Written by: Rik

Date posted: April 26, 2015

Extras:

Time for some off-roadin’.

Time for some off-roadin’.

The concept of a single brand driving game has always seemed a bizarre one: where most racers offer you a variety of makes and models, to offer only one of the former seems comparatively restrictive and unappealing. While there are certainly fans of particular cars out there, they won’t ever be significant enough to outnumber the general racing fan. For all of the obvious merits of Need for Speed: Porsche 2000, for example, it wasn’t a great seller, with the healthy roster of fast cars on offer in previous games suddenly reduced to a collection of extremely similar-looking German sports cars. Unless you were an obsessive that dressed each day like Joey Tribbiani’s Porsche man, it didn’t exactly represent a forward step for the series – all the previous NFS games had a Porsche anyway.

At least a Porsche is a mildly exciting brand, the kind of car most of us can’t afford to drive until we’re too old to look anything other than ridiculous doing so. A Ford, on the other hand, is a relatively achievable aim, and while I’m certainly no motoring expert, and their cars may certainly have their merits, it’s fair to say that their range is hardly the stuff of dreams. Still, there’s some history here when it comes to Ford and games, stretching back to the promotional Ford Simulator titles of the DOS era, and in a funny way my misgivings about the concept just made me more curious about the ongoing viability of games like this, and the final product itself. (Also, I couldn’t make Lotus Challenge work on my PC).

Is there some kind of pro-military subtext here? [No – a reader].

Is there some kind of pro-military subtext here? [No – a reader].

So, Ford Racing 2 it is then, and we’ll pause only momentarily to acknowledge the existence of its predecessor, about which we’ve written separately (see Free game inside, above). Eschewing a stuffy approach in favour of something similar to the arcade racers of the time, FR2 is essentially a lap-based affair with the usual combination of single-player races and challenges. An introductory video attempts to whip up some excitement, with the aid of some vaguely upbeat pop rock (one of only two songs that make up the soundtrack and are endlessly looped throughout the game), while the menus are narrated by gaming’s great friend, sexy robot voice woman (thanks, Command and Conquer).

There are two main game modes: ‘Ford Challenge’ and ‘Ford Collection’. The former allows you to unlock and collect various models of Ford by beating a challenge using each one. Once you’ve beaten the challenge, and the challenge type, you can use them, along with the track, in the Collection mode, which essentially gives you the opportunity to determine challenges of your own.

A decent selection of race types are on offer, although there’s nothing that won’t immediately be familiar to anyone who’s played a racing game at some point in the last 10 years. There are timed challenges, with an extra twist being added either with the inclusion of coned gates, which add a second to the available time remaining, or collectible on-track hourglasses, which deduct a second from your lap time (it’s rather stretching the point to claim these are vastly different from each other, but there you go). Other technical challenges include one which requires you to stay on the racing line or face a time penalty, and ‘drafting’, in which you pursue a car and lurk behind it until a timer is elapsed and it disappears into thin air.

Some of the vehicles are weird-looking concept cars.

Some of the vehicles are weird-looking concept cars.

As any racing fan knows, ‘drafting’ is actually an overtaking technique using the car in front’s slipstream, but here it’s just a gimmick used in one type of challenge – you don’t get to use it in actual races against other cars. Similarly, taking the right racing line is a skill you’ll rarely need to deploy on the majority of races, with most taking place on circuits with rather forgivingly wide roads. Racing against opponents rather than the clock also comes in a variety of flavours – aside from the standard race-to-win, there’s also an elimination mode, in which the last two vehicles are ruled out of the race at the end of each lap, and Duel, in which you battle against a single opponent for a lap, and have to beat three different opponents over three laps in order to win. Again, nothing massively original, but some amount of variety at least.

On medium difficulty, progress is fairly steady, with sufficient challenge to keep things interesting, but rarely enough to hold you up or frustrate you for too long. The AI is curiously variable in its approach – slow and passive on some tracks and aggressive and tenacious on others. Braking doesn’t tend to be all that necessary in general, except on the few circuits that actually look like race tracks (the rest vary from standard road tracks – or tracks wearing ‘road trousers’, if you will – to more wacky settings such as volcanoes and military bases) with the others tending to favour careful management of the throttle and steering to keep your speed up throughout.

FFG’s resident racing ‘expert’ in action.

FFG’s resident racing ‘expert’ in action.

Despite the humdrum setup, it’s actually rather fun in places, although I have to admit to being a sucker for timed challenges that others might consider dull. There’s a good sense of speed, and though none of the tracks are massively detailed, there are some nice background touches, usually involving planes flying overhead or helicopters buzzing around aimlessly nearby. As an uncomplicated arcade racer, it certainly does the trick for a while, and the Challenge mode is a nice compromise between the limited career/championship options on offer in 90s arcade racers and the one-million-identical-races grindfest of mid-00s efforts.

You’d have to say, though, that once it’s all over, you’ve pretty much seen everything the game has to offer, and it’s hard to imagine anyone sufficiently interested in revisiting any of the content by creating their own challenges in Ford Collection. Perhaps in multiplayer, it might be a slightly different story, I don’t know. Really, though, the lack of longevity is down to Ford Racing 2’s lightweight approach, which has very little to offer the hardcore Ford fan – if, indeed, he or she exists.

The vehicle models are decent enough – the graphics are generally pretty solid – but you’re given surprisingly little technical information about the cars and trucks at your disposal, and though there’s some tangible difference in handling and engine note between them, there’s no more attention to detail in this regard than there would be in your standard racing game. Without once again raising suspicions