Almost exactly a year after its previous installment, Ridge Racer got another mainline entry — a title which marked the franchise’s return to Sony platforms after its temporary dalliance with Microsoft.
Ridge Racer 7 was an exclusive title for Sony’s new PlayStation 3 platform — and in keeping with series tradition, it was a launch title, too — but it represented a less radical reinvention of the series than some of the previous games. In fact, those who played Ridge Racer 6 might find an awful lot of it quite familiar.
Ridge Racer 7, you see, is largely a reinvention of Ridge Racer 6, similar to how Ridge Racer Revolution was a reinvention of the original game. But that doesn’t make it a game you should pass up. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Actually, scratch that; calling Ridge Racer 7 just a revamp of Ridge Racer 6 is perhaps a little unfair, given that there are some significant improvements and additions to the formula. Most notable among these changes is a complete reinvention of the single-player career mode that takes some cues from Rage Racer as well as popular “sim racers” such as Sony’s own Gran Turismo and Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport.
Make no mistake, Ridge Racer 7 is still a thoroughly ridiculous arcade racer at heart — the game still regards the brake pedal as something only pussies use and you’ll still be taking most corners sideways — there’s just a bit more depth to the overall single-player experience, helping to give it some longevity and a feeling of progression.
In contrast to Ridge Racer 6’s abstract “Ridge Universe” approach to working your way through the game, Ridge Racer 7 instead adopts a more realistic structure in which you have to establish a relationship with a car manufacturer in order to acquire an initial vehicle, then work your way up through a series of events to improve your reputation, upgrade your car and finally tackle the numerous rounds of the Ridge State Grand Prix.
This approach helps to give the game a nice feeling of context; while it still lacks the “narrative” angle of Ridge Racer Type 4 — and it’s still missed — it gives the game a nice feeling of developing a career as a racing driver rather than just working your way through a sequence of challenges as in its immediate predecessor. It also allows you to approach the game in a variety of ways; do you specialise in an individual car, attempting to take their starter vehicle all the way to the final rounds of the Grand Prix, or do you switch allegiances as soon as something new and shiny comes along?
Loyalty to a particular manufacturer is encouraged somewhat through the acquisition of “Manufacturer Points” that you earn through completing races using a particular vehicle and/or a particular manufacturer’s upgrade parts. Reaching particular milestones with these points provides you with a discount on future purchases, though to be honest you’ll earn enough money through the races that these discounts feel rather negligible for much of the early hours of the game.
The upgrade angle combines two main elements: visual and performance upgrades. Performance upgrades allow you to get an edge on your competitors with improvements to handling, acceleration, top speed and the way the nitrous system (which returns from Ridge Racer 6) behaves during races. Visual upgrades, meanwhile, simply allow you to customise how a car looks with various side skirts, front and rear bumpers and spoilers; interestingly, once you own a car and upgrade it to a different performance class to take on a wider variety of races, you’re considered to own several different variants of the same vehicle, and can pimp them out independently of one another should you so desire.
Ultimately the upgrade aspect is fairly shallow; there’s certainly no Gran Turismo-style tweaking of gear ratios and suspension stiffness, and thank goodness for that, because that’s never been what Ridge Racer is about. Instead, what the upgrades allow you to do is tweak and customise your experience somewhat, as well as providing a feeling of progression separate from simply completing races. It works well enough, doesn’t unbalance the game and is pretty unobtrusive on the whole.
The races themselves fall into a number of different categories, which expand on Ridge Racer 6’s somewhat half-hearted attempt to have different race types by occasionally restricting the use of nitrous or how you charge it. In Ridge Racer 7, you’ll prove yourself to manufacturers by having a race where everyone is in the same type of car, participate in solo time trial events, compete in large-field single races where there are 13 opponents between you and victory, and, for the first time in the mainline series, engage in proper multi-stage Grand Prix tournament events where you earn points for the position in which you finish rather than simply being obliged to finish first.
