RIDGE RACER / Namco / PlayStation
 
 
Ridge Racer was the original PS1 pack-in game, and began a trend of a Ridge Racer game being available at launch for each new Sony console and handheld. Of course, the early hours of any new system are usually more about graphical flash than substance, and even though the arcade release of Ridge Racer was almost two years old at this point, this was still the first true polygonal racing game on a 32-bit CD-based dedicated console (underpowered Sega 32X and its simple polys doesn't really count).

While Ridge Racer remains colorful and surprisingly photogenic for its age, time has made clear that this was meant to be a "spectacle game" rather than a refined racer with any sort of depth. It's centered around a "drifting" system that's simplistic yet frustrating, and it also suffers from a general lack of options.
 


Granted, the game was always supposed to be a simplified arcade racer, and there's nothing to do but steer and accelerate (there is a brake, but the game gives you very little reason to use it). That's fine by itself, and I actually prefer this type of arcadey racer to ultra-detailed sims. But the weirdo drift system has a number of problems. In most games, you drift by judiciously using the brakes. In Ridge Racer, you stand a random chance of drifting every time you let go of the accelerator, with cars with lower ratings in handling doing it way more often than others.

In fact, the game basically railroads you into using one car type simply because it's the only one that doesn't have serious handling handicaps. The red car is the most balanced, and it's the only one that retains the ability to drift corners without sending you into a wild spin any time you let off the gas for a second. The blue and yellow cars are unmanageably finicky, and the green-white-red car actually handles TOO well, never drifting and thus making sharp corners actually much tougher to navigate.

You also have to play a linear series of tracks, so if you find you cant Git Gud enough, you're stuck on the same track forever. Get past it, however, and you find ... every other track is actually just a rearrangement or reversal of the original track!

I think the main problem here is one that a number of racing games have stumbled into over the years -- attempting to combine aspects of realistic handling with overall cartoony arcade unreality, and ending up in an awkward middle ground that just feels fundamentally wrong.
 
 
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