of these finely tuned engines. What I most enjoyed was the sound effects of crashes and the explosions as you destroy objects. They are deep, guttural and primal and can give you goose bumps the first few times you hear them.

Ridge Racer Unbounded also includes a custom track builder. You start with basics, and a high level tutorial gets you up to speed pretty quickly. Once you have your first track laid out on the grid, you can get down on the ground and start placing the specific pieces that will make it your own. Ramps, destructible areas, obstacles and plenty of other options are there for you to make the most diabolical track to ruin friends, or random players, lives as they try to complete them. As you move through the single player campaign, you will unlock new pieces to create more varied races.

He's on the prowl, hungry like a wolf.

Competing with other players online works as you would expect, but I imagine the other online offerings will keep you even busier. Building your track allows you to race and place in it, then share it with the world. Players from anywhere, at any time, can jump into the race and try to beat your time. This not only keeps players honest in what they share, but gives you a shot at being the best at your own creations. The custom tracks I played online were slick, often short, but always fantastic. I was actually a little confused at first, thinking they were included tracks, until I built one myself and realized that the game is just so well designed that it makes every custom track look official. The level of detail that can go into each is astounding, and I would imagine the cream will rise to the top. Some truly spectacular races are being built as you read this, and I can’t find any reason to think the game will lose its grip on you any time soon.

Ridge Racer Unbounded is not a Ridge Racer title. It holds the same name, but like Cersei and Tyrion Lannister, the name is the only thing in common (Game of Thrones references in a racing review!). The bottom line is this, love or hate previous Ridge Racer titles, it doesn’t matter, this is something new, special, fantastic and exciting. Besides the difficulty in the initial races, which may be my lack of skill, or part of the game, you’ll keep coming back to get better because, honestly, the game is just that good.

Here’s the Rundown:
+ Action movie style action scenes.
+ Cars handle well, not too fast, not too slow, just right.
+ It changes the old formula for something infinitely better.
+ A never ending parade of new tracks thanks to the amazing track creator.
- Extremely challenging, especially in the early going 

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.

Ridge Racer Unbounded was developed by Bugbear Entertainment and published by Namco Bandai Games for the PS3 (Reviewed) and Xbox 360. It was released  at the MSRP of 59.99!

Follow Chris on Twitter @TheCGravelle for constant updates on video games, Magic: The Gathering, and his daughter, and @RipTen  for the latest news and more.