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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Ridge Racer 7
(Namco-Bandai for Playstation 3)

Ridge Racer 7 for the Playstation 3 is one of the console's most impressive launch titles. RR7 represents the pinnacle of arcade racing with a superb mix of precise controls, beautiful courses, improved drift mechanics, outstanding soundtrack and an impressive roster of gameplay modes. The game offers everything players have come to expect from the series, from its sleekly designed fantasy vehicles, clean course design and addictive gameplay. The arcade racing is complimented by a deep online Grand Prix mode, where you can enter tournaments, purchase additional vehicles and download additional races online. RR7 is an impressive racing package that's addictive and solidly entertaining.

For the most part, the developers at Namco-Bandai have stuck to their guns with their enduring Ridge Racer series. They've slowly added new features, more cars, nitrous, more sophisticated graphics and better tracks, the essence of drift racing mechanics has remained at core of its appeal for the past decade. What's also cool is that the series is still very much a fantasy racer - none of the vehicles in the game are licensed. Instead, everything in the game, from manufacturers to vehicles is pretty much open-ended. This approach makes their imaginative designs, creative lines and colorful appearance stand out from other games, which show you the same vehicles again and again. Ridge Racer 7 creates an entirely self-contained universe and its atmosphere is a kind of hyper-reality with beautiful, modern cities, sleek tracks making up the majority of the levels. The game's eye-pleasing mascot, Reiko also makes a return this time around, and you always know, by the twinkle in her eye, that this is Ridge Racer. This installment goes outside the city limits for excursions into the countryside, airports and wooded areas, but the series' sleek modern aesthetic still permeates the look, feel and layout of every course. This modernism helps to explain why the latest installment coincides with the launch of Sony's Playstation 3 and represents another impressive evolution for the series. It's another symbolic rebirth for the series.

Despite the emphasis and association many gamers have of RR with new hardware and renewal, the basic structure and gameplay mechanics remains largely unchanged from game to game. There are in fact, many similarities to RR7 last year's Ridge Racer 6 on the Xbox 360 in terms of some course and vehicle overlap. This year's model adds several new courses, an enhanced nitrous system and, most importantly, a much deeper online Grand Prix mode that offers many more customization options. Most players should be familiar with the Ridge Racer series' basics by now, and this game doesn't stray too far from the successful formula. Ridge Racer 7 remains true to its origins and this installment is all about speed and style, specifically the appeal of drift racing - it's a deceptively simple technique, but is quite beautiful and exciting when it's performed correctly. Players use this to go around turns sideways then steer the vehicle as they straighten out, and finally floor the accelerator as they exit the turn. This elegant system is enhanced this time around with the Nitrous system, which builds up as you perform drift moves successfully. You can unleash this power-up at any time during the race, though for maximum effectiveness, waiting until your vehicle is at or near its top speed makes this an even better strategy. The controls themselves feel very much in line with previous Ridge Racer titles, and the PS3's SixAxis controller works just as well as the Dual Shock did for previous games. You can choose between either the analog or digital pads, but either way, the cars are responsive and silky smooth, and make the racing feel quite intuitive and easy to play.

This system was used in the last couple of games, but RR7 has upgraded the Nitrous system to include various types depending on the race. These include Basic and Standard Nitrous. Flex Nitrous, which allows you to use it only when the button is pressed. There's also Quad nitrous which allows for smaller cans and Long Nitrous, which allows only 2 cans, but they are longer. Several modes also let you fill up multiple cans and chain them together for a more powerful and longer speed boost. The nitrous system has been expanded, which is cool enough, but RR7 also adds a completely new and much welcome slipstream technique. Using this is somewhat tricky, but it basically requires you to drift behind a car ahead of you, enter their speed trails and use this to give yourself a quick boost which you can use to quickly leap ahead of them. These two additions to the series add some strategy to the racing, but the basic techniques of driving, passing and blocking remain at the core of the series. The opponent AI is fairly predictable, but the other racers can still put up quite a fight during the later stages. They don't make as many mistakes as they did in older games, leaving you little room for error. Each one seems a bit more independent this time around and they'll make attempts to block you, which makes overtaking them all the more satisfying. RR7's basic arcade modes make a good place to start your journey, allowing you to get a feel for the various courses and vehicles in the game. These allow you to jump right in and play instantly. You can choose your car and course from the selection of tracks and vehicles from all classes. This approach is fairly traditional for the series, but its nice to see much of the game already open before you hit the track. Those looking for something a bit deeper will definitely find a lot to enjoy in the Ridge State Grand Prix mode.

