Ridge Racer Hands-On

Another Sony hardware launch, another Ridge Racer game. We hit the road with this arcade racer.

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The hype machine is nearly in full gear for the majority of Sony PSP sports titles from publishers like SCEA and EA. Interestingly, we haven't had an opportunity to check out a non-import version of Sony's venerable handheld Ridge Racer game until this week's Game Developers Conference. We took some time this morning at Sony's modestly sized PSP booth to take the arcade racer for a few laps to get a feel for how the game is shaping up in its high-speed approach to the checkered flag.

Like many of the PSP's launch titles, Ridge Racer features a solid, if unremarkable, list of gameplay modes, including single race, time attack, wireless battle, and world tour modes, the majority of which are self-explanatory. World tour mode is the closest thing you'll find to a career mode. In this mode you will participate in progressively more difficult race series, all the way up to the pinnacle of horsepower performance. You'll be able to take part in a number of predetermined world tour events or you can design your own custom tour. It's here in world tour mode that you'll be unlocking new tracks and new rides to try out as you make your way up the difficulty ladder.

The fictional rides found in Ridge Racer have the type of semifuturistic look that has become a staple of the series, and all are decked out in brightly colored race paint schemes that give the illusion of speed even when the car is standing still. This is a good thing too, because the first group of cars you find in the game will be of the more pokey variety. Things pick up when you kick in the nitrous (executed by using the right trigger on the PSP), causing the game to blur slightly and a blue flame to erupt from your exhaust pipe. At the same time, the game's frame rate seems to hold together nicely, even when kicking in the afterburners and skidding around corners.

Speaking of skidding, powersliding is a joy in the PSP version of Ridge Racer. While getting lateral will not be new to anyone who's played a Ridge Racer game before, the degree of control you have over your powerslides may be. Indeed, we found the handheld's analog stick to be especially sensitive to not only enabling, but also to deftly controlling your slides around sharp corners. There's still those instances where your back end completely slides away and you end up sending your car straight into the opposite wall. But with some anticipation of where your car is heading, you'll be able to avoid this kind of trouble. In addition, each car model's unique handling will affect how nimbly they attack corners or the speed at which they can attack the straights.

Standard driving controls in Ridge Racer make for a pick-up-and-play experience, though using a manual transmission tends to feel a bit awkward. You'll be forced to either lift your finger off the accelerator button (X button) to shift up or down (using the triangle or O button, respectively), or use your index finger for shifting, which is probably the better choice.

While the bustling, loud floor at GDC didn't give us a good opportunity to take in Ridge Racer's audio package, we can say the game looks sparkling. It features some attractive lighting effects, a varied color palette across all tracks, and reflective surfaces on the cars that add an impressive layer of sheen to the overall look of the game. Though the game we saw only featured first- and third-person camera angles, the little presentation touches, such as distinctive speed and RPM gauges per car, make for a pretty polished product.

We're only a couple of weeks away from the release of Sony's first handheld system, and Ridge Racer is looking to be a finely tuned example of what the PSP is capable of. Expect to see a full review of the game when it is released in late March.

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