With the launch of the Xbox 360, Ridge Racer 6 was probably the least likely to appear at the top of anyone's launch day shopping list, due to the seemingly more sleek and shiny PGR3 and EA's port of Need for Speed Most Wanted. However, those who do invest in the latest entry of Namco's long running series will surprisingly find that it is arguably the best entry of the series, with a combination of intense racing, graphical beauty, and silky smooth online play (a first for the series).
While this is essentially a much shinier version of the PSP Ridge Racer in terms of gameplay, longtime fans and newcomers alike will appreciate the new grid system, the centerpiece of the new World Xplorer mode. It enables players to choose their own path through the world in terms of difficulty, race modes and perhaps all the while, doing a decent job of eliminating the series' infamous rubber band A.I. The cheap A.I. is still present, however, especially in later 'no nitrous' races, in which your opponents some how have unlimited nitrous. It's things such as this that cheapen the game, not the traditional Ridge Racer course reversals or otherwise.
Much to no one's surprise, there have been no significant changes made to the gameplay with this sixth entry of the Namco's seminal racer series, but the game is by no means a piece of slapped together shovelware. As in every other game in the series (we'll pretend R: Racing Evolution didn't happen), there is a very small learning curve, and you'll find yourself effortlessly drifting around corners within ten minutes of picking up a controller. Sticking with the PSP format, standard and mild drift types are more for novice players, while cars with dynamic handling are more nuanced and advanced, providing a steep challenge for those who seek to learn the style. And for the first time in the Ridge Racer series, the analog stick actually feels more precise and comfortable than the D-pad, which has until now been the control method of choice for most drifters.
Ridge Racer 6, like its predecessors, is a visual and aural assault, from the interface to the races. The game itself looks quite good, especially with the countryside courses, and while the city courses do look nice, it really seems as if they could have easily been pulled off on the original Xbox with some hard work. I also think Namco could have pushed the visual effects a little more, as while everything does look smooth, it all seems sort of static, with the exception of a few very small effects. This is probably the first Ridge Racer in a while that you won't use to show off your new console to friends.
The music is constantly thumping in the background, the token blend of techno and jazz that has been a mainstay in the series. Also returning is the infamous announcer. If you don't know who he is or what he says, I won't spoil it for you here, but needless to say, he is a big fan of you and your amazing technique. Luckily he can be turned off, and later in the game two alternate announcers can be unlocked, one of them being Heihachi from the Tekken series. It's just a damn shame Namco won't bring back the Rage Racer announcer.
Where the game does differ from its predecessors is with the unprecedented online play. Within minutes of starting up the game, you'll find yourself racing online with your friends at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. While Ridge's online play may not have as much to offer as more extravagant offerings such as PGR3, it adds plenty of value and playtime, easily validating the $60 price tag.
While it certainly offers many hours of playtime and enjoyment, don't expect Ridge Racer 6 to push your Xbox 360 to its 'lucid dream' potential. It's fast, fun and certainly worth your buck with online play, but if you really want to show off your 360's abilities with a racing game, scoop up PGR3 or the newly minted Burnout Revenge for the 360 instead.