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R: Racing Evolution Was An Underdog Racing Revolution

All Images Courtesy Of Bandai Namco

R: Racing Evolution

Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: December 9, 2003
Available as: Physical

That One Time Namco Made (another) Story-Driven Racing Game

While writing about Ridge Racer 2, I began to think about another Namco racing relic that has been lost within the similar sands of time, only it was an ambitious title that left many scratching their heads. R: Racing Evolution was a title that, in many ways, rode the wave of the “arcade sim” trend that prevailed in the mid-2000s yet the developers at Namco had enough credentials to throw their hats into the ring in more ways than one.

At the time, Namco’s racing legacy was attributed to the Ridge Racer series and its development over the years had played a key role in the development of R: Racing Evolution. It is often regarded as a spin-off of the series, with some of its staff and composers working on past titles in the Ridge Racer series.

R: Racing Evolution Was Birthed By The MotoGP Series

The majority of staff had also worked on another racing series that Namco was in charge of developing at the time, the MotoGP series. While the series has shifted hands several times throughout its 20+ year history, Namco was in charge of developing the PlayStation 2 MotoGP titles, from 2000 to 2006, totaling five games. Some of the staff involved in the MotoGP series had worked on R: Racing Evolution, with the intent of bringing in their track-racing expertise from a one-seater to a two-seater.

All of this meant that R: Racing Evolution’s development process wasn’t half-baked as the company was even able to secure real-life licensed cars, although the transition from two-wheeled to four-wheeled racing meant that cars behaved a bit differently than normal. Car handling is lenient and proper racing lines are encouraged to ensure the most positive results, yet the player isn’t penalized for pushing their car to the limit as well. 

r: racing evolution

R: Racing Evolution Was One Of The First To Include “Scare” Tactics

Several unique mechanics included intimidation tactics, as the player can “spook” opposing racers by driving dangerously close to them, filling a bar in the process. As the bar fills, the opposing racer will spin out and crash, allowing the player to overtake them. Several other racing games in the future would borrow this mechanic, specifically THQ’s Juiced series a few years later.

There are several tracks to choose from, varying from real-life racing circuits, road courses, fantasy city courses, and even a motorcycle circuit, further attesting to the game’s MotoGP roots. Surprisingly, there are bonus racing types aside from circuit racing, as rally driving and drag racing are sprinkled in to break the monotony. The selection of cars also reflects popular choices of road racing including the Dodge Viper, Audi TT, Honda NSX, and even a modified Fiat 500 because why not?

r: racing evolution

R: Racing Evolution Was Noted For Featuring Women Centered Protagonists

The real draw of the game lies in its story mode, which is the game’s main single-player mode as it is the main way for the player to unlock cars and tracks. The story revolves around a young woman named Rena Hayami, an ambulance driver who is seen rushing a race driver, engaged in a car accident, to the hospital. Her driving skills are enough to impress the racing team manager as she accepts his offer to join his team and become a professional race driver. Throughout the story, it’s discovered that the team owners are deliberately rigging results for their profit, which ultimately leads to Rena and her team manager trying to find a way from the team and start their own.

reina racing evolution

R: Racing Evolution Draws Inspiration From Ridge Racer Type 4

The story is on the short side, but for a racing game in which 90% of the racing is done on the track, it serves as good fluff. Rena engages in rivalries with an opposing driver, Gina, who is the cliche “racing is pure and cannot be named with a price” driver. Rena, herself, is the cliche gutsy “I race for the thrill of speed!” protagonist who eventually wises up once she realizes she’s being used. The plot won’t win any Oscars, but again, it’s surprisingly engaging for a game of this caliber.

This is slightly to be expected, as the game’s director, Hideo Teramoto, was the associate project director of R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, a game that was heavily story-driven for a racing game much less a Ridge Racer title. R: Racing Evolution’s plot wouldn’t feel out of place in R4’s story and vice versa, which pains me that the game never became a series. 

Despite Lack Of A Sequel, Their Characters Were Used In Other Titles

While the game can be cheesy at times, it had personality, be it with its characters or with the discourse among other racers on the track. Your actions determine the dialogue Rena receives from other drivers, often becoming frustrated whenever the player shows aggression. It makes the game feel less like a cut and dry “sim racer,” and more of a racing game with action game elements. 

Although the game never received a sequel, an interesting piece of trivia involving a future Ridge Racer title referenced R: Racing Evolution.  Released near the North American Nintendo DS launch, Ridge Racer DS featured Rena’s rival, Gina Cavalli, as the “cover girl” for the game.

gina ridge racer DS

The Project Team Has Also Moved To Other Titles Since

Unfortunately, that cameo would be the last time players would hear anything about R: Racing Evolution in the future as the development staff had moved on to other projects. The majority of the game’s staff would move on to develop the PSP Ridge Racer game as well as Ridge Racer 6 for the Xbox 360, while some would continue to assist with the Moto GP series until the final game in 2006.

R: Racing Evolution Was Revolutionary Behind Its Time

It’s easy for players to see the cover art and promotional images for R: Racing Evolution and pass it off as mere fanservice due to a woman driver being on the cover. However, due to how certain scenes pan out in the story, with more attention focused on certain assets aside from the featured cars, it’s a fair thought. Looking past that, players may be surprised to find a somewhat decent story complementing on-par gameplay that is good enough for an afternoon’s session. While the game is nowhere near a timeless classic, it is an important milestone in Namco’s racing history as well as the racing history of the PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox era of video games.

R: Racing Evolution is available on the Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Xbox.

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