Earlier today I pulled this game off the shelf, played it for five minutes, and decided that I've had enough of it. I think that more than anything sums up how I feel about the game. Ridge Racer 7 is for the moment the latest in Namco's sole arcade racer franchise and while its presentation is solid and it offers up a decent amount of content the actual racing and track design need an overhaul desperately.
The entire point of the singleplayer mode is to unlock cars and prepare the gamer for multiplayer. To start off the player takes on a manufacturer's race where they can earn cars that suit their style of play. Afterwards they move on to a series of Grand Prix races that amount to little more than an over-long tutorial. What this tutorial does is it gives the player practice with all four of the car classes and test runs on all of the tracks. Interspersed throughout the campaign are single-race events that can done for extra money. Upon completion of every Grand Prix the extreme battles open up and those provide a challenge closer to what is to expected online. It's here also that all of the specialty cars can be unlocked.
The entire point of the single-player mode is to help the player establish their identity by building up their own personal car through a variety of parts and paint-jobs. This also extends to driving style as well as certain special functions the player might favor. Some of these are only unlocked through doing a large number of racers while sponsoring certain manufacturers. Even for those who never go online this mode alone will take quite a long time and is a good value considering the price of the game.
The actual races are very simplistic. The goal is to get to first place and then win, nothing else matters and how you get there is determined by a handful of objectives. The quick-start is a subtle but important beginning to each race. Revving the car up to just below the red-line and then punching it when the race begins is a good way to get some extra boost. Knowing how to turn is essential and like other arcade racers RR7 uses the drift mechanic. Drifting in this game is as simple as letting go of the gas and then turning. This aspect of the game is almost too simple in fact and almost makes me feel like Namco should just drop the steering and give a couple of buttons I can press for when I want to "drift left" or "drift right". Slip-streaming is also an important tool as it takes advantage of an opponent's wind resistance to give the player a slightly higher top-speed. It might not be much but it's still faster than the opponent so before long they can be over-taken. This is a system that anyone can grasp by the first race and while later car classes add higher speeds there still doesn't leave much depth for the game.
Thus Namco has adopted an x-factor. This variable is what makes or breaks the races in RR7 and I'm of course talking about the nitrous. This addition is actually relatively new to the series as it only just came about in the first PSP iteration. By drifting the player charges up to three stocks of nitrous that they can then use to get a dramatic boost in speed. There are different kinds of nitrous systems but the effect is largely the same. Also by drifting just after a nitrous boost as ended the player gets a substantial increase in the amount of nitrous they gain. By knowing the layout of the track and when to boost the player can essentially chain boosts for the entirety of the track, leaving others who haven't quite grasped the system to choke on the fumes. What it comes down to is that learning how to use and gain nitrous is essential to winning races.
If this isn't the sort of thing that interests you then you may as well not bother reading the rest of this write-up. Take nitrous out of RR7's system and you're left with a shallow racer that without its graphics wouldn't look out of place next to something like Pole Position. There are a few races in the game that don't use nitrous and you might even run into a few people online who won't race with it but it's still a minority representation.
To keep this system in check Namco has forced a number of aspects on this game to account for ease of enjoyment. While crashes happen they aren't the kind that cause the player to flip out, explode, or do anything that might cause the car to stop. Rubbing a wall so that it costs a handful of MPH is enough to cost a race anyway so I guess bogging everything down with cars flying everywhere is pointless. This game also goes further to employ some system that keeps cars on the right track. Granted it's very hard to go off the track as there's walls everywhere but this track is of the invisible variety. This manages to lock the player in the right direction no matter what kinds of ridiculous turns they manage to pull off. It's both a blessing and a curse since it tends to dumb down the races (thus necessitating the need for nitrous). On certain tracks in certain turns however this system can throw the player off and cause them to spin out when going for a very simple turn. Eventually the player learns to adjust to these particular turns but it's a backwards system that doesn't show any semblance of good racing game design. It's especially annoying because these same turns existed in the prequel Ridge Racer 6.
Between the automatic nature of the races and near-complete focus on a system I can't get into I eventually got tired of playing this game. The only thing that kept me going for the most part was the "progress" I was making from winning races and unlocking stuff. After a certain point I start hitting races that I can't win without more practice and the game just falls apart.
Some of the track designs in this game are absolutely terrible. For whatever reason Namco is fond of having a lot of jumps and all they're good for is killing the pacing as the player can do absolutely nothing while in mid-air. This is especially aggravating when some jumps if taken improperly can leave the player crashing into an invisible wall(to keep them from flying off the track of course). When they're not terrible they can also be boring. Since turning/drifting isn't difficult in the slightest there should at least be some very creative and challenging turns to make. Unfortunately aside from maybe one or two tracks this simply isn't the case.
At this point I highly doubt Namco will do anything in terms of making changes to a potential Ridge Racer 8. Nitrous and online-play are tied with one another and the fan-base would cry foul if a new system was to be adopted. While I can appreciate everything that this game does I really have no interest in ever playing it again.
Game Rating - 2 out of 5
Aside from some glitches everything seems to be in order and as mentioned before the game has good value. Honestly I haven't the faintest idea how this game plays online as I'm assuming it's just like Ridge Racer 6 only with customization and a few extra tracks. If the idea of nitrous isn't appealing to you then stay far away from this game. Otherwise I'm not sure what else to say aside from the game having an appeal that is pretty niche since gamers can't expect to have any sort of positive impact in online racing without getting through an overly-lengthy tutorial just to learn the ropes.
My Rating - 1 out of 5
Earlier today I tried to pick this game up again and just like that whatever magic it had was gone. Games are something that should be enjoyed and when a game I'm playing starts to feel like work -- especially considering this work doesn't pay anything -- then I have no reason to continue. It has all the markings of what could be a classic arcade racer but the nitrous system and the one-dimensional handling and track designs make for style of racing that I can't appreciate at all. I've always been a big fan of Ridge Racer's soundtrack and presentation as well but this game can't even get those parts right. The music is terribly mundane and the presentation feels soul-less and artificial, a far cry from something like Ridge Racer Type 4.