Much like the World Tour mode in last year's installment, the Grand Prix allows you to go deeper into the Ridge Racer universe with a number of modes. You begin by looking at a map of Ridge Nation, which displays the number of events available to you. The first thing you need to do is enter a Manufacturer's Trial race where you can earn the vehicles you'll need to continue by winning a single race. Once this is completed, you move on to the Grand Prix mode, which is a tournament where points are awarded at the end of a series of races. When you finish these races, your score and rankings for that race are displayed. Finish first and you'll also earn credits that you can spend in the Machine Connection menu. Here, you can upgrade your car's engine, tires and transmission, purchase additional Nitrous packs and customize your machine's appearance with custom paint, decals and other options. As you progress through the ranks, you'll earn additional vehicles and credits which you can use to enter in harder races. Since your rivals are also continuously updating their vehicles, you'll need to keep up as well. In addition to these standard modes of play, you can also enter special online events, see your rankings against other players, and compete in online races against multiple opponents. Ridge Racer 7's Grand Prix mode is surprisingly robust and adds a rich and intense layer of depth to the arcade racing. It makes the stakes for each race feel higher, which adds to the game's longevity.

Ridge Racer 7's visuals are as slick and beautifully designed as you'd expect them to be. From the neon-lit nocturnal streets of Rave City to the gorgeous natural settings in the outlying areas, everything about the game is as polished and beautiful as any title in the series to date. The car models look really beautiful, and their chrome painted exteriors glisten with light and reflection. Each car leaves a trail of light behind them and this blurring effect only intensifies when you push the nitrous button, where the entire screen blurs as well. From an aesthetic standpoint, this title is probably the best looking Playstation 3 launch title, and while it's somewhat comparable to the Xbox 360's version last year, the graphics look cleaner, with a smoother faster frame rate. The appearance is generally more polished on the Playstation 3. Since both games share some similar courses, it's easy to see the difference, and the PS3 generally outclasses the 360 by a noticeable margin. The interface and menus are also cleaner in this year's edition, eschewing the glowing, and annoying look of last year's RR6 for a simpler, easier to read style. Ridge Racer 7's soundtrack features a somewhat predictable selection of driving intense electronic music, ranging from standard-issue techno to mellower electro, which compliments the game's style and racing effectively. Ridge Racer 7's overall appearance, look and feel is highly polished, beautiful, sleek and high-tech. It effectively shows off the PS3's processing ability, and makes its mark almost effortlessly.

Ridge Racer 7's impressive visuals are the most immediate thing you'll look at when you play the game, as they should be. Underneath this techno sheen, you'll find the arcade-drifting racing formula you've come to expect. Refined with an enhanced nitrous and slipstream power-up feature, the same basic techniques apply here. The controls are as intuitive as they've always been, and this installment feels immediately familiar to any player with experience with the previous games. Go a little deeper and you'll find plenty of depth in the Grand Prix mode, which expands the formula with multiple races, challenge modes, unlockable content and extensive vehicle customization that makes this one of the most impressive installments in the series to date. RR7 doesn't reinvent the franchise, but it improves on the already successful formula to create an excellent balance between old elements and new twists. Ridge Racer 7 once again delivers a solidly entertaining and exciting racing experience, making it a must-purchase launch title for the Playstation 3.  - Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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