Game Description: It is speed incarnate. Its sexy sheet metal restrains a 3000 CC power plant that hits 0-190 MPH in a snap of a linguini. It is the Bisonrte—just one of the automotive marvels the scorch the streets in Ridge Racer Type 4. With over 300 new cars 45 fantastic models 8 thrilling courses a 2-player split-screen mode there is only one way to drive...fast. R4's asphalt gulping graphics and spectacular racing environments deliver racing speeds that were once deemed impossible.
When the original Ridge Racer was released on the then newborn PlayStation, it impressed me as a graphical wonder and was an excellent showcase for the system. However, I was then a Nintendo loyalist so I didn't admit my opinion of the game too loudly. In fact, I avoided the game and the PlayStation like the plague. But fortunately now in 1999, I have outgrown my devout system loyalty and it seems only fitting that I am reviewing R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 (R4) since it may be the last installation of the series on the PlayStation. The next one is expected to migrate to the yet-to-be-named next generation Sony system.
Now free of system bias, my mind is free to fairly examine up close what I could only admire from afar in the past. And what's the first thing that I noticed? Without a bit of hesitation, I'd say that R4 is one of the most beautiful racers I'd seen on the system to date. Namco really went to work to create a visual wonder that compares to any game on any system. It comes complete with lively detailed environments, transparencies, and car reflections; producing some truly stunning special effects. But there's price to be paid for all the eye candy and the developers owe up to it by keeping only 2 cars (mine and one other) onscreen at once to avoid the kiss of gameplay death, slowdown. Unfortunately, with a max of only 2 cars onscreen, things can get very predictable. I'll always know that when I pass a car, another will consistently appear thereafter. But I guess that's the price you pay to see brief shots of airplane acrobatics and helicopters buzzing by. In spite of that limitation, the cars are nevertheless beautifully done—all 321 of them (45 unique cars with 321 variations). And Namco deserves a lot of credit for not only offering that kind of variety in car selection, but in music as well (the game even comes with a bonus music CD).
Upon inspection of the gameplay, I got to experience first-hand all the power sliding and lightning fast speeds that the series is famous for. And sure enough, the game does not have spectacular crashes, car damage models, or realistic car physics just as I've always heard. But those negatives didn't bother me and instead I welcomed the break from realism it offered. It's straight arcade racing fun and it wasn't hard for me to see why the series has such a loyal following.
When all is said and done, R4 really surprised me. It supplies everything the arcade racing fan wants: slick graphics, lots of speed, and a lot of style. In fact, I would say that this game is a tribute to the Ridge Racer fan. Knowing that it was the fourth version (and despite not playing earlier ones), R4 feels like Namco has fine-tuned all the elements of the game and now offers it up on a grander scale. I wasn't expecting such an enjoyable game, but I was happily blown away. In hindsight, part of me regrets not having played the series since its inception, but another part is glad because I might have been turned off to it by now with all of the sequels. Maybe I missed out on some good game-playing by not getting Ridge Racer (and a PlayStation for that matter), but another incarnation is planned for Sony's next generation console. And this time around, I don't have the same unwavering system loyalties I did five years ago, so despite Nintendo's continued presence, I don't plan to be miss out again.
Unlike Dale, I embraced the PlayStation whole-heartedly when it was first released and consequently, I'm no stranger to the Ridge Racer franchise. Over the years, I became an extremely harsh critic of the series' lack of innovation, and when it came time to review R4, I was not a happy camper. Yet this time around, things were different. It certainly helped that it has been a long hiatus since the last incarnation, but I think it had more to do with my own personal maturity, and new-found understanding of the business world.
In my latter teen years, these issues never even came to mind (then again, not much else did except for that cute girl in gym class), but now that I'm part of the labor force that drives the economy, I've become much more sensitive to concepts like brand recognition and user loyalty. So when I played R4 with this new perspective, I realized why Namco for all those years never really changed the franchise. This was a game never targeted at me; it was a game targeted at the die-hard fans and extreme loyalists. It would be foolish for Namco to nix what is largely perceived as a successful formula for the sheer sake of innovation. Of course the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality can be taken too far, a la EA Sports (it's in the repetition!), but Namco never took it to that level of derivativeness.
So understanding R4's motivations freed me to really enjoy this game for what it is, an arcade racer targeted at the same fans who had propelled it into the gaming stratosphere. R4 does add some new elements to the mix like decal customizations on cars and overly melodramatic Street Fighter II-esque storylines that coincide with the team you select. Yes, you'll still find the same exaggerated powerslides and unbelievably tight cornering. Plus, the brain dead AI drivers and hollow-feeling, broken record-like crashes are still present. And again still, you can chart your progress on a course by the same pinpoint placement of competing cars. And nothing says Ridge Racer like break-neck adrenaline pumping speeds and R4 provided me with enough speed to get whiplash on my couch. That's what the Ridge Racer series is all about and if that's what the fans want, why should Namco change it and whom am I to knock it. You can love it or leave it, and for me, this is the second time that I have chose to love it.
Serious racing simulation fans will have their doubts and with Gran Turismo out there, it's not hard to see why. R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 is a franchise whose control, graphics, and audio have been refined through four versions and has been tweaked for mainly for the particular fans of the series and arcade racers. Yet, this is a game that's real easy to get into, making it a pleasant surprise to those like myself who have sat out the whole series. Those who venture past the trademark slick CG opening animation will find much energy and excitement in the races R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 provides, but make no mistake, this does not represent a radical departure for the series. So if you didn't like it then, you're not going to like it now.