In the races themselves, many of the tracks are recognisable as those from Ridge Racer 6, but the increased resolution of the newer game makes them look delightfully sharp and vibrant. The new tracks added for Ridge Racer 7 fit in nicely, with plenty of dynamic scenery accompanying the action and keeping things interesting, and the game taking the series’ usual approach of providing several different courses in the same environment occasionally throws up a few surprises for the complacent. There are also some nice new graphical effects such as reflective surfaces, which the new tracks introduced for this installment naturally take full advantage of — a particularly spectacular highlight being the setting that sees you racing through thick jungle, around some distinctly Asian-looking ruins and behind a waterfall.
The game maintains a slick 60fps for most of the time despite its increased graphical fidelity over its predecessor, though if there are more than four opponent cars on screen at once all emitting sparks and tyre smoke as they slide around a corner there can be the occasional judder for a split-second. On the whole, though, it’s still a gorgeous-looking game despite being a launch title for what was, at the time, an unproven new console.
And dear Lord, it moves. The first races lull you into something of a false sense of security by being both fairly easy to win and unfolding at a manageable speed, but the second you upgrade to the next speed class the game starts to move like the proverbial shit off a shovel. Courses that were relatively sedate in the opening stages suddenly become white-knuckle rides as their average speed increases by a good 30-40mph with each new upgrade, your opponents become more aggressive and the whole game becomes much more challenging — and thrilling — as a result. Combine this with the game’s new emphasis on slipstreaming as a core game mechanic, and you get some of the series’ tightest, most exciting races.
It helps that, in control terms, this is one of the series’ best since Type 4. Following the newer style of drifting started in V, Ridge Racer 7 feels like it has refined the technique down to a fine art. Drifting around a corner feels delightfully smooth and graceful, and the looser feel of the PlayStation 3’s analogue sticks compared to the rather stiff ones of the Xbox 360 pad complements this rather delightfully. That said, the fact this is a PlayStation 3 launch game — and thus pre-DualShock 3 — means that any sort of force feedback is keenly missed, particularly on the bumpier roads. It’s a small price to pay for some of the series’ slickest drifting, though.
It all sounds good, too, with full Dolby Digital support providing some pleasingly meaty surround sound effects that really add to the immersion. The music, while not the series’ most memorable, has some suitably thumping tracks including a couple of familiar remixes, and some classic songs from earlier in the series are available as paid DLC. The slightly overenthusiastic announcer from Ridge Racer 6 has taken a step back, now only counting down at the start of the race and announcing which lap you are on rather than telling you every damn time someone sets off their nitrous. The other commentary duties have been taken over by a distinctly sultry-sounding female voice that we can assume to be Reiko Nagase, since official series lore (yes, such a thing exists) notes that by this point she is an official spokesperson for the organisation responsible for the races around Ridge State. Her voice is easy on the ears, complements the action well and has enough stock phrases on hand to cover a wide variety of situations rather than constantly repeating herself.
Ridge Racer 7 certainly lives up to the grand tradition of the series by providing high-speed, exciting arcade racing action with accessible yet challenging handling and courses, and this time around it complements this firm foundation with a substantial single-player metagame. It even had some additional content added to it as free DLC following its launch — these highly challenging additional races are still available for download from the PlayStation Store at the time of writing, though obviously this aspect of the game will only last as long as Sony continues to support the PlayStation 3’s digital storefront. These challenges will add some longevity beyond the game’s main career mode while they last, however.
The game’s online multiplayer is sadly fairly dead at the time of writing, however; while there are still people playing single-player and recording results on the leaderboards today, it’s rare to see more than one or two rooms for actual live online racing against human opponents. It’s a small loss, however — there’s still plenty of game here to keep you busy, and the amount of content is certainly a far cry from the early games’ extremely limited lineup of challenges!
All in all, Ridge Racer 7 is an excellent entry in the series. It remains accessible despite the depth added to the single-player experience, and is just plain fun to play. While it may lack some of the style, finesse and more iconic, distinctive elements of Type 4, a game which many still regard as the pinnacle of the series, for me it’s certainly near the top of the list of my favourite installments.
More about the Ridge Racer series
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