Review: R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (Playstation)

In this review, we try to keep it cool in the Playstation game R4: Ridge Racer Type 4. We find out how well this racing game plays.

This game was released in 1998. It is the 4th game released in the console series. We are getting more and more familiar with this series. Previously, we reviewed the original Ridge Racer and found that while the game had deficiencies, the graphics really carried the game through. We then followed this up with Ridge Racer Revolution and found the game leaving a lot to be desired. After this, we reviewed the game Rage Racer. We found that while the game did suffer from a few deficiencies, that game did ultimately turn the series around. So, with high hopes that this upswing will continue, we dive into the fourth game of this series.

A fair amount has changed in this game. The most notable change becomes apparent right away. Instead of picking from a set of cars, you get to join teams in the Grand Prix mode. These teams are DRT, Mappy, Pac, and RTS. Each team affects your gameplay significantly. Mappy is the easy difficulty team. Pac is the medium difficulty team. RTS is the hard difficulty. DRT is the expert difficulty (hardest). While three teams can boast a general advantage throughout the race, DRT lacks any real advantage. Not only does DRT have the hardest to control cars, but the opponents seem to be more skilled and faster overall. As a general rule, you are almost required to pull of a flawless race every time if you want a shot at winning.

To further complicate things, you are given a choice on which sponsor you want to go with for the season after you pick your team. There are four sponsors to choose from: Assoluto, Lizard, Terrazi, and Age Solo. Not only will these sponsors affect the look of your vehicle, but also how it handles. Assoluto and Lizard has a “drift” style handling while Terrazi and Age Solo has a “grip” style handling.

Drift style handling allows you to swing the back of your car as you skid around corners. You can retain most of your speed and still make it around tight corners anyway with just the right amount of skill and timing with the accelerator and/or brake. Meanwhile, grip style handling allows you to take tighter cornering and reduces skidding. You’ll need to watch your speed in order to make the tighter corners, but if you give yourself sufficient distance, you’ll be able to maneuver around the tightest of corners. Which style is better ultimately depends on your driving style. I personally found myself favoring grip possibly thanks to some of the other racing games I’ve played in the past. Others will swear up and down that drift is the way to go and will trump grip hands down every time. Ideally, try both and find your groove.

A more subtle thing that will become apparent as you play is the talking bits your liaison or manager has between races. How they talk to you ultimately depends on how well you do between the first and fourth race. Some will always be hard on you while others may just express dissatisfaction if you do poorly early on. In any event, the game actually reacts to your results as opposed to the game being just a linear experience.

When you get to the Grand Prix race menu for the first time, you’ll be treated to a quick explanation of how the game works. In total, there are 8 races in the season. In the first 2 races (or “heat”), you must finish within the top 3 to advance to the next round. In the second heat, you’ll have 2 more races, but you need to finish in the top 2 to advance. Finally, there is the third heat which consists of 4 races. As you can guess, you are required to place 1st in every race to advance and win.

As you work your way through the season, you will be given upgrades to your car. The first upgrade happens if you complete the first heat. The second upgrade happens when you complete the second heat. the third and final occurs when you make it to the final race (tuned for high speed). In total, there are 4 “grades” to your car which includes the original car. If you win the series, you’ll be awarded with new decals and a new set of cars in garage mode. Of course, things aren’t quite this simple.

As mentioned earlier, the game reacts to how well you do during the first half of the Grand Prix. This isn’t just by how your manager acts towards you. You will also be awarded with better cars if you do particularly well. If you finish the first 2 races in first place, you’ll be granted a nicely souped up car. If you complete the first 2 races in third, the pit crew will be reduced to pulling all-nighters trying to tweak your car, but it won’t be as good because the accountants will tighten the purse strings on you. Thanks to the evolution of your car throughout the Grand Prix multiplied by the 4 teams and sponsors, the possibilities of how many cars you can unlock in the end ranges well into the hundreds (321 in total throughout the entire game to be precise).

The races themselves vary quite a lot. This is a great departure from previous games. While the game does recycle parts from races, these pieces are barely even noticeable. This is because different races contain different conditions as it relates to daylight. Since the season is so remarkably short, you also hardly have a chance to repeat a whole lot of the track contents to begin with. So, all 8 races really feel like 8 separate tracks.

The practical upshot to this game is the fact that it is very dynamic. You have different reactions from your manager. Your car varies depending on how well you do in the championship (though the differences are likely minor as far as skill related changes are concerned). Thanks to this dynamic nature, your experience of this game will likely be unique each time you play it. An impressive feature to be sure.

