The original Ridge Racer was the meat in Sony's launch sandwich when the original PlayStation hit the States. The arcade driving game came home and introduced console gamers to the next big thing. But today, those halcyon days seem like ancient history. As the Ridge Racer series evolved, it became much more than a simple arcade port, adding more tracks and cars, and refining the game's trademark powerslide style of driving. The last installment of the game, Ridge Racer Type 4, really seemed to be as good as the series could get on the existing hardware. Thankfully, Sony has come along with a new box, and Namco is keeping pace with a new Ridge Racer game. But Ridge Racer V all but ignores most of the gameplay refinements that the series has seen over the years, returning to the general driving style of games like Ridge Racer and Ridge Racer Revolution.
When the PlayStation 2 launched in Japan back in March, Ridge Racer V was the most impressive game on shelves, graphically speaking. Now, eight months later, we have games like Midnight Club, SSX, and the newly revamped Tekken Tag Tournament to consider, and Ridge Racer V definitely looks dated when compared to more recent PS2 efforts. The game looks like the other Ridge Racer games, but without as much pop-up or pixelated vehicles and environments. Little things like trees on the sides of the track, and the glow that emanates from your red-hot brake pads as you brake while driving around corners really bring a lot to the look of the game. You can even see the gauges inside your car light up when your headlights come on in a tunnel or while night-driving. The cars are well designed, and the environment mapping that creates the almost-too-shiny reflection on your car is pretty amazing. The display isn't flawless, though. The entire game has a very aliased appearance, making the edges of the cars and tracks look really jagged. The better your TV is, the more noticeable the aliasing becomes. The game still sports only two camera angles, a first-person and third-person view. The third-person view is much tighter and closer to your vehicle than in the previous games, and it takes a bit of getting used to. The two-player mode runs at roughly the same speed as the single-player game, though the draw-in distance is a bit closer in the splitscreen mode, making the two-player races look a bit foggy. Also worth mentioning is that the game has horrendously slow load times between races.
The gameplay in Ridge Racer V is centered on the grand-prix mode. This is the mode that will net you additional cars, trophies, and new engines. You start out by picking one of three difficulty settings and entering the standard grand prix. Then you go on to the extra mode, a collection of four grand-prix events. Standard mode lets you pick any one of the game's base-level cars, then as you progress with that car into the extra ranks you'll earn upgraded versions of that base car. The track design is pretty standard Ridge Racer fare. Each track uses lots of the same portions of road, and certain sections of track will open or close depending on which track variant you're racing. This makes all the tracks seem a little too similar and limits the game's replay value. As in R4, the final track is an oval-shaped racetrack built for sheer speed. Another knock against the track design is that a lot of the sections are lifted from, or at least heavily influenced by, the track from the original Ridge Racer. You'll recognize the tunnels and turns the first time you see them. It would have been nice to see multiple environments and a more varied track design instead of being limited to racing the tracks both forward and backward. The car-handling is similar to that of the older Ridge Racer games in that it places a much heavier emphasis on powersliding around corners so you can traverse the tracks at high speeds. The sliding is emphasized by reducing the turning radius on most of the game's cars, which all feel a little sluggish when you're maneuvering back and forth across the lanes, when compared with any of the previous games in the series. Even the grip cars require you to do a decent amount of sliding around turns. The drift cars lose traction at the blink of an eye and really force you to play to perfection. Luckily, the control is excellent with the Dual Shock 2, and the game supports both of Namco's driving controllers, the Negcon and the Jogcon. The game uses the analog buttons of the Dual Shock 2, but it's extremely hard to notice when the analog gas and braking make a difference. Some of the later drift cars in the game seem to slide a bit differently depending on how hard you tap the brake button.
The sound effects in Ridge Racer V are pretty nice. The squealing tires and engine noise of the cars sound realistic. The game has an announcer similar to the ones in the previous games, but he repeats himself a little too often (for instance, he almost always says, "That was tight" whenever you pass the second- or first-place car) and mispronounces a few words, like "comfort" and "rookie." It's almost funny.
The music has always been a large part of the Ridge Racer series, and Ridge Racer V offers up a bit more of a variation than usual. Rather than sticking solely to various forms of electronic music, RRV delivers some poppier tunes from the Boom Boom Satellites, as well as some pretty hot techno numbers. One of the best tracks is the music that plays in the menus before the race actually starts.
Ridge Racer V is a fun, great-looking game that will please older Ridge Racer fans. Players that picked up the series around the third or fourth game may be a little disappointed with the way the cars handle, but not so much that their fun will be ruined. Overall, the game feels a little rushed with its easy-way-out track design, and it's really a shame that Ridge Racer V wasn't given the same treatment that Tekken Tag Tournament received when it was translated for the domestic market.