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R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (PSX) Review

Background Info

The Sony Playstation is becoming one of the best gaming systems for racing/driving simulations. There are a wide variety of simulations from combat racing (Wipeout XL and Destruction Derby) to die hard racing simulations (Gran Turismo and Nascar '99). But one racing game started it all, and every new installment of the game seems to get more better and better. Welcome to the world of Ridge Racer. From the game makers at Namco, Ridge Racer is not only the first racing game for the Playstation, it was one of the first games for the console when it was released on September 9, 1995. Now Namco just released their fourth racing game, Ridge Racer Type 4, AKA R4.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
The graphics in R4 are amazing and I must say they even surpass Gran Turismo. The attention to detail is very high and you will notice them as soon as you step into your first race. Each track is highly detailed and designed very well. Strategically placed signs and arrows are used to help guide you around turns. Skyscrapers, billboards and bridges are very common within the tracks. You can actually see your opponents driving on a bridge above you in some tracks. Or you might notice planes flying by overhead and helicopters hovering along side the tracks. On one particular track you can see fireworks bursting in the sky while you are racing. The lighting effects are the best I've seen and it adds a cinematic feel to each race. There is no slowdown whatsoever and it is truly a sight to see. The scenery in R4 is amazing and you will catch yourself gazing off in a middle of a race. The replays are in high resolution and they have the same flash as Gran Turismo does for their replays.

The cars look very realistic (even though they are not real) and smooth, even though some of the car models will stretch your imagination. Each car is covered by sponsor decals and cool racing designs. All the car models have a very shiny metallic surface almost as if they had just been washed and waxed. R4 added every kind of effect you can think of, including reflections off of windows and the taillights leaving a light tail effect around comers (like in Wipeout XL). Other little things like your head and taillights turning on as you enter a dark tunnel and then turning back off once you exit the darkness and enter the sunlight just shows you how much detail was put into this game. You will not see any damage if you run into the wall or crash into another car, though. This is a true arcade racing game, so that kind of stuff missing is fine by me. I'm sure some of you sim fans will complain anyways.

You get to choose from two views, the hood ornament view and behind the car view. Both work well with the game, but the hood ornament view has a major advantage. You can see behind you with the rear view mirror. In the behind the car view there is no way to see anything behind you. Namco should have used a button to look behind you or some alternative. Being able to see other racers behind you gives you the chance to try and block anyone off if they try to pass you. It is a very useful tactic and any good racer does it. In the hood ornament view, you get a larger picture and the rear view mirror. So, I always play in that view and I recommend everyone else to if they want to get all the cars. It takes some getting used to if you are new to it. But once you feel comfortable, you will improve your times and ultimately win the race.

Presentation/Audio : 90
R4 sounds beautiful. Everything sounds crisp and clear. You are given up to 15 music tracks to choose from before each race. Each selection has its own unique beat and rhythm. I'm sure you'll find a selection that sounds good to you. The songs range from a fast pace adrenaline pumping techno jam to a smooth laid back jazzy hip-hop. All the cars have their own unique engine sound. From a soft hummer to a loud roar. All in stereo! The stereo sound is excellent and you can hear every car around you. The only thing I don't like in this department is the commentator with his annoying phrase. You'll see what I mean when he yells, "Take him out!", for the fifth time in one race.

Interface/Options : 75
The menu system in R4 is very easy and basic. The background has a huge "R4" printed on a black surface which changes to yellow and back. A list of modes are printed on top of this in a plain gray text. Nothing special here. I guess Namco took all their time into making the actual game and forgot about this. It is very easy to do what you want to do, so I guess that's the important part.

R4 supports the Dual-Shock gamepad very well. You cannot set your own button configurations, but R4 does have 8 configurations to choose from. I only wish the accelerate and brake could be used with the right analog stick. The digital accelerate and brake work just fine, but analog is always better. The Dual-Shock works very well in R4 and you can feel every contact from a light tap to a major crash. The analog steering is new for the Ridge Racer series and now you have more control than ever.

Namco also created a brand new controller for R4, the JogCon. The JogCon comes with limited editions of R4. Namco's new JogCon brings a new level of interaction to R4. It combines analog controls with an innovative steering device which features resistance feedback. So not only do you feel every little bump and grind, you feel a resistance on the steering device when you make a sharp turn at high speeds. The JogCon works perfectly with R4 and it can be used with other racers, even Gran Turismo 2. So if you can find the limited R4 package, I suggest you grab hold of it and don't let go!

