Xbox 360 Review: Ridge Racer 6

After a disastrous sequel in R: Racing Evolution that Namco is wise to forget, the Ridge Racer series now joins the crowded and strong Xbox 360 racing line up. This is the game for non-car buffs and those who treasure simple gameplay. While the feel is definitely outdated comparatively, the audience for this style is out there, and this is an overly extended fan service for them.

If you played the PSP version of this franchise, you've already partially experienced this edition. The courses and gameplay style have been stripped from one of the better handheld titles of 2005, though definitely tweaked. The drifting technique is here, and this wouldn't be Ridge Racer without it. It's so unrealistic, the core gameplay mechanic is a turn off for anyone looking for a hint of realism.

Simply put, you can't win a race if you don't use it. The ease of use is what makes this a joy to perform, and within a few contests, you'll feel like you've joined the ranks of a professional gamers league. It's a matter of releasing the gas for a split second, turning, and slamming on it again. The analog controller of the 360 shines here; especially on those light turns where drifting may not be advantageous. Even though this is a series created for the d-pad, Ridge Racer 6 finally adopts the analog controller with fantastic results.

The nitrous boost has been changed from the portable, and it's a somewhat weak addition for single players. Drifting fills the three levels of boost, and you now have the option to use them in sections, pairs, or all three for an extended (and faster) push ahead. The obvious way to use these to combat the AI, which barely seems to do anything other than drive a few steps slower, is to save all three for a final blast before crossing the line. Likewise, the opponents have the same idea too, and you'll know thanks to one of the most grating announcers in the history of racing games.

Like the PSP version, the courses are an amalgam of tracks in the series. This familiarity makes it easier to appreciate the graphical detail. This is an obvious upgrade, with a smooth frame rate, but it's hardly something to be excited over. Repeating textures are a severe problem in the backgrounds, lighting is almost non-existent (headlights at night offer nothing special), and aside from some neat objects lining the tracks, this is a plain, boring looking game compared to the competition.

Fourteen-player Xbox Live racing is available in addition to two-player split screen, and that's the only thing keeping this from being a constant bore at some points. The single player tour mode is unique for its structure. Cars are earned by completing pre-set race sections on a grid-like menu, but with 111 races and a staggeringly low 15 courses, there's nothing to provide variety here.

Yes, the courses change and flip. That's a series trademark. It's impossible to avoid feeling like you've done all of this before, and by the end of this one, you'll have no reason to come back. Even the cars share this same trait, with entire classes made up with the same vehicle and a non-customizable paint job. This is a game where the length becomes a problem, and if it were cut in half, it would be close to perfect. As it stands in an attempt to makes this $60 purchase worthwhile, the final few hours are a matter of going through the motions to get it over with.

Nonetheless, the basics of Ridge Racer 6 are enough to carry the game. There's a reason this series is on its sixth incarnation. Drifting, even if totally repetitive, is strong enough to create an entire game around. The fantasy-like cars, environments, and driving is oddly soothing when compared to high speed chases and hardcore simulations out there from other companies.

Ridge Racer 6 doesn't try to be any different. It doesn't need to be, but it's hard to defend a game that fails to try anything to break up its own design monotony. This franchise needs a push in every area and at least one new idea. Until then, this is a satisfactory (and maybe a little more) romp for long time fans and an utter disaster for die-hard racing game players. Be aware of what you're looking at before spending the money.

(*** out of *****)

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