Since thereís no all-encompassing car simulation like Sonyís Gran Turismo series on the Xbox, racing fans have had to make do with a number of different car games from different publishers. While the quality of some of these games ranges wildly, on occasion youíll see a real winner come out of the pack. Empire Interactiveís Ford Racing 2 (by Razorworks) should be speeding to a game shop near you and itís well worth a look despite the budget price tag. Although itís strictly an arcade racer, Ford Racing 2 is one of the more fun racers to show up on the console, and at 20 bucks, itís as easy on the wallet as it is on the eyes. Itís cheap, itís fast, and itís loaded with a few standard options usually found in higher priced models- letís take it for a test drive, shall we?
The first thing youíll notice when you slide behind the wheel (or your Xbox controller) is a lightning fast frame rate. Ford Racing 2 goes from 0 to 60 FPS in nothing flat, and the frame rate is locked at 60 even in the split-screen 2-player modes. The game has 35 cars, and 3 game modes, a deceptively low figure until you pop the hood and get a peep inside. Quick Race gets you your first car and a nice, fast course to race on while Ford Challenge is a series of racing and driving tests that range from simple match races to racing line challenges and Elimination heats where cars vanish from competition if they canít keep up with the leaders. There are 8 events, and completing each one successfully unlocks it for use in the Ford Collection mode, where you can create custom races and events. The cool thing is, youíll need to do this on each difficulty (Easy, Medium, and Hard) in order to unlock the cars and tracks for each setting. The differences in difficulty are the shorter times needed to qualify and the increasingly more difficult AI balancing. The other cars in the game donít race perfect lines like in many other driving games, and will use the entire road to pass, draft, and sometimes bump you just a bit to let you know theyíre behind you. Youíll sometimes see cars in front of you spin out or go off road, and thatís when you make your move, especially on Hard mode where the cars are quick to stay on your tail should you grab the lead.
Of course, this is an arcade racer, so youíll see a weird balance of cars in some of the races. But I found it cool to have a í56 F-100 go up against a í99 Focus Rally car in the same race, and even funnier that the old truck won the race. The handling on each of the cars is different and quite well done, and control is also excellent. Simply mashing on the gas pedal will be useless especially on some of the more twisty tracks, so practice makes perfect. Youíll soon see that stock cars and some of the older cars, concept rides, and heavier trucks arenít made for power sliding at all, whereas the rally cars and a few of the others will do the job perfectly. Of course, you canít race stock or performance class cars on the dirt courses, but with 18 courses here, youíll find plenty of stuff you can do. While itís entirely possible to beat Easy mode in a few hours, beefing up the difficulty should keep you glued to your seat for a bit longer.
Graphically, Razorworks has done a really amazing job here. Each car looks fantastic, sporting some nice environment mapping and lighting on some of the more effects intensive courses. Thereís a nice touch when you select a car from any stage, youíll get a speedometer from that particular era. Some of the cars in the Movie Stars collection will be quite familiar to older gamers or film buffs. If you ever wanted to drive Steve McQueenís í68 Mustang GT from Bullit or The í71 Mustang Mach 1 from Diamonds are Forever or even the í76 Torino from a certain other Empire release (and now box office hit) Starsky & Hutch, well, theyíre in here, and ready to roll. Youíll be able to select different colors for most of the cars in your collection, which definitely makes for a welcome feature in a budget game. The course design is really good, with course layouts slightly reminiscent of Ridge Racer with a splash of Gran Turismo. These are all high-speed tracks with some technical driving spots as youíll see when you try and master the Racing Line challenges on Hard. Most of the races last a good couple of minutes as is, but you can tailor them to be ever longer in the Ford Collection mode. The beach, highway, road courses, and oval tracks all have a nice, realistic look to them, while the off-road tracks go for a more fantasy feel with their roadside statues, waterfalls, temples and even an active volcano on one track. That volcano track also adds a bit of humor, as speeding through the lava on part of the course will cause black, oily smoke to spew forth from your tires as if theyíre burning. How cool is that? The off road courses also have some insane jumps, and Iíd love to see Razorworks actually do a complete off-road game just so I can see what other kinds of cool jump filled tracks they can come up with.
Sound effects are solid and well done, and the music is OK, with a selection of licensed ďRockĒ, ďHouseĒ, and ďFunkĒ tracks that are sort of innocuous overall. I did like that the Funk selections reminded me of old 70ís TV or movie car chases, but if thatís not your bag, well guess what? Ford Racing 2 supports custom soundtracks, so go hog wild with the driving tunes if you like. Thereís also Xbox Live support in the form of a scoreboard where you can post your best times and compare them against anyone else. Itís a small thing, but still, it bodes well should there be a Ford Racing 3 in the future. Maybe weíll see actual online racing there or perhaps a System Link feature as well.
As for things that arenít so hot, well, relatively few. The biggest issue I had with the game (besides it being too short) was that some details were left out. While the cars have drivers in them, theyíre not animated at all, which is weird when you consider the open cockpit vehicles in the game. Sonyís Gran Turismo series doesnít even have drivers in the cars, just tinted windows hiding a shadow of some guy behind the wheel. Also, as good as the racing is here, a damage model and perhaps some dirt collected on the vehicles would be cool. After playing through Codemastersí excellent Colin McRae Rally 3 and 4 and Pro Race Driver, Iím definitely a spoiled gamer. Finally, while the 18 tracks here are nice, Iíd have loved to see more oval and road courses. Perhaps a Track Editor feature for the next game would be a good idea, or perhaps Live downloads of new tracks? Yeah, itís only a $20 game, but itís a damn good one, and itís one you should consider while youíre waiting for the bigger name titles to arrive.
I havenít had this much fun with an arcade style racer since Criterion Studiosí Burnout 2: The Developerís Cut, but Ford Racing 2 isnít a crash filled classic at all. What it does do (and do well, thank you) is provide just enough of challenge and more than enough speed to entice you into walking out of the showroom, keys in hand and whistling happily away at your purchase. Itís not perfect (the actual mileage youíll get from the main game varies by the user), but the fact that youíll finish it and more than likely want to see more will hopefully convince Razorworks to add even more feature in a possible sequel. Worth a rental if youíre a dabbler in the genre, and a purchase if youíre a car nut.
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