Ridge Racer 7 introduces some great new additions that make this the most significant update Namco's arcade-style racing series has seen in years.
- Great frame rate leads to a fast sense of speed
- Team-based online racing modes are neat and innovative
- Car customization and slipstreaming add new depth to the series.
- Most of the game's tracks appeared in Ridge Racer 6
- Gameplay won't be intuitive to those unfamiliar with the series.
Last year's Ridge Racer 6 marked the first time that a game in the main Ridge Racer series appeared on a non-Sony platform. With Ridge Racer 7, the series is back on PlayStation and available at launch for the PS3. It brings the same arcade-style, drift-crazy gameplay to Sony's new console, and fans of the series should probably enjoy it. However, there's one small catch: Most of the tracks in Ridge Racer 7 were also in Ridge Racer 6. So while the new car customization options and slipstream speed boosts are features that only fans of the series will immediately appreciate, all of the recycled tracks may make those same fans feel like they've already played some of this game before. The enhancements to the gameplay are still enough of a draw, and to the Sony-faithful Ridge Racer players who passed on the previous installment, Ridge Racer 7 will especially have a lot to offer.
For the uninitiated, Ridge Racer 7 will seem like a totally foreign world. While the arcade-style racing genre has absolutely exploded over the last decade, Ridge Racer 7 still focuses on the same thing it has since it first began in actual arcades: ridiculous on-rails drift mechanics that whip you around corners almost automatically. Nearly losing control of your car around every sharp turn is the only way to win in Ridge Racer, and the way you drive is unlike anything else on the market. At this point, it's something of a secret handshake between the player and the game console. Either you already know what Ridge Racer is, how to play it, and why it's fun, or you don't.
It's difficult to imagine someone making Ridge Racer 7 his or her first Ridge Racer game and quickly getting into it, just because the way you drift is so arcane. The idea is that as you go into a sharp corner, you let off the gas and then immediately hit it again. This causes you to spin out and start sliding around the corner automatically. Your goal at this point is to make sure your car is pointing in the right direction when you come out of the turn, where you'll regain traction and keep going. When we say automatically, we mean it. You can slide through multiple hairpin curves without even thinking about the nature of the turns themselves. As long as you're prepared to correct the car's direction, you're A-OK. The game's cars offer multiple types of drifting. Mild sticks to the road pretty well and doesn't get too crazy around curves, but it's also the slowest type of car. Dynamic is on the opposite end of the spectrum, so when you drift, the car's direction will dramatically whip around, making it easier to get into a drift but harder to get out of one. Since it's the fastest drift type, it's the expert's choice. Standard strikes a happy medium between the two and should be the best choice for beginning and intermediate players.
Don't mistake all this talk about automatic cornering to mean that there's nothing to Ridge Racer 7. On the contrary, keeping your car moving at high speeds is an exercise in precision timing and takes a bit of strategy. As you drift at high speeds, you'll charge up a nitrous boost meter, which has three different levels. When it fills, you can bust out a quick speed boost, or you can save it up for a double or triple nitrous boost, if you want something with a little more kick. When boosting, you can't drift to charge up your meter under normal conditions. But if you get into a drift just as your nitrous expires, that extra speed fills up your nitrous meter much faster, something the game calls "ultimate charge." So you want to strategically time your nitrous usage to take advantage of that whenever possible. Also, Ridge Racer 7 adds slipstreaming to the action. It's a dramatic addition because it's extremely effective. When you get right behind another racer, even if you're pretty far away, you accelerate faster and can move at a higher top speed. The closer you get, the more of a speed boost you'll receive. This completely changes the way you play compared to previous Ridge Racer games, because now you want to stay behind your opponents for as long as you can and then swing out and attempt to slingshot around them. It's a smart addition.
Ridge Racer's car design has always been really cool. There are no licensed cars in here, but the game treats its cars as if they come from a series of fictional manufacturers, with great names like Kamata, Assoluto, Gnade, and Danver. On top of that, each one of these makers has different makes, so you can get the Danver Bayonet, the Sinseong Jujak, or the Age Prophetie, just to name a few. The car designs get wild, with lots of smooth curves that give all of the vehicles the look of futuristic concept cars. In fact, the game doesn't even call them cars. It's very careful to call them "machines," which is crazy. You can customize your cars by going into the "machine connector," where you can purchase body parts from a separate set of manufacturers, including Dig Dug. Bet you didn't know that Dig Dug made sweet body kits in his spare time. You can also purchase engine, tire and suspension, and nitrous upgrades and change the paint on your car. While the engine upgrades increase your top speed and the nitrous upgrades change the way your nitrous meter works, the tire and suspension upgrades don't seem to have a very dramatic effect on the way your car handles.