Namco Bandai has jumped on the free-to-play (F2P) bandwagon in a big way. The company that Pac-Man built released Tekken Revolution in June and will follow with Ridge Racer Driftopia later this year. The title is in development at Bugbear Entertainment, the same team that brought you Ridge Racer Unbounded. However, key members of the Ridge Racer team at Namco Bandai are also helping with development duties. In addition, Tekken head honcho Katsuhiro Harada is now in charge of all F2P efforts at the company, so this isn't just a passing phase.
Ridge Racer Driftopia will give you a few starting cars for free. The starting vehicles are always random, so you won't know which ones you'll receive. In addition to the free set of initial cars, you can spend money to purchase more vehicles at any time.
As you race and subsequently run into other cars or the various perils of each course, your vehicle will take damage that carries over from race to race. If too much damage in inflicted on your vehicle, you will not be able to drive it anymore. However, you can use a repair kit to fix a damaged vehicle, but you'll only get new repair kits every so often. Of course, you can spend some money and buy a repair kit if need be, but you'll always have at least one backup car.
As the title might suggest, the main focus of Ridge Racer Driftopia is drifting. Every time you drift, you build up a boost meter that allows your car to hit epic speeds for a short time. As you might have guessed, the better you are at drifting, the more you'll be able to boost and the easier it will be to win races. As you win races, you'll increase your player level, which unlocks additional courses to race on.
The game also takes note of how your friends drive and gives you the ability to race against their ghosts. If a friend has trouble with a specific hairpin turn, the ghost version of your friend will have just as much trouble when they reach that section of the track. It's not quite traditional multiplayer, but it should work for a F2P racing title.
Namco Bandai hasn't set a definite release date for Ridge Racer Driftopia, but expect it to hit the PlayStation Network and Steam later this year. If the free model is successful, expect to see more of these F2P endeavors from Namco in the future. While some may look down on the F2P model, if it helps us see games that companies would have passed on otherwise, it's good for everyone.
Ridge Racer Driftopia will debut on PS3 and PC later this year.