Play it again, Nam
But this was the 1990s. Everything needed a replay mode. Namco trumped the competition by adding a blur effect that could be toggled on and off with the triangle button, which I took great delight in turning on and off in a manner akin to an OCD sufferer in a light switch factory. As if the game didn't look good enough already, this blurring of PSone's rather crisp edges made the game look unreal. And the ethereal glow that the cars and their tail lights took on gave it a unique visual style that nothing compares to today.
Above: The blurring effect on the replays leaves transparent 'ghost' images of previous frames. Looks ace
With 2011 eyes (not like an insect), that's not the only thing the game has going for its visuals. Unprecedented draw distance means you can see roads you'll later be driving on across the other side of valleys. Small valleys, yes, but valleys all the same.
Above: It's bread and butter track design these days, but this sort of 3D space was revolutionary back then
Car liveries are beautiful too, from the red and yellow of Pac Racing Club to the metallic greys of Racing Team Solvalou. You can even create your own basic decal – a first for any console racer. It's nowhere near the standard of Forza 3 or the like, but having a small square of graphics that you created adourning the front of your car was an incredibly special feeling in 1999.
The game even features support for Sony's PlayStation Pocket – a sort of VM-like device that let you unlock cars while you're away from your PlayStation. Sadly, these were never released in the UK so I never got to try one, but I don't think I missed too much.
Reiko-tinted specs time
I think Ridge Racer Type 4 represents the golden age of PlayStation gaming for me. I can still picture my gaming set up, how I would get back from college and sit down with my back against the foot of my bed and play the game on a 15-inch portable TV through a SCART cable – before the days of HDMI, that was a pretty big deal.
Thankfully, the thrill of once-cutting edge technology has matured into an enduring magic that's more than plain old nostalgia. Everything here exudes quality, despite the primitive screen resolution and polygon count. Having an over-enthusiastic announcer telling you how well you're doing doesn't grate in this game. And having little pixelly planes fly by with coloured smoke trails overhead is a joy that's never going to get old.
Above: A little stunt plane turns tricks in the morning sun above the city and everything's alright with the world
All of the above is a lot of 'parts' for a game to be 'more than the sum of', but Ridge 4 so clearly is. This is a racing game that defies its antiquated technology to deliver a product that works as a whole. It's cohesive and rock solid, from the stories of the career mode through to the millennium celebration fireworks in the last race – something that was actually a glimpse of the future at the time of its release.
Sure, the presentation outside of the races is a little lacking...
...but if it meant the racing itself could be this good, then I'll forgive it. Ridge 5 was a classic, but not as good, then Ridges 6 and 7 moved away from what made this truly great. Sure, Ridge Racer 2 on PSP contains tracks from this game, but it's still not the same. This is where you should start if you want to sample Ridge Racer.
Real Racing Roots
Sega Rally may pip it in terms of driving finesse and Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec smashed the visual benchmark effortlessly (and spectacularly) just two years later on PS2, but for the drama and the romance (and the girl), Ridge Racer Type 4 is still among the best arcade racers you can buy. In fact, it's available on PSN right now for a mere £3.99. Stick it on PSP and tackle it in small bursts.
Above: Yes, it's full of win on PSP Go. Probably not applicable to you, but there it is
The smaller screen of PSP makes up for the low-res graphics, making this feel like a modern-day racer. For a game that's well over a decade old, that's pretty damn astonishing.
04 Aug, 2011
Appreciation Section: Sega Rally
Officially awesome since 1995
Appreciation Section: TimeSplitters 2
So far ahead of its time
Appreciation Section: Panzer Dragoon Zwei
One of about two good dragon games ever made