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Ridge Racer 6 (Xbox 360)

By Michael Palisano

Namco's Ridge Racer 6 for the Xbox 360 provides gamers with an arcade-style racing title. The game is similar to previous RR titles in many aspects, with the trademark drifting style very much in evidence. However, several crucial differences are evident in the new nitrous abilities which gives the racer a fast shot of speed and the new World Xplorer, where you can unlock additional cars and tracks. The biggest change is the addition of online play, which adds a whole new level of challenge to the Ridge Racer series. Do these additions make the series feel fresh, or is Ridge Racer 6 the same old game with a new coat of paint? Read our review and find out.

One of the odder aspects of the Xbox 360 launch is the appearance of Namco's Ridge Racer 6, since the series has always been associated with Sony's launches back from the PS1 to the PSP earlier this year. This seems like a baffling move on the surface, but Ridge Racer 6 is definitely one of the better titles on the launch lineup. At first, most players will probably be forgiven for confusing the game with the PSP version released earlier this year, with similar box art, the same announcer and a very similar graphic look to the menus and interface. Don't be confused since this is an entirely new Ridge experience. The basics are familiar since the game itself offers a similar structure and feel, though with a few unique twists all its own. Look under the hood and you'll find some unique challenges. There are more than 200 vehicles with more than 180 different tracks, though some of these are reversible. The number of tracks and vehicles available initially is quite impressive, giving you quite a selection right from the start. Playing the game should be immediately familiar as well, with the cars' handling and controls very much in the RR tradition. The arcade style races emphasize drifting and special moves, with simple physics and controls that make driving quite straightforward. This accessibility means casual gamers should be able to jump right in while hardcore gamers will find immediate satisfaction in blowing out the early rounds.

Ridge Racer 6 offers several unique modes of play, including the standard arcade mode, where you compete against other players in a single race. This is excellent if you want to jump right in and play immediately. There's a decent selection of tracks here, including reversed courses, that should allow some instant gratification. RR6 also offers a Global Time Attack mode, where you race solo on the courses and try to make the best time. You can race against ghost images of your best times, or download these from Xbox Live as well. There's also a split-screen Battle Race mode, where you can compete against another player. These modes are standard, but Ridge Racer 6's new World Xplorer mode offers you the chance to complete a run of dozens of different races, by completing different courses and tracks. Xplorer mode is divided into smaller sections consisting of different races, each with a different set of rules. When you win races in this mode, you can unlock extra items such as cars and tracks that can then be used. As you complete these sections, you'll also open up other areas in the Xplorer mode that contain additional races and tracks. When you complete an entire section, you can also win extra garages that contain fleets of customized vehicles. This is the deepest portion of the game, and the one that offers the biggest payoff, so while the other modes are good for practice, this is the real meat of the game. The biggest addition this time around is online play, where you can compete against other players online for the first time, winning awards and trophies much faster than in the solo modes. Playing online is both intense and addictive, but RR6 has moved into the online era easily, if a little bit later than it could have. RR6's online mode is robust and takes full advantage of Xbox Live with smooth menus, an excellent lobby and seamless online play that's just as intense as the offline modes. So, the first impressions are deceiving, what seems like a simple arcade racer offers a suprising amount of the depth under the surface.

While the controls aren't as complex as a true simulation, such as Project Gotham or Forza Motorsport, Ridge Racer 6's drifting mechanics are quite challenging to master, especially at the higher speeds. This mostly involves timing your moves ahead of time before you reach a really tight turn. It's quite effective, though the twist this time around is the inclusion of Nitrous, which definitely adds a new layer of strategy to the gameplay. In most modes, the Nitrous indicator builds as you drift your vehicles, and can be activated when it fills up. You have three of these capsules onscreen at any one time, and can choose to use these one at a time or together, to give your vehicle an incredible burst of speed. Using these solo doesn't seem to help much, but combined they can help you blow right past your competition without breaking into a sweat. Purists will probably balk at these changes, but they definitely help to make Ridge Racer 6 feel more extreme than previous games, with a more streetwise edge. While these new add-ons change the overall strategy of each race, RR6 is still very much a Ridge Racer game at heart, with most of the traditions very much in evidence in the way the cars control and perform. The track designs are likewise a slightly more intense than previous games with more jumps and deeper, longer turns in some courses that give RR6 a more cartoonish feel. This evolution is welcome, and gives the gameplay a fresher feel than if Namco had stayed the course.

This description of Ridge Racer 6 probably sounds excessively familiar in many aspects, but the game does represent several steps forward in aesthetic areas as well. From a visual standpoint, the game looks incredibly smooth throughout, with sleek, shiny car models racing through landscapes and tunnels at an incredibly fast frame-rate that shows off the new console's processing power. Unfortunately, here are only two camera angles, a behind the car and in cockpit viewpoint to choose from. This seems limiting. However, players can view the racers from other angles in the game's replay mode. As usual, the game doesn't use real world manufacturers and instead relies on Namco's traditional imaginary builders, with the vehicles themselves named after classic Namco games like Galaga and Bosconian. The vehicle designs this time around are even more fantastic than usual, with concept cars that seem to stretch the boundaries of current design, some of the more sophisticated vehicles unlocked later on seem more like fantasy vehicles than actual production models. The overall look of the game is sleek and futuristic, with cities and landscapes given a glossy finish that gives Ridge Racer 6 a welcome dose of fantasy. RR6's in-game HUD seems to have been transported directly from the PSP edition, with the same neon-blue fonts and indicators used on the Xbox 360 version. All of this combines to give the visuals a pleasingly high-tech sheen. It isn't as sophisticated or realistic as a traditional simulator, but the game does a good job of showing of the console, particularly in its high-definition modes. From an audio standpoint, the game's mix of techno and rock soundtracks is decent and compliments the high-intensity racing well. Unfortunately, an annoying, ever-present announcer only serves to detract from the overall experience, making unwelcome and distracting appearances on almost every turn. Sadly, there's no option to turn this off, which is extremely annoying. However, the good definitely outweighs the bad here, and RR6's production values are generally superb.

Despite a few aesthetic missteps, Ridge Racer 6 is one of the most immediately appealing titles in the Xbox 360's launch library. The addictive drift racing mechanics are about as well-implemented as any in the series, with excellent track design and controls that give players quite a challenge. While the AI isn't as smart as it is in simulation games, this ease of play is actually welcome, giving players a chance to enjoy the ride. Instead of merely recycling the same old play mechanics, Ridge Racer 6 adds a few new twists such as nitrous and jumps that make the game feel fresh. Its standard racing modes such as Arcade and Time Attack offer traditional thrills, while the new World Xplorer and online battle modes offer a new level of depth to the series. Ridge Racer 6 does what it sets out to do well - this isn't a simulator, but instead offers a fast, intense racing title while offering a bit more depth under the hood than expected.

Grade: B

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