Gameplay : 96
R4 introduces several new features into this installment: Gran Prix, Time Trial, Vs. Mode, and Extra Trial. In the Gran Prix mode you start off as a rookie race car driver and you must choose a team to sponsor you and the make of your car that you would like to race with. There are four teams; the Dig Racing Team (USA), R.C. Micro Mouse Mappy (France), Pac Racing Team (Japan), and Racing Team Solvaloul (Italy). After you choose a team, you team manager will introduce him or herself and give you a little background knowledge of the team. There are also four carmakers: Lizard (USA), Terrazi (Japan), Agesolo (France), Assoluto (Italy). You might recognize these names from Rage Racer. Once that is all done, you are on your way to compete in three Trials that consist of eight tracks. Unlike the previous Ridge Racers, each track is different. The first two trials have two tracks each and the final trial has four. You must finish each race within a given qualification to advance from track to track and trial to trial. If you fail the qualification once, you still have three more chances to try and qualify. If you still don't make the qualifications after three more tries, game over. When you do make the qualifications and advance to the next trial you are awarded with a new car. The better you do in each trial, the better the modifications on your new car. Every time you play the Gran Prix mode you can mix and match the teams and car makers to win different types of cars.

Another way to get even more cars is the Extra Trial mode. First you must beat the Gran Prix mode to get this option. In Extra Trial you choose a carmaker. Then you race against a computer opponent. If you win the race, you win a new car. You can keep doing this process and end up with over 300 cars! The only other way to get cars is with a Sony PocketStation. R4 is the first game to use the PocketStation and I promise you it will not be the last (Street Fighter Alpha 3 also uses it). With the PocketStation you can trade cars with a friend who also has a PocketStation. This is by far the easiest and fastest way to get all the cars (and the coolest!).

R4 has several other modes to play. This is the first Ridge Racer to have a split screen Vs. Mode. In Vs. Mode you can load up any saved cars you have and race them against a friend on any track. A total of two computer opponents can race with you and you have the option to set their intelligence level. Or you could link up and play with three other friends! There is nothing cooler than racing against three of your friends with your hard-earned car and leaving them in the dust racing it. It is an experience previously only felt in arcades, but now you can have it at home.

In the Time Trial mode you can practice each track by yourself trying to improve your time. A computer opponent represents your fastest time in each track and can be used as a guide to improve your time. In the Garage you can change the color of any of your cars that you have and design your own logo to put on your cars. I made my own racing team called M.G. Solid and all my cars are marked with a logo I created. If you take your time you can make some pretty nice logos. But unfortunately you will not see your created logos on your car in the Gran Prix. They will be on your car in any other mode though. (Extra Trial, Vs. Mode and Practice)

Now let's talk about how the cars handle during the race. The bumper car effect is gone (that's when you bounce back from hitting a car or the wall). Now you will just slow down a little bit, but you are able to recover faster. Power sliding is still in full effect and can be used as a major advantage if you know when and when not to use it. Namco also made the game so that beginners who don't know how to power slide still have a chance to win. Each car handles differently and you will learn which one is better with power sliding and which one is not. The car suspension works great in R4 and you will see cars lean into turns and rock from left to right after a collision. I must say, you have complete control of your car and every mistake is your fault, not the game's.

Difficulty : 95
The AI is pretty good but you can tell the computer opponents follow a very similar line. Their line is usually the best line, but once you become accustomed with the handling of your car, you will be able to cut corners short and fly right by them. Every race you start in 8th place and you must work your way to the top. So just about every race, you will be fighting for the top three positions. That means you will get a very exciting race every time you play and you never get that bored feeling. If you are ahead, be careful, because one mistake could drop you one or two places. The computer is very competitive and they don't like to lose, either. The AI becomes smarter and faster in each trial. In the fourth trial you have to almost make a perfect run (no collisions) to finish in first place. Sometimes you might get a break and one of the computer opponents will take a turn too wide. Don't count on it, though.

Each team is rated from easy to expert. Also, each car model is rated either drift or grip. Drift meaning they are made for power sliding and grip meaning they can take most turns without power sliding. So whatever combination you choose, you could be making your season easy or hard. I recommend for beginners that you choose an easy team and a grip car. Your chances of winning it all are greatly improved.

Overall : 91
This is the best Ridge Racer yet and it could possibly take the crown away from Gran Turismo as the best racer on the Playstation. Instead of Namco making an arcade version of R4 and then converting it the Playstation format, they made this game strictly for the PSX. The results is the best looking Ridge Racer with tighter controls and a lot more features. With the addition of 8 tracks, 45 unique car models and over 300 different car variations, you will be playing R4 for a long time. Namco also added a revived copy of the original Ridge Racer that runs at 60fps in High Resolution, but you can also play Ridge Racer in its original format at 30fps. For some reason though, there is only one computer opponent in both versions. I understand the power it takes to run 60fps in high resolution, but the 30fps version should have been able to have more than one opponent. Along with the new JogCon and PocketStation capabilities, it seems that Namco put everything into R4 and came out with a great racing experience. Anyone who considers himself or herself a true racing gamer should try this game: you will not be disappointed.

By: James Howard 5/25/99

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