Ridge Racer 6 Online Hands-On

We take a near-finished version of Namco's Xbox 360 racer online for the first time.

Earlier today, during a meeting with Namco, we had an opportunity to play Ridge Racer 6 online for the first time. The near-finished version of the game, which we spent about an hour with, afforded us access to a number of features that we hadn't seen before. It also boasted a revamped nitrous system that was quite different to that in previous versions of the game. We got to test-drive multiple vehicles from a "special" class on circuits that we'd never seen before, and we also had a chance to put our skills to the test against some of Namco's online testers.

Ridge Racer 6's "world xplorer" online mode will let you host your own race events or search for existing events using a number of different criteria. You'll be able to choose whether your races are "ranked" and count toward your worldwide ranking, for example, as well as opt for specific vehicle classes, vehicle models, race circuits, lap counts, and such. Less-obvious options will include a handicap setting of zero to four that will alter the maximum speeds of players on the fly (to encourage close contests), and a variable nitrous rule that lets you race without nitrous, using the regular nitrous mechanic (whereby you earn your boosts by sliding around corners), or with unlimited nitrous at your disposal. As the host of a race, you'll also have the power to reserve any number of the 13 spots for friends or people that you send invites to. You'll even have the option to join race sessions as a spectator rather than a competitor if you really want to.

The first online race that we got into put us behind the wheel of one of Ridge Racer 6's relatively sedate class 2 vehicles. The first thing we noticed was that the game only offers two different gameplay cameras--one mounted on the front bumper, and another positioned directly behind the car. The third-person camera was positioned a little closer to the rear of the car than we'd like, which occasionally caused problems with track visibility. (That problem was compounded later on, incidentally, when we attempted to race a particularly hilly track in split-screen mode, and we were left with little choice but to play using the bumper cam.)

Our online race was only contested by a total of five players, but it afforded us ample opportunity to see how different a Ridge Racer game feels when played against competitive opposition instead of the mindless racers who are always given a significant head start against you in the single-player modes of play. At the end of the race, we were given an opportunity to evaluate the players we'd been on the track with by assigning them a "prefer" or "avoid" label that will presumably affect future online matchmaking. We also noticed that we were awarded a couple of Ridge Racer 6 badges for our profile after the race, though we've no idea what achievements the "monster slayer" and "heavenly messenger" labels referred to.

After checking out the class 2 races online, we were given an opportunity to test-drive a number of the unusual vehicles from Ridge Racer 6's "special" class. Special cars include everything from sporty concept cars and an SUV, which looks like it's had the Pimp My Ride treatment, to a Men in Black-style limousine with giant engines that come out of the trunk when you use a nitrous, plus what looks to be a hovercraft. Unsurprisingly, the handling of said vehicles varies considerably, and we're pleased to report that they were noticeably faster (and, in some cases, more challenging to drive) than the cars we were racing in previously.

With that said, all of the cars in Ridge Racer 6 are capable of reaching some pretty impressive speeds, particularly when you take advantage of the recently implemented double-nitrous or triple-nitrous features. In the PSP version of Ridge Racer, which was the first to implement a nitrous system, the three nitrous boosts you could charge up had to be activated individually. In Ridge Racer 6, you'll have a double-nitrous button that can be used to trigger a lengthier, more powerful boost. By holding down both of your boost buttons you'll be able to activate an even more screen-blurring triple-nitrous injection of speed.

The last of Ridge Racer 6's previously unseen features that we got to check out was its ghost mode, which will let you upload recordings of your best times, or download those of other players so that you can attempt to beat them. When you check out the worldwide leaderboards, entries with a ghost attached to them will be denoted by an icon that looks like a ghost from Pac-Man. Selecting one of those entries will allow you to peruse information on the recorded time, including the name and global location of the player responsible for it, individual lap times, and a diagram detailing how many nitrous boosts the player used in each segment of the race. We were pretty evenly matched with the ghost that we chose to download, and since we ended up beating it just marginally, we took a moment to upload our own ghost so that, approximately one hour later, other players would have the option to race against us.

Ridge Racer 6 is currently scheduled for release alongside the Xbox 360 on November 22. Expect a full review soon.

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