One thing the Playstation has plenty of is racing games, and while Empire Interactive's new title, Ford Racing, doesn't bring anything new or different to the genre, it's still a pretty well produced game. And at around ten bucks or so, an affordable driving experience for those who've never picked up a car game before (you'd be surprised, folks- you'd be surprisedů). It's no Gran Turismo, but you'll definitely get your money's worth, if you're in the market for an inexpensive weekend of driving fun. Like an inexpensive rental car, you get few bells and whistles, but you're guaranteed a good ride.
As the game is called Ford Racing, all the cars are Fords (duh), and you're limited to racing against nothing but Fords, and only of the same type as the car you choose. The PC version had an Open mode, where multiple classes could race together, but unless it's buried deep, I haven't found it here. There's a Career Mode, in which you attempt to win a spot on the Ford Racing Team, and Quick Race is just what it says- you can also do your time trials here. From the start, you have access to only three cars and four tracks in the Quick Race mode- the more powerful (and interesting) cars and tracks are unlocked as you go through the Career Mode. The cars you start out with aren't all that fast; only one of them can do over 95mph, and that's after a whole lap of building up speed and not hitting any other cars or going off-road. Fortunately, the handling of the cars is superb, which is where your winning strategy lies. The control is very precise (use the analog if you want to survive), and on one or two spots you can catch a little air, if you hit the right (or wrong) side of the track.
Since all the cars in a particular season are the same, you have to learn every curve of the track and just where to brake or pass, as well as just what your car can and can't do. Getting in a shoving match for first place here is useless, as most of the time, the third and fourth place cars will blaze by as you're trying to bump the leader into the curb. Yes, this is one of those racers where the other drivers make no real mistakes, and the tiny, twisty Mesa Verde track is one where there's a whole lot of cursing sure to be heard because of this. The track designs are pretty simple looking, but there are a few nice elements to them, like the seemingly constant downhill curve of the Mountain Ring track, or the sudden off-road section on the Long Valley 2 course.
You get cash and points for finishing in the top three places, getting the pole position, leading the race, or doing the fastest lap in any race in Career Mode. You can buy performance upgrades to enhance your ride, which is a definite must if you want to make it past the first season. There are up to 8 races in each season, each with a different car, and you have the option of skipping any race you want to, just be prepared to race the whole thing over if you've not enough points to advance to the next one. Once you finish a season in first place, you get a black version of the car you won with that's ridiculously fast- records will fall once you've got the keys. Additionally, there are mirrored versions of the courses that open up, extending the life of the game somewhat.
While the game isn't the best looking racer out there, it's got plenty of spirit, and all in the right places. There's not a hint of pop-up anywhere in the game, even when you get the faster cars later on. The game has a really clean look to it and a decent sense of speed when you use the bumper camera, although the other two views work fine. The back of the case says that the game has a picture in picture feature, so that you can see how the race leader is doing, but I couldn't find it, and anyway, I was more concerned about being the race leader myself! The engine sounds are some of the best I've heard, and with only 12 cars in the game, you can bet your bonnet that the developer, Toolbox went the whole extra mile and sampled the actual cars just for you. The music is unobtrusive techno-pop stuff, and most importantly, the game loads the track and car information during the setup screens, so when you hit "Go Race", you do just that, with no waiting at all.
The main problem with the game is the length of the races- while you can adjust their length in the Quick Race mode, the Career Mode races are tiny, bite-sized heats that tend to frustrate if you don't get good at the game quickly. How many real auto races out there last one or two laps? Then again I have the same gripe with Gran Turismo and most other racers out there for the same reason. Of course, you're paying almost four times less than most other racers, so you really can't complain, right?
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