November 14, 2006 - Ridge Racer and Sony system launches go hand in hand. The arcade racing series has accompanied the PS1, PS2 and PSP system launches. Next week, on November 17, the PS3 will launch with its own iteration, titled Ridge Racer 7. Like any launch software, Sony intends to show off the power of its new console with it. And it to that effect Ridge Racer 7 mostly succeeds. It sticks to what made it popular in the first place, namely physics-shunning race dynamics, so those looking for the next step in the series will likely feel burned.
Those looking for an evolutionary step in the franchise will hit the gas and never look back. Ridge Racer 7 is, if nothing else, a vastly rewarding title that does a fine job of making racing fun, above all else. It certainly ignores the real-world physics presented by some of its peers, like Project Gotham Racing 3. It also keeps the action focused on high-speed maneuvering and less on wanton destruction, like in Burnout Revenge. But what it lacks in realism and explosions it makes up in a solid, albeit entirely unrealistic, race experience. Players will spend more time perfecting the art of drifting than anything else, but in the case of Ridge Racer 7, that's totally fine - since the developer structured the entire game around it.
At first drifting seems simple enough: just release the gas and lean in the direction of the turn. What makes the mechanic interesting, and fun more importantly, is how players need to use it finish a race. Most beginner tracks throw out a few curves, maybe a super sharp turn or two, but later tracks force drivers to drift like it's nobody's business. Players will need to drift through a series of sharp turns at 200-plus mph with 14 other cars sailing by. Sure, just about anyone can drift when going 90 mph, but Ridge Racer 7 has little patience for that. Players either learn to drift, and drift well, or it's curtains. The game tries to help - players can access drift tutorials - but these do a poor job of teaching since they're primarily text-based and non-interactive. It's largely on the driver to learn how best to exploit the lack of real physics. The mechanic does get a little finicky at times. On certain tracks it feels like someone coated the road with gallons of lube.
That aside, everything works fine - perhaps a little too clean for some, especially after the likes of Burnout Revenge. Smashing into rival cars results in a polite little bump, not a catastrophic collision. Irresponsible driving only slows one down and never results in a spectacular crash. Cars, too, always look pristine and polished. Ridge Racer fans wouldn't have it any other way, but all of it just feels overly lenient now. Even with a dozen or more drivers on the track, players will mainly battle the clock and the course. Yes, even bumping into another car hinders speed, or worse, messes with a drift. And being rear-ended can, in fact, cause a spinout, but this rarely happens. The worst offender by far is hitting the side of the track. Once a player has advanced to later courses with high-end machines, accidentally slamming into a single wall spells disaster. That, or miscalculating a drift. Either way, it's time for a restart.
Drifting goes hand-in-hand with nitrous in the Ridge Racer universe. Using juice works the same way it did in Ridge Racer 6 on the Xbox 360. It comes in three phases, each of which fills up while drifting. Players can trigger each phase manually, so there's no need to use it all at once. And since it doesn't fill up while it's actually being used, there's a constant need to strategize when to drift and when to boost. After practice, players will rarely run out, since the quality of the drift determines how much nitrous is gained. But it's serious fun getting to that point. Once a driver can boost in and out of drifts, they've got it made.
Ridge Racer 7 has all the basic modes required of modern racers. The quickest way to jump in and start racing is Arcade Mode. Here, players just pick a car and track and head off to the start line. It has two basic options, single play and multi play. The latter lets two live players compete via split screen, though there's a definite loss in framerate and visual quality. Textures look muddy, for instance, and races lose the fluidity and grace of the single-player and online matches. It's definitely unfortunate, though it doesn't ruin the experience completely. And it's nice that the second player option remains, even though the emphasis has switched to global encounters through the network system.