Review: Ridge Racer V (Playstation 2)

In this review, we get ready to tune in to the Playstation 2 game Ridge Racer V. We find out how well this racing game plays.

This game was released in 2000 and is actually the sixth home console, non-portable game in the series. We are already quite familiar with this series having played a majority of the console series already.

We first reviewed the original Ridge Racer and found that the game had promise thanks in part to the impressive graphics for the time. We then reviewed and found the game to be decidedly lacking. That review was followed up by Rage Racer which had some great concepts thrown into the established concept of the series. The series continued to pick things up with R4: Ridge racer Type 4. Despite the length issues of the overall game, it turned out to be the best game yet for the series. With interest, we decided to try Ridge Racer 64. Despite the consoles raw horsepower, the game ended up being a disappointment with its only slightly above mediocre score. Now, we decided to see if the game series turns things back around now that it is on more familiar territory on the Playstation 2.

The game introduces players to a rather interesting concept not seen in the series before. The races take place in the racing city, Ridge City. The announcer throughout the race is actually a radio DJ on the Ridge City FM channel. The DJ does his thing of not only commentating on the race, but also promoting the races in the process to potential new teams. The concept is generally flawed because it’s not exactly effective the way he commentates on the race given the radio concept. Still, this conceptual flaw is barely noticeable because the novelty of it all works quite well anyway.

As suggested by the hook, the games tracks take place in an urban setting. Every race takes place within the general city – many of which has the same start/finish line. While this runs the risk of repetition throughout the game, this game takes the R4 rout and throws a lot of track variety. This variety sufficiently obscures the repetitive nature of having the same start/finish line for a majority of the tracks. The only real exception to the rule is found at the end when players take on the Airport Oval in the Throne GP series. That track is completely self-contained and separate from the other tracks completely.

The game also allows for varying modes of difficulty in Grand Prix mode. For the purpose of this review, we chickened out and selected easy.

The actual race progression ladder has been changed around a lot for this game. Players start off with the Standard series in the grand Prix mode. In this series is one championship: Basis GP. It turns out, the garage is very generous, offering a whopping 6 cars. Each car has a set of statistics to show off their strengths and weaknesses. The three stat bars are speed, acceleration, and handling. Grip, which has been a staple stat for the series for so long, has been removed entirely in this game.

In addition to this, each car is either a grip or drift style car. Grip cars are more traditional way of car handling. You slow down for corners and push it to the floor on straightaways. Drift cars, in the mean time, have rear ends that tend to slide. This means you are able to power-slide through corners more easily. Since there is every possible type of car in the garage available right away, which car you select depends on your driving style and/or preference.

When you take on Basis GP, you get 4 tracks to race on as you take on more than a dozen opponents. Qualify in all four tracks and you’ll earn the first “extra” GP. Winning in this mode will also earn you a brand new car and possibly a new engine to boot.

All of this sounds impressive until you take on your first Extra GP mode. When you go to select your car, you quickly discover that your garage has been cut down drastically. In fact, you only have 1 car and 1 engine to pick from. Your only real choice is whether you want to drive automatic or manual transmission. The cars you “win” are really just the ability to race in your one car in the next GP. If you look back at your garage, the garage is, for the first time, split up between “standard” cars and “extra” cars. Better pick your car wisely, because you’ll have to stick with it throughout the entire game. The other option is to go back to the beginning and play through with a different car.

At the end of the series, you get a score sheet telling you how well you did. This includes overall rank. At the beginning of the game, your rank is 99. As you win races, that number decreases, thus increasing your overall rank. While it is kind of fun to play with this, beyond telling you how well you are doing, there is seemingly no other practical function for this stat. You’ll also get a statistic of how many miles you’ve driven – presumably this will unlock features after you pass certain milestones.

