Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ridge Racer 6 - XBOX 360 - Review

Ridge Racer 6 is the best arcade racing game I’ve ever played. It’s very accessible and easy to learn, and once you figure out how to drive in the game, finding out the nuances of the gameplay (the little details that will determine whether or not you will win or lose) is actually quite a challenge. Masked underneath the simplicity of the gameplay (wherein you hardly even use the brakes!) lies a layer of depth that can only be found by people who really spend time with the game.

The depth lies in the drifting and nitrous system that Namco implemented in the gameplay. Ridge Racer 6 should probably be called ‘drift racing’ somewhere in the title, because drifting is a huge part of what you’ll be doing when you’re playing this game. Forget the need for perfect braking accuracy and racing lines, like in Forza Motorsport or in Gran Turismo. The drift is the beginning and the end of everything in this game. Easy to learn, hard to master—that must have been the motivating factor behind the game design of Ridge Racer 6. You would think that you have understood how drifting works upon reaching your 30th hour of playing this game. Try downloading replays of the greatest Ridge Racer players in existence via the Global Time Attack ranking system—then find out how much of a rookie you really are to the science and art of Ridge Racer drifting!

On Xbox Live, expect the ultimate Ridge Racer challenge…there, you can face the GREATEST Ridge Racer players on Earth. No A.I. thus far developed (even Forza’s mighty Drivatar-programmed system) offers as much challenge as driving against the Japanese elite. Yes, I said JAPANESE. Most of the dominant players in this game are of Japanese descent (as indicated by the flags next to their gamertags). It helps to have written this review much later in Ridge Racer 6’s shelf life…because now the true strength of the game, online racing, can really be seen since more people are playing online. Online play offers 14 CARS ON TRACK ALL AT ONCE, endless challenge and replayability, little to no lag, and an incredible adrenaline rush…because of the nitrous system, everyone in the race has a fair chance of winning. It all depends on how you manage your drifts and your nitrous management.

The gameplay and the online element are what made this game, in my opinion, the ultimate arcade-style racing game, without the need for quarters and the need to wait in line for your turn. A lot of online reviews forgot to highlight the spectator mode in this game…you can join a match just to watch how other players play the game. Unfortunately, Ridge Racer 6 does not offer a ‘Gotham TV’ style system to tie together the experience much more, but that’s an extremely minor complaint, considering that the online racing experience is so damned satisfying.

Enough about the gameplay and online experience, what about the graphics? Constant 60 FPS, both online and offline. The framerate really helps sell the feeling of speed, especially at the higher racing classes. Not much in terms of bump mapping effects, and in many ways PGR3 wins the trophy for graphical details, but what Ridge Racer lacks in details, it makes up for in the framerate and the overall beauty and vibrancy of its worlds. There are tracks set near a beautiful sunset horizon, through the brightly lit tunnels of Rave City, and beside beautiful mountainsides and lakes. Japanese developers are excellent at creating beautifully unreal worlds that you wish existed in reality. Little details like planes flying overhead, hot air balloons and confetti being sprinkled on the final stretch help make each race feel more alive and exciting. Playing Ridge Racer 6 helps you realize how boring reality can be, sometimes. It’s that well crafted.

As for sound, it’s the standard pumping Ridge techno soundtrack…that is NOT a bad thing, because it definitely gives the game the overall ‘Ridge Racer’ feel…if you’ve played the other Ridge Racer games, you will definitely feel at home with the video-gamey-techno sound. Oddly enough, this reviewer has only played ONE Ridge Racer game before RR6, and that’s the original arcade game! But this game’s sound definitely makes it feel like a true successor to the original, with a much more evolved gameplay style and feel.

Do I like this game? Hell yeah. 84 hours into it, and I haven’t beaten the World Explorer (single player) challenge yet. The online play just sucked me in and won’t let go. I have DOA4, Condemned and PDZ all on the back-burner because of this ONE game. This is THE game to succeed my previous obsession with Daytona USA on the Sega Saturn. I used to play that game like crazy; I took the 80 lap challenge and it was ALWAYS fun, even if the leaderboard was mostly composed of my own lap times! With Ridge Racer 6, I get to actually have the entire world as compet1t1on, so the racing battle never ends.

Now to continue my struggle to be the King of Rave City Riverfront R. Currently I’m number 6 in Class 4 Global Time Attack, with the slowest car in the game….

Graphics: 95%
Sound: 95%
Gameplay: 98%
Lifespan: 100%

OVERALL: 98%

The Greatest Arcade Racing Game ever made for the console.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Japanese Games vs Western Games

Just recently I've finished the Special route on Ridge Racer 6. Afterwards, i went on to check my in-game stats. Apparently, I've been playing this ONE game for over 68 hours and counting. And I still haven't beaten the game. Unbelievable.

Playing RR6 so extensively for the past month or so made me realize how different Japanese game developers approach game design, as opposed to the western game developers. Western game developers seem to be so obssessed with cramming every bit of detail into their game's graphics, while Japanese developers opt for simpler graphical effects and less detailed textures. The reason for this seems to be that Japanese developers want to leave enough computational power and memory space for other elements in the game, such as A.I. and gameplay quality. In RR6 it looked like they opted for simpler effects and textures simply to keep the framerate at a constant 60 FPS even when so many cars are on track at one time. The constant framerate really helps with the gameplay, which can get really frantic on the higher classes.

The less-is-more approach of the Japanese reminds me of their approach towards Anime...I remember watching the documentary feature on the Animatrix DVD, and it mentions how Japanese animators use a lot of shortcuts to produce more work in less time...and somehow they manage to make their work look more spectacular in comparison to their western counterparts.

The Japanese also have this knack for inserting some personality into their video games. And that's interesting because I always thought the Japanese are more reserved than the Westerners (the people in the west love to be frank and speak their mind--sometimes they love it too much, imho.). Something as ridiculous as the RR6 game announcer, for instance, really adds to the game by making the race environment feel more alive and exciting. Recently I got to play the PGR3 demo, and while I was blown away by the graphics and sound, the environment for that game, like previous PGRs, is really serious and hardcore. It will definitely scare away anyone who has never, ever, ever played a racing game in the past. The personality that Japanese developers put into their games is also reflected in the colorful style and design of the elements of their games. Elements like characters, places and things...there just has to be a pastel color somewhere, on a Japanese title. Even a place as grey as an airport hangar in RR6 is transformed by Namco into an interesting place filled with light, color and life...with elements like airplanes flying by, confetti getting thrown on your car...I've seen those types of effects in previous Japanese games in the past, but have only begun to really notice them after playing a lot of Western games for a long time (like Halo, Baldur's Gate II etc). PGR3, on the other hand, while colorful in its own right, really sticks to realism in their environments through and through. Only in RR6 will you see a statue of a dinosaur before entering a big turn towards the finish line.