A race HUD in the traditional sense is gone. Instead, you'll gleam information about a race from the environment itself. While Split/Second mapped its HUD to the car, Ridge Racer: Unbounded developer Bug Bear is doing the opposite - integrating positions, times and scores with the track itself.
This poses a problem, however: how do you get the information you want, when you want it? Producer Laasko Jonaas explained that the game would choose which piece of information to reveal based on your current situation in the race. Somebody in first or second place, for example, is going to be more interested in their score than their position.
The demonstration saw Jonaas driving about the fictitious city of Shatter Bay; an urban sprawl inspired by New York and Chicago. There's the odd reference to the iconic Ridge Racer tracks of yesteryear, but Unbounded is intent on creating its own world. Another deviation from the customs and conventions of Ridge Racer is a dynamic physics system. "We are really good at smashing things up," boasts Jonaas, who took great pleasure in colliding his vehicle into anything that happened to be nearby.
What followed was a massive vehicular altercation, with bits of shrapnel spraying in all directions, and the carcasses of wrecked motors bouncing about the track in slow-motion. Nothing in the game is scripted, meaning each crash is unique. A destruction resource permits such carnage, with 'targets' around each track becoming available as you fill the gauge.
These targets take the form of structures; buildings, shops, bridges and the like. With destruction power activated, you can smash into these objects to get one up on the competition. Targets fall into two categories: shortcuts and traps. Shortcuts need no explanation, but traps are slightly more interesting.
Expending his destruction resource, Jonaas slams his car into a pillar holding up a bridge hanging over the track. The bridge starts to crumble, raining down huge slabs of concrete on several cars unlucky enough to be underneath it at that moment. Not only can you use targets to attack your rivals, but also physically alter the course for subsequent laps. There are said to be around 12 targets in each track.
While the 'story mode' takes place in Shatter Bay, Jonaas teases the fact that the game is actually comprised from thousands of cities. Thousands. This is clearly ridiculous from a single-player standpoint, which alludes to the fact that it's tied into multiplayer. Perhaps players can create a city of their own - with their own routes and targets - and then share it with other players? Perhaps it's a LittleBigPlanet-esque world built from a patchwork of other people's tracks. This is clearly a feature Bug Bear is proud of; not being able to talk about it seemed to pain poor Jonaas. One for E3 then?
So, it's Riiiiiiidge Raaaaaaaacer! Except it's not. Another very Japanese franchise has had its reins handed to a western developer, and the fans are deservedly worried. "Yehhhh this looks awful if the trailer is indicative of what they're aiming for. I don't want to hit other cars at ANY POINT AT ALL while playing Ridge Racer," offers VideoGamer forumite Woffls, a sentiment echoed in gaming communities across the web.
Jonaas is conscious of the pressure this puts on him as a developer. "I'm aware of the concerns of the fans" he admitted, "but Namco Bandai wouldn't have come to us unless they wanted a western developer's point of view."
True. Over the course of its 18-year history, Ridge Racer has revolved around the same core mechanics. Another game in the same vein might have caused less of a backlash initially, but shake-ups like this are necessary every once in a while. Besides, Namco has revealed that Unbounded is just one branch of the Ridge Racer tree, and there could very well be a Ridge Racer 8 in the future too. While the detour might be a little too drastic for some, there's no reason to write it off just yet.