Ridge Racer V (PSX2) Hands-on Preview
This hands-on preview is based on the Playstation 2 (import) version from Japan.
Fast forward to the year 2000. The next generation Playstation 2 is released and a Ridge Racer game again accompanies a new Sony console. This time, however, it is Ridge Racer V. And what can I say? This game rocks! Not having been a fan of the earlier games, I did a complete 180 with this title. In fact, it got me to thinking of actually picking up the earlier titles.
So why is this game so good? The obvious answer is graphics. There is no way original Playstation games can compare graphically to a machine that can push over two orders of magnitude more polygons. To be sure RRV has some nice graphics, the most impressive being 60 frames per second action in single player mode. And that is a constant 60 frames per second. The frame rate never skips a beat. You can expect a slight hit in the two player mode, however.
In addition to the frame rate, there is virtually no pop-up or draw-in. You have to look close to see evidence of those nasties. And since your eyes should be on the road, you shouldn't see them at all. The cars have exquisite detail. The cars in the game are supposedly original designs by Namco, but you'll swear you recognize almost every single one. Cars have unique and intricate decal designs and paint schemes. As an extra touch, active headlights turn on and off depending on the darkness at certain stretches of the courses.
There are two negatives to the game. First is camera selection. Ridge Racer V only has a third person and bumper view available. Personally I could care less since I love playing racing games from the first person view to get the best sense of speed (which this game definitely has). Still, an in-car and additional third person view could have been interesting. The second problem is the much talked about aliasing issue. The terms "jaggies" seems to have come out of nowhere recently to describe the visuals. As you drive the course, overpasses, buildings, and concrete walls break up into stepped lines that are very obvious. In fact, at times they can be a nuisance. You play this beautiful game and all you can look at is this giant wart. With programming experience I fully expect anti-aliasing to be mitigated (even Square's Driving Emotion Type-S looks smoother).
The sound track in RRV is actually quite good. When the game starts, a radio station pumps out some commentary. The whole game seems centered around listening to "Ridge Radio." The music is diverse and helps to get the adrenaline flowing. The commentary tends to get goofy. The voice sounds American, but there are some incorrectly pronounced words that convince you that the voice actor ain't from around here. The phrase "That was too close for KOMM-FORT" (instead of comfort) is used ad infinitum.
Where the game really excels is in the play. There is the obvious two player mode, where racing is one-on-one. I was hoping for a little traffic when playing with a partner, and even more disappointing to some is that the split screen mode forces each player to use the first person view. In single player modes, you have a free run, time trial, and race mode.
To complete the game, you first select one of the six available cars. Cars have variable performance characteristics (some are more or less grippy/drifty) to suit your driving style. Once in your car of choice, you'll notice that the cars handle like a charm. The next step is to complete a four-race Standard GP season. In the first race you have to finish in the top four, but as you move through the season you must place higher. You are given three tries on each course before you have to retry the entire GP again, and finishing in first place in the last race completes the season. Once completed, the Extra GP mode is unlocked. There are four season of Extra GPs available, and you must progressively clear a season to move on. The final GP circuit is a single race event.
Racing takes place in Ridge City in a single locale. Namco takes the city streets of Ridge City to generate six unique tracks, plus an additional oval track at a nearby airport. Each of the six tracks has a stretch in common with the other tracks. Thus, you quickly recognize how to take certain twists and turns. To some this may be a turn-off, but I found the course similarity great. I liken it to Tokyo Xtreme Racer on the Dreamcast (one of my favorites). Namco did a tremendous job with the course design. Courses have a good mix of turns from gentle curves to hairpins. Throw in some elevation changes and you will be catching some air in no time.
The opponent AI is some of the best around. All cars start at the same time but some quickly accelerate such that it takes some time to take the lead. If you make a mistake, the cars behind you are aggressive enough to overtake you. In addition, some of the cars play nasty - opponents will sometimes block and bump to gain the advantage. The key to success is understanding the mentality of each opponent and when, where, and how to overtake.
Ridge Racer V also has Duel mode that is opened by posting the best single and three-lap times on particular time trial courses. The Duel races again remind me of the wonderful Tokyo Xtreme Racer. In TXR, you couldn't finish the game unless you beat the four Devas and Devils. These cars were tough which made for some of the best back-and-forth racing of any console game. Well, I was overwhelmed with the same rush of excitement in RRV's Duel mode. There are four one-on-one duel races where you take on special cars. For example, there is a funky pink Caddy that is slow off the line but just puts you to shame on the straights. Its weakness is turning. To beat it you have to race a perfect race and forget about being behind in spots. Your reward for winning the race is you get to keep the car. Once you beat all four duel cars, which can take some time depending on skill level, an outrageously difficult final duel race opens up where you take on all four duel cars. This race had me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
The final type of race in the game is the 99 Trial Mode, which is a 99 lap marathon taking over 90 minutes to complete. To say with confidence that I finished the game, I painstakingly finished all 99 laps. And like real racing, I had to keep my concentration level up.
If there is one flaw with the gameplay, it is the relative ease of the game. I finished all the races with one of the cars in the normal (the default) difficulty setting. Since then I have completed all but two of the duel races on the hardest difficulty. But despite some of its ease, this game is addictive. The hardest difficulty setting requires you bring your A-game and remain focused. I found the racing in this class to be some of the most intense on any console.
The only thing separating the Japanese version of Ridge Racer V and the impending release when the PS2 launches this October is the Japanese text. Simply put, this game is one excellent package in its present form. The racing is intense, the track design superb, and sense of speed exhilarating. As it was with the Japanese release of the PS2, Ridge Racer V will be a definite buy come the American launch.