Ford Racing: Off Road Review
It seems as if everyone wants to cash in on the global success of the PS2; the nine-year-old system continues to sell, and with a user base of around 140 million worldwide now, the benefits are clear. Even if your budget isn’t very high, with the sheer number of PS2 owners out there, only the tiniest fraction of them needs to buy your product in order to make a profit. Obviously, this is what happened with Ford Racing: Off Road. The developers didn’t need to produce anything special, and they knew if they sold a few thousand units (or whatever), they’d make up the money spent…which has to be relatively tiny. There are plenty of drawbacks and shortcomings in this game, but above all else, it just doesn’t feel polished or accomplished in any way. It’s something that needed several more months to refine and hone, but Razorworks didn’t bother with that time. Hence, all we have is a bland, flawed, and ultimately boring racing title that’s not about to appeal to anyone. Even Ford fans.
Surprisingly, the graphics may actually be the best part of this particular PS2 title, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. There’s a good amount of detail in each of the tracks – a lone bright spot in the game’s presentation – and they did go to a certain amount of effort in regards to the backgrounds. The vehicles themselves are only okay, and there isn’t much in the way of debris or other environmental effects, but as there aren’t many positives in this game, we won’t dissect this little bonus any further. All in all, the game doesn’t look terrible. The camera is mostly functional, and despite a lack of visibility when it comes to certain tracks, there isn’t much to complain about when on the racetrack. The fluidity of the action is pretty good, too, except when you run into an opposing racer, which causes the screen to jerk like mad and jars you out of that smooth-as-glass feeling. And we hate to be picky, but why are most aspects of these courses cosmetic? They have no real structure or solidity to them; they’re just painted in there. Yay.
The sound suffers greatly due to a generic and repetitive soundtrack, and laughable sound effects. We haven’t actually sat in every one of the vehicles in this game, but we’re relatively certain most of them don’t have that ridiculous engine whine that got so grating over time. We’re talking about Ford off-road vehicles, for crying out loud, not Ferraris! Some sounded normal, but others were just funny. Hitting another vehicle doesn’t have any impact whatsoever; you may hear what sounds like a light breaking of glass, but that’s about it. And hitting an obstacle simply results in an almost inaudible thump, which drastically reduces the racing experience to old-fashioned arcade-style that fails to deliver the intensity during gameplay. How many times can you recycle the same run-of-the-mill rock track? Why are there virtually no sound effects during races? What, just to go with the almost complete lack of particle effects? We have a lot of questions, but when it comes to the sound, we’re not getting any answers.
The gameplay has two things going for it: it’s straightforward and accessible, and the tracks are decent. Beyond that, everything falls well short in the project’s bid to deliver a fast-paced, entertaining off-road racing experience. Those simple controls can’t save the erratic difficulty, the bizarre Career/Tournament setup, and the fact that physical reality tends to disappear at various times throughout a race. We weren’t expecting an off-road version of Gran Turismo, but we were at least expecting a high-octane, perhaps even high-flying racing experience. Instead, all we really get is lame-brain AI, vehicles that simply aren’t different enough from one another, and a gameplay mechanic that tries to reward clean racing but actually only rewards speed. Even the arcade-style racing fans won’t like the spiking difficulty and the almost complete lack of flash, and as you carve your way through sand, water, mud, snow, and dirt, most any player will soon yawn as a result of total boredom setting in. Why? Because it's always the same!
That really leads us to the crux of the issue: at no point do you feel as if you’re progressing, because even the supposedly better vehicles and more intricate racetracks don’t add any semblance of real variety. Whether you’re racing through the sand or snow, and whether you’ve chosen a F-150 or an Escape, it just doesn’t seem to matter too much. Every race feels very similar to the last, even the ones in Career mode that are designed to stand out from the rest. For example, you will partake in different events, like trying to finish 1st and remain below the damage limit, finishing ahead of everyone else in a Checkpoint Challenge, and trying to nab the green hourglasses and avoid the red to finish in the time allotted. But no matter what you’re doing or what the goal is, you will always say to yourself, “man, this game never changes.” And it doesn’t. You would think snow might require a completely different vehicle, strategy and overall approach, but no; just attack it the way you would the sand dunes. Same damn thing.
As for the gameplay details, there is a damage mechanic, but it’s hardly even worth mentioning. When you hit track obstacles (usually just the wall or a large boulder sticking out into the track) or smack an opponent, your vehicle will take damage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have any impact whatsoever on how your vehicle performs, and there’s no reason to try to inflict damage on the other racers. All you really do is spend a little cash to fix up your ride after a few races, and that’s that. There’s no way to upgrade any given vehicle, and although there are more than a few to choose from, each Ford – like the entire game itself – feels very similar to the next. You can view your acquired vehicles in the Garage section, but it evidently serves no purpose, as you can only view your trucks from different angles and fix any damage suffered in previous races. Essentially, the entire game boils down to the Career and Tournament modes, but even then, the balance is so off that you really only have the one option: Career.
If you don’t start with Career, you’ll soon hit a wall in Tournament mode. You can easily complete the first four-race event with any one of the first four vehicles made available to you (we picked the Bronco), but while you’ll make plenty of money, you won’t be able to buy anything new. Thing is, unless you unlock the other vehicles in the Showroom via Career, you’ll be stuck trying to use a beginner/basic vehicle in Tournament mode, and that’s not good enough for the later events. But what’s the point of going to Tournament mode after completing Career? We haven’t the slightest idea, and given the strange occurrences of spiking difficulty, we soon didn’t want to find out. Every once in a while, a new set of vehicles will show up in a new event that will easily outpace the best truck in your garage. Then, you’re forced to scramble for a way to get a better vehicle, and at that point, you’re going to lose interest. Fast. Every aspect of the gameplay is too bland and boring to hook a player, regardless of their personal preference when it comes to games.
Ford Racing: Off Road is a throwaway title that lacks any professional refinement that’s most necessary this day and age; just because it’s a PS2 game doesn’t change the fact that this is 2008. Developers have managed to do some pretty incredible things with that system, and while we understand this wasn’t a big-budget project, the amount of exhibited effort is very low. The presentation is almost nil – oh look, another black screen with white text telling me how I did in the race! – the sound is awful, and the gameplay, while simple and straightforward, is far too barebones to interest anyone for very long. The only bright spot centers on the racetracks and the good detail in the background artistry, but that’s about where it ends. Yeah, there’s some nice fluidity, but it’s greatly hampered by physics silliness and camera jerkiness when smacking opponents. In short, there’s really no reason to run down to the store and buy this game. Not even for a budget price.
9/8/2008 Ben Dutka