The Ridge Racer series has hit a powerful stride of late, starting with the inaugural PSP installment back in March of 2005. It returned to the basics while also implementing a Nitrous Boost system that gave added incentive for taking advantage of the franchise hallmark drift mechanic. Namco's momentum continued later that year, with the release of Ridge Racer 6 for November's Xbox 360 launch. With a multi-nitrous system to go alongside the Ultimate Charge feature, Ridge Racer 6 elaborated on the new nitrous mechanic without cutting away from the heart of the series; intense arcade drift racing at its finest.
Now, after its surprise appearance on the Xbox 360, Ridge Racer returns home with the release of Ridge Racer 7 as part of Sony's PlayStation 3 launch. This particular installment is certainly a major step forward for the storied franchise, but it's also clear that Namco was out to give the lingering anti-Xbox gamers in Japan a taste of what they missed a year before. The main reason for this assumption is the fact that the Ridge Racer 6 course selection makes up the vast majority of Ridge Racer 7's circuits. There are plenty of new courses as well, and the original Seaside Route 765 (Ridge City) that we've been playing from the beginning even makes an appearance to solidify the game's 22-course selection.
One new mechanic is Slipstream, or Drafting as some of you may know it. This is pretty straightforward; drive behind a competing car to reduce wind resistance and speed up faster, then overtake them with the extra push. It seems a little out of place in a no-handouts game like Ridge Racer, but so did nitrous before players got used to it. In the long run, it becomes just another great system to add some simple depth to Ridge Racer's already-unique gameplay style.
There are some more substantial improvements in terms of gameplay modes as well. Just like the last two games, Ridge Racer 7 features a career mode of sorts, this time under the name “Ridge State Grand Prix.” At first glance, it's the same kind of mission-battle mode as before, but that notion quickly dissolves once you get any kind of feel for how it works. You start out in manufacturer trials, which will earn you cars, money with which to upgrade them, and professional relations with Ridge Racer's numerous fictional car and part companies. As you upgrade and race your cars throughout the mode, your relationship with the companies whose merchandise you use will grow, eventually leading to discounts and the like. Players worried that this may weigh the game down need not be concerned, as the entire interface is very streamlined and does a good job of keeping you in the action. It adds without taking away.
The other major improvement comes in the form of online play, which is far superior to the mode found in Ridge Racer 6 a year ago. The most notable addition is Team Racing in both full-scale and pair forms, which feature a host of new gameplay mechanics and concepts to support the teamwork-focused dynamic. This should go a long way in getting players even more interested in the high-potential competitive aspect of Ridge Racer 7.
The only real complaint that can be leveled against Ridge Racer 7 is that it is certainly not a game that will show off your brand new PlayStation 3 to anyone. It has its moments – there are some great reflective effects on the pavement certainly not present in 2005's Xbox 360 game, and you might find yourself putting up a “whoa” during the first couple car deliveries. The sound is a mixed bag – the music is tragically forgettable for a Ridge Racer game, but the commentary is a very positive contrast from the annoying DJs of past Ridge Racer games. The female DJ (human this time, not cyborg) you'll be hearing most of the time is very easy on the ears, while the guy from the original games will inform you of particulars like when you've started the final lap.
It should come as no surprise that, despite not being a gorgeous tech demo, the franchise that stepped up to the top of the PlayStation 3 launch is the same one that has made great appearances on day one of the PSX, PS2, and PSP. Simulation hardliners need not apply, but pound-for-pound, this game makes a very good case for itself as the top title of the PS3 launch. It's very hard to recommend any launch game over this one as the prime companion to your PS3 purchase. You just can't go wrong with Ridge Racer 7.