"Ridge Racer Type 4, creating a nu wave in the racing scene. Powering beyond Ridge/Rage Racer, high-speed control and advanced dynamics accelerate the rush of a first class victory. The culmination of performance and style provide the ultimate advantage in the race for entertainment."
That is what Namco believes what Ridge Racer Type 4, the newest installment of its famed Racer series, will attempt to bring to the table against the likes of Gran Turismo. In RRT4,Namco has not only produced a game that is comparable to Gran Turismo, but exceeds it's level of quality in certain areas.
The game starts off with an amazing CG intro, accompanied by a kicking theme song. The intro has to be seen to believe, as it can rival Square's degree of quality and excellence. The game then continues into the normal menu options, including features such as a Grand Prix, VS and Time Attack. One notable new feature is the Garage, where you are able to view what cars you have picked up during the Grand Prix, as well as a totally cool sticker editing program. The game also features PocketStation compatibility (in what capacity is unknown to this reviewer).
Once selecting your choice, the game brings you to what I feel is one of the coolest interfaces in recent memory. The interface is not complex at all, bordering on idiot-proof, and it is extremely stylish. Another noteworthy item is the loading times. While loading times are present in the game, Namco has done an exceptional job of making sure that the player is "distracted" by other things on the screen. The word "Ridge Racer" popping up letter by letter on the screen grabs the player's attention span, making sure they do not become impatient while waiting, a very nice touch.
In the Grand Prix mode (entitled Real Racing Roots 99), you select your racing team (this dictates the difficulty) from 4 choices, RC Mico Mouse Mappy (easy), Pac Racing Team (normal), RT Solvalou (hard) and Dig Racing Team (expert). You then are asked for your car type, ranging from the Assoluto and Lizard cars (drift type) to Terrazi and Age Solo (grip type). In GP mode you are required to finish three heats, the first two are broken up into two races each, while the final heat is 4 races. The first heat requires you to finish in the top three, while in the second heat you must finish no lower than second and you must finish first in the final heat.
With only 8 tracks in GP mode, one might assume that it has little replay value, but again Namco ups the ante by offering 320 cars to be found in GP mode. The majority of these cars can be found by finishing in different places in each race. Finish first in each race and you'll be awareded with a souped up racer, finish 3rd in the first heat, but 1st in all other races, and you will receive a different car.
The gameplay stays true to its predecessors, with arcade style powerslides ruling the tracks. Powersliding is a little hard to control at first, but it is easy to get used to it (or maybe it's because I use an ancient digital controller). >P It's a little disappointing to have only 2 views of play (what happened to the good ol' days of Virtua Racing!?!). However, it's not enough to warrant anything against it. The overall sensation of speed is a little less than previous the past Racer titles...but stick a high end car on a low end track, and you'll definitely feel it again. The track designs are very well done, although the last GP track could've been done a little better. On a side note, I've grown to have a complete disgust for one said turn on Heaven and Hell. I'll conquer you yet.
The graphics in RRT4 are nothing short of amazing. Planes fly over head, complete with exhaust trails, helicopters fly several feet above you, Pacman and DigDug statues looking over you, and seagulls float overhead (just don't drop anything, ok guys?). There is very little pop-up during play, and not enough to detract from the actual game. The game also seems a little brighter, which is an improvement over its predecessors. I kind of got sick and tired of the whole "it's the apocalypse, let's make everything brown" color scheme found in many, many games today. Another cool effect is the blur effect that the cars have when going through tunnels. They leave this very cool red streak that comes from their taillights.
The soundtrack is "totally kickin'" in RRT4. It's the house/techno thing (I'm not a fan of either types of music, so sue me if I got it wrong), done again, but it's done exceptionally well, and just 'fits' the mood of the game. Although I'm not a fan of the style of music, I found myself actually liking it, although I would have to admit that Gran Turismo domestic soundtrack appealed more to me. As a bonus, Namco has generously added in a copy of the original Ridge Racer, running at 60fps, in high-res. Nuff said.
Namco has definitely built itself a winner in RRT4, and it looks like it will be the reigning racer for the Playstation until, well, Gran Turismo 2 arrives. Namco has always been about fun games, and it looks like the Gran Turismo vs. Ridge Racer rivalry will be heating up, which is always good news for gamers. I would recommend this game to any racing fan, arcade or sim, as well as any gamer, a great game from a great company.
· · · Reno