Unfortunately, this is where the game begins to fall apart for me: game length. When I finished one season, I thought I was gearing up for a second season with new tracks or possibly even reversed tracks. That’s not the case here. Instead, once you complete a single season with the team, that’s it. Game over. You get a short animation with some text, then a generic ending movie. Thanks to this, you can simply spend a few hours beating the easier teams without hardly breaking a sweat.

The difficulty curve also starts off shallow, but does ramp up quite quickly as you try and take on the two harder teams. You might think the teams will have a push over difficulty, but the truth is, you need a certain degree of mastery of these tracks. With DRT, a perfect run with each race is borderline required. To make mattes worse, you get to work with the junkiest cars in the game, making perfection a near impossibility. Trust me, if you can complete the season with DRT, going back to Mappy or team Pac will feel like a cakewalk by comparison. The difficulty is not to be under-estimated. In fact, it’s almost as if you are required to race with the first two teams with multiple sponsors in order to get enough practice to have a shot with the other two teams.

What really made Rage Racer tick for me was the ability to pick and choose configurations of your car. You also had control of the money you spent. Because of this, I thought that the natural progression would be being able to buy specific car upgrades such as better steering or higher acceleration. Instead, this game actually dumbs down the racing experience to the point of just picking some vague options while eliminating the monetary system entirely. Thanks to this, this game does what this series really shouldn’t be doing: taking a step back.

Some people suggest that collecting all of the cars found in the game becomes an “obsession”. This is a perspective I will disagree with. By the time I completed a season with each team, I was more than ready to call it quits after. I only tried an easier team and raced a 5th season because I wanted to see how noticeable the difficulty was.

There are other features such as the extra event and time trial mode, but by the time I was checking out the other modes, I was already growing bored with the game. I was also a little disappointed with the fact that Reverse mode was relegated to a feature buried in Time Trial mode. This seemed like a lost opportunity to me somehow even though driving in the reverse direction seemed more difficult in general.

On a more positive note, I thought that the physics in vehicle handling was improved by quite a lot. Skidding, for me, became much more manageable and more predictable. While it wasn’t perfect, the physics were nicely improved overall. Driving also seemed much more forgiving with less risk of bashing into walls because you didn’t react within a split second. So, an improvement here.

Generally speaking, there is a lot of dynamic elements at play here. This made for a much more personalized experience which was really cool to see. The vehicle physics were improved by quite a bit. It was great to see this sore spot in the series finally rectified to a sufficient degree. The teams and sponsor system was also interesting to see. Unfortunately, this game suffers from shorter gameplay still. This is thanks to a single, 8 race season for each time. It was also disappointing to see various features that made the previous game work get stripped out here. The dumbing down of the game did no favors for the general gameplay. So, this game does have some improvements, but also some disappointments.

Graphics, for me, is where this game shines. I found it impressive that the limited draw distance and warping textures were so unnoticeable. The ghosting effect – especially on the rear lights of other cars – improved things by quite a lot. In fact, you could, from time to time, forget you were even playing a Playstation 1 game and think you were playing a PS2 game instead. The series is known for high quality graphics and this game further proves that high quality graphics is a staple in this series.

Audio is a mixed bag here. Some of the tracks found in this game was nicely done. Other tracks are so subdued, they are barely noticeable. The sound effects left a fair bit to be desired. The announcer was OK, but not as good as the previous games. So, an OK effort that was neither bad, nor particularly amazing.

Overall, this game ends up being a mixed bag of both much-needed improvements and disappointments. The physics was a huge improvement over the previous games. It was great to see such a sore spot get some much needed attention. The dynamic experience was quite impressive with the different cars evolve based on choices and skill. This doesn’t really override the fact that the game is also quite short. A single season with 8 races just doesn’t cut it for me. After beating the game with all four teams, I was more than ready to call it quits. The extra features just didn’t grab my attention thanks largely due to me having enough of the main courses. The reverse courses ends up being a missed opportunity. The graphics were impressively well done. The audio, meanwhile, is a mixed bag. Overall, this was a great game to get into at first, but the novelty wears off quick thanks to where this game falls short. You won’t regret playing it, but it won’t be the most amazing game in the world either.

Furthest point in game: Won once with all four teams and beat the game a second time with Pac team under a different sponsor. Also beat one race in the Extra Event mode.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 74%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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