There is something about smashing a sports-infused glossy black car through a building to create a shortcut that is so satisfying. If you can throw in high-action cutscenes, turbo-charged car combat, and an expansive and unique online element, you have the formula for an amazingly entertaining racing game. That’s just what Bugbear has done by reshaping the Ridge Racer franchise. It’s an entry into a classic genre with an even more classic lineage, and while it may have little of do with the series’ massive drifting prowess, it’s extremely relevant to today’s racing game marketplace.
Unbounded, as the name implies, puts players in a city that’s just aching for destruction. The primary mechanic is the use of power, or speed bursts, to plunge your race car through buildings, billboards, parked gas trucks, or any assortment of destructible environments. At times it plays a bit like Split Second, a game that did a terrific job of capturing explosive (literally) races on dynamic tracks, and any range of quality driving games thanks to its tight controls, yet high level of challenge. If you aren’t impressed with destructible environments, that power boost can take out your opponents—they can, of course, also take you out.
This is a game that can easily turnoff people if they don’t give it enough time. It’s hard; super hard. It’s not just difficult; it plays a lot like other racing games and the A.I. is going to be better than you. Bugbear isn’t breaking new ground here, and they certainly haven’t perfected anything, but it’s a wild ride that racing fans must experience.
Set in Shatter Bay, the name of this fictional city implies exactly what you’ll do through the game—shatter just about everything in your path. Bugbear does a terrific job of making the multi-district single-player experience open up without feeling terribly linear. As you earn points, which are acquired by winning races, destroying environments, and taking out opponents, you’ll unlock new cars, new challenges, and new districts. You don’t have to complete an entire district before moving onto another district, which helps keep the game moving and offering players something new to see and try.
There is a fair amount of variety in the districts and tracks, but not enough to feel terribly unique. Beyond the initial challenge of learning the game, the other remotely annoying aspect is the lack of visual variety throughout the game—it very much feels like you are playing through a cohesive city, but it’s without any real changes in color or track variety.
While there isn’t much variety in the different districts and tracks’ appearance, you will experience an assortment of modes. Domination is the real meat of Unbounded. This is your basic race that asks you to simply win. The tracks on these levels offer shortcuts to the aggressive and violent drivers, but you don’t have to win to earn points—you can also earn points by destroying the environment, even just running over street lights. You’ll likely find yourself playing through Domination levels multiple times to find the perfect shortcut as the game offers a healthy challenge.
Frag Attacks is one of the best modes because the goal is to eliminate random enemies—this could put you behind the wheels of a big truck tasked with running down cop cars. Somewhere in this game there is a story about joining a gang, and Frag Attacks seem to play an important storytelling role, but it’s all fairly inconsequential. Busting over enemies using your power attack is simply a joy. Other modes include Drift Attacks, which asks you to drift to gain points (go figure) and Time Attacks, which at times plays like a wild trickster. You have to run into time check points to advance through the track, but the tracks are laid out with massive jumps. The first time you play one of these levels, you’ll likely get a kick out of it, but it gets a bit boring compared to Domination.
Bugbear made an extremely attractive racer. The graphics are incredibly sharp and it runs slippery smooth. There is nothing cluttered about the HUD, either. Instead of words that fly at the screen to tell you important information, it’s scattered on the buildings as you whiz through the tracks. This is all done very well and provides you with just the right amount of information.
This is a game that requires some practice. The A.I. is good, but definitely not unfair. They will come after you, but they don’t single you out. If you are behind some other racers, you can watch them use power to take one another out. If you are in front, you’ll likely have a bullseye stuck on your bumper, so watch out. The physics of the game feel weighty, almost heavy. Again, it’s not an unfair game, but it is far more challenging than some other modern racers.
Outside the single-player mode, Bugbear has another ace up its sleeve—that’s the track editor. Just like games like LittleBigPlanet, Unbounded wants you to create the game. But, unlike Media Molecule, Bugbear didn’t make it obsessively easy. However, there are some really great user-created tracks, and we’ll likely find more as people get more accustomed to this mode. You can make jumps, turns, and whatever else you want on your track, but the editor doesn’t end there. You can put objectives on your tracks allowing you to essentially create your own world for yourself, your friends, or strangers.
There is a lot of fun to have in Unbounded, but at times the track progression feels repetitive and the track editor may go unused by some because it’s a bit inaccessible. Still, this is a blast for those looking for an exciting and explosive racer. Get over the tough learning curve, spend some time on other users’ tracks, build your own, and master drifting and you are on your way to a truly enjoyable experience.