Even from the first announcement, there seemed something inherently wrong about splicing the DNA of Ridge Racer's sublime arcade racing with the brutish nature of the aggressive car-wrecking Flatout. Like decking out Claudia Schiffer in NFL armour.
There's an uphill fight to convince, and hence we're sitting in a air-conditioned conference room listening to Producer Joonas Laakso sell us the reason why we should expect Ridge Racer Unbounded to be more exciting than a plate of disco biscuits (our words, not his).
Joonas at least has the minerals to attempt such a cross-blend. His team, developer Bugbear, has plenty of experience with aggressive racing games. The studio's last big-name title, Flatout, wore the word "uncompromising" like a badge of honour. Apply that formula to a 'safe' brand such as Ridge Racer and its open the roads of possibility. Or, as Laakso puts it: "it's an intense racer that'll attract aggressive drivers who'll have to play dirty and nasty."
The game offers a solo campaign and an online mode, with eight players fighting for victory. But unfortunately even today's reveal is scrimping on details, and we're left pondering if the real juicy stuff won't be revealed until E3 in a few weeks time. After spotting police cars as we blast through a tunnel, we ask whether this could mean a Hot Pursuit-style hunt and escape mode, either offline or on. Laakso just shrugs his shoulders and smiles the smile of a man who knows all yet doesn't have to say a thing.
Offline, we're in familiar racing story territory as beginners entering the Unbounded. The motor maniacs, led by Kara Shindo, are looking for the best drivers around Shatter Bay - a fictional cityscape that draws upon East Coast cities such as New York and Chicago for inspiration. "Shatter Bay has its own character, full of secrets and alternate routes that you need to expose to win," says Laakso.
The splintered racing lines through each track are only there if you find them. In that way there's something of the Burnout in Unbounded, as fortune and glory favours the brave and bold to uncover those hidden parts of the course. However certain ones will only be opened through special in-game events.
Laakso plays Crash Race, which is RRU's central mode. It's a dirty race where victory is achieved through any and all available means. Jostling and scraping body paint is normal form for any Ridge Racer,but there's a more aggressive edge to Unbounded. Whereas long drifts and jumps before would charge boost, here they charge Destruction Power. This charge has a two-fold effect.
Firstly, fully charging the bar activates a new HUD element on your screen; yellow signs that flash up on different parts of the environment. Such as a nondescript drab wall, or a pillar in one of the course tunnels.
Activate the DP on the former and you'll blast right through it, undamaged, and into a new part of the track. You can do the same on the latter, however, if you choose to slam an opponent into it instead, you rack up extra bonus points. The racing track becomes a battlefield.
And like any good battlefield, tracks are laden with traps. Buildings explode and bridges collapse, all dynamically generated by the physics engine to produce different fallout each time you race - there's no Split/Second repetition here. The debris is permanent as long as the race continues, alternating the racing lines come the next lap as rubble strews across the track.
And the cars? Powerful, strong, fast and - as typical of the RR universe - entirely fictional. These are wheeled missiles that can punch through cement, and the developer promises that some franchise classics, such as the Angel and Devil cars from the very first Ridge Racer, will be making a return, although in heavily modified form. There'll also be visually-tweaked variants and special versions of rides buried in the game.
Any action in which they send an opponent to frame-crushing death will be rewarded with a slo-mo sequence straight out of the Burnout driving manual. However, spectacular though they look, they disrupt the flow of the game considerably. Bugbear are still tinkering with this, to prevent a show-stopper from turning into a show stall, and we hope that there's an option to completely disable it come the full game.
Anyone worried that shunt overpowers slide needn't worry. Despite the changes, they're based in a world built on the rules of Ridge Racer. Driving and drifting is all important, uncovering and using different routes to tactical advantage is smart and necessary.
We're looking at a very early build of the game - remember, its not out until next year - and so the weakest part of this muscled racer is the look. Neither colour palette nor the effects are anywhere near close to the direct competitors, and the cars are in need of a visual tune-up. How that comes together won't be known until much closer to the finishing line. On evidence of the all-important question of what's under the hood however, Bugbear seems to be off to a flying start.