One feature of this track is that it borrows an interesting concept from the previous game: it re-uses old tracks and adds new ones. One of the tracks from the original Ridge Racer is actually contained within Ridge City. The track is modified mainly for looks, though. Another change is that some of the narrower routes have been widened, allowing players to simply battle opponents for position without having to fight the course in the process. While the tracks have been renamed, those who’ve played the previous game should quickly recognize the re-used tracks despite the facelift. The Oval has been taken from Rage Racer (which was called Oval Extreme). The tunnels have been moved to different parts of the track and certain sections have also been widened.

The game largely retains the white-knuckled fast-paced quick reaction experience players of the series are used to by now. Certain features of the tracks can require lightening quick reflexes – especially when opponents are blocking the way. The game also contains references to older Namco properties, though they are less obvious than in previous games. In fact, Pac Man is about the only game seemingly referenced here and those are found in checkpoint information animations. The reduction is sensible because players of this game are less likely to get excited over references to games like Xevious, Galaxian, and Dig Dug than with previous games.

The appearance of this series on the Playstation 2 represented a great opportunity for the series. It’s a brand new console (at the time) that boasts more power than both the Playstation and N64. There is better graphics capabilities and larger storage capacity to work with by far. Instead, this game ends up continuing the trend of simply being a shorter game. While not an egregious complaint for me, it does represent a missed opportunity for the series. There really is only a handful of tracks to be had in this game.

Probably the big downside of this game is the ladder itself. In previous games, there were a whole bunch of regular series GP’s throughout the game. These regular GP races represented half of the entire game. The extra GPs represented the harder, reverse races for those who have developed serious racing skills. This game threw this whole concept out the window. Now, the regular GP series represents a mere 4 races. Every other GP in the regular Grand Prix mode was “extra”. This lopsided content almost made the “regular” and “extra” modes virtually worthless.

The splitting of the garage was also a pretty bad call in my view. The series already has a nice “grade” system that denotes which car is meant for which kind of race. I never thought this game could be made more linear, but this game did this quite successfully. The more strict car structure made the overall game feel claustrophobic. By the time I got through all the GP modes, I was not very motivated to try the other modes (such as time attack).

It is understandable that this game is pushing the arcade concept past the year 2000. An arcade style game is very workable in the console environment. Unfortunately, this game made the arcade style feel more restrictive than anything else.

On the plus side, this game does feature a large number of opponents. Other racing games have taken the approach of reducing the number of opponents. It’s refreshing to see a racing game with more than 6 opponents to contend with.

Generally speaking, I found that this series was presented with a great opportunity to take things to the next level, and this game took a few small steps forward and a few larger steps back. The splitting of the garage and linear game paths did this game few favors. While the track variety was decent enough, it wasn’t particularly amazing either. The game had a great hook, but the gameplay ultimately left me unmotivated to continue after the first credits roll. It was nice to see that there was a large number of opponents in the tracks themselves, though.

With the exception of Ridge Racer 64, this series is known for pushing the limits of graphics for the time. It was great to see that this game was no exception to this. The skyline and the overall environments were nicely realized. The different daytime modes were a nice thing to see even if this is nothing new for the series. My only complaints were that there was nothing particularly special with the effects. The other complaint is that there wasn’t enough variety to be found in the game to warrant an exceptional rating. Still, it was great graphics for the time.

Music tends to be a bit of a sore point for this series. In this game, I never really heard any track that really stood out to me. The music did work in keeping things interesting from an audio standpoint, but little else. What did stand out for me was the announcer. The announcer was probably the best announcer for the series to date partly because the announcer adds a new flavor not seen before in this series. The rest of the sound effects were decent enough.

Overall, this game ends up being a missed opportunity for the series to take things to the next level. The hook of a racing city and a radio DJ commentating on the race did make for some exciting action at first. Unfortunately, the weaknesses in the gameplay showed through eventually and made for a rather plain play. The variety in tracks were decent enough and the large numbers of opponents worked in this games favor. Unfortunately, the game more or less broke the regular and extra GP system that worked so well in the series previously. The splitting of the garage and restrictive car system did this game no favors as well. The game is worth playing, but likely only for a day or so before moving on.

Overall
Furthest point in game: Beat the regular and extra GP’s on easy before getting bored.

General gameplay: 16/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 66%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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