Namco’s Ridge Racer series, having originally been an arcade title, was one of the original launch titles on the Playstation and has continued to enjoy success to this day. The series itself has changed and evolved through automotive fandom, and arguably more so than competitors like Need for Speed which have moved towards more cliche’d story driven narratives. Ridge Racer retains a raw arcade-style racing action that most any player can pick up and play.
That changed once, when Namco produced R:Racing.
R:Racing is like a Ridge Racer “gaiden” (side-story; gaiden’s meaning) of sorts. This title took a sharp exit from the contemporary Ridge Racer format. Introducing a narrative it tells the story of Rena Hayami, A Japanese EMT who drives an ambulance. Her driving abilities are noticed one day when an assignment has her taking an injured racer to a local hospital. The team’s manager whom accompanies them, Stephan Garnier, recognizes that Hayami would be a competent racing driver. Garnier offers to enter her into a celebrity race at Twin Ring Motegi driving a DeTomaso Pantera under the guise of “Seventy Six” (her racing number). She wins the race, and becomes a driver for Garnier’s team.
It’s eventually revealed that a mysterious organization is rigging various races in multiple disciplines. Further, she forms an intense rivalry on the circuit with another female driver Gina Cavalli, who is a privateer that has made her way into the sport through hard work. It all comes to a head when Hayami, while leading, is forced to finish second in the final round of the Japanese Touring Car championship, satisfying a client that stands to make money presumably off of sports betting. Eventually the members of the Garnier team become disillusioned with what they have been doing, break away from GVI forming their own team, and go through one final battle in a Le Mans Prototype championship race.
This is an interesting title that has almost been lost in a sea of circa era racing titles.
Released on PS2, Xbox, and GameCube (PS2 being the version I own), there were very little differences between the titles. The game features a seemingly small amount of licensed vehicles at under fifty cars, but what is presented is of exceptionally high quality. You get sports cars, touring cars, rally, drag racing, endurance prototypes; an overall good variety. All of the cars are fantastically modeled and they sound great; sound having long been a criticism of the Gran Turismo series during this time. Graphically the game looks decent. Tracks, many of them actual locations, look like they are supposed to with arcade-ish liberties taken and for this era of racing games they’re modeled well.
Gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s not an arcade racing game like a proper Ridge Racer title, but it’s also not a more simulated driving experience like Forza or Gran Turismo. The most unique aspect of the racing model is the ‘pressure’ feature. During races, Hayami can force her competitors into mistakes by drafting, attempting passes on inside lines, and giving nudges. Eventually her competitor will make a mistake, allowing the player to pass. Some drivers in the later portion of the game, including her primary rival Cavalli, cannot succumb to these pressures like other drivers.
I most enjoyed the rally stages, which are decently done. They play a lot like a refined Sega Rally, with great car sounds and identifiable locations that make you feel like you’re in a European rally event. The mid-ranged driving mode plays well to the rally stages, and it’s not crazy intense rally action but it’s enough to give a sense of real cross circuit driving. I’m probably giving it more credit than it’s worth but it is great. Had Namco made a game called R:Rally and just used the rallying portion of R:Racing with some expanded elements they could have actually made a decent arcade-style rally title for the time.
The strangest thing about this title – here comes the cringe – is Namco’s portrayal of Hayami and Cavalli. They’re always presented with opened overalls showing cleavage, a racing scene at one point has Hayami racing a car with a loosened suit, seemingly all of the experienced team members around them are of course one hundred percent okay with this sort of danger because BOOBS!, and for some unexplained reason Namco felt need to give Hayami a shower scene in between one of the chapters. These occurrences with the title actually forced the ESRB to rate it as Teen, whereas had Namco removed most of the aforementioned items and select swear words they could have gotten by with an Everyone rating. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with boobs and done correctly sex can push a narrative but it’s all a bit out of place here and make Hayami and Cavalli more like eye candy rather than focusing on their actual characters. A shame too because positive portrayal of women in motorsports is something that lacks in the real racing world, especially given these two characters are Asian and European which could have introduced some dynamics in the narrative.
Overall it’s decent, and a racing game with a story actually progresses more decent that it may seem like it should. I think my only real complaint with this title is it’s a little too linear; a strange thing to say about a racing title. There are extras you can win such as each car you use to win a chapter in Racing Life you can use in arcade mode but there’s not much incentive to, other than to get really obscured cars included such as the DeLorean DMC-12. Otherwise it’s mostly different paint schemes for a set amount of cars. Strangest of all is there’s no real deviation from the narrative that is set. It would have been nice to been able to explore different branches in the narrative, such as if you didn’t satisfy a completion objective and seeing results. All you get otherwise is a Game Over screen, when an alternate branch narrative would have been nice and given the narrative some real weight.
Again ultimately from this era it’s decent. Mind the cringe though, or at the least zip up your racing suit.