In class two, you’re starting to work for first position. By class three, you have to sweat for it, and it’s then that the experience turns into what I’m told psychologists call “flow” – a state in which you’re so absorbed in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. Once you reach this point, RR6 does “flow” better than just about anything outside of WipEout Pure, a classic scrolling shoot-em-up or a really, really good deathmatch FPS. It’s that utterly-focused, blood-racing, must-remember-to-breathe feeling where you could be told that the house was on fire or the Martians were coming and you wouldn’t do much except nod and grunt. Maybe this isn’t a good thing, but it sure feels right.
It’s the handling that’s the kicker. As the speeds increase, corners that you once eased your way around start posing problems, and the bumps, twists and sinuous downhill sections magnify in challenge. As with the best Ridge Racers – Type 4 and the PSP version – the handling doesn’t even attempt to be realistic: you just get ‘standard’ drift cars that seem on rails and coast smoothly around bends, ‘mild’ drift cars that have more of a tendency to lateral movement, and ‘dynamic’ drift cars where, frankly, all bets are off. Why choose the latter? Firstly, they usually offer higher top speeds and faster cornering. Secondly, the more you drift, the more you add to your Nitro gauge. Fill up one cell of this and you can harness a quick boost of speed. Fill up more (up to three) and you get a bigger, longer boost. Needless to say, harnessing your nitro is a key skill for RR6 success, and that means – at the higher levels of play – you need to get your head around the mild and dynamic drift cars. It’s tough to begin with, but once you can pull those daring corners off, the feeling is horribly satisfying.
It’s not just a game that plays better the more it goes on; it’s a game that looks better too. While there are some bare stretches of track, you start to appreciate the glorious scenery – the windmills, waterfalls, crumbling walls of old townhouses and winding coastal roads – and the way in which, by varying the lighting and the route – Namco has made fifteen tracks seem like more. The fantasy cars look ludicrous, but great, and there is something very clean, very slick and very Japanese about the whole design. RR6 hasn’t got Project Gotham 3 levels of detail, but it’s classic Ridge Racer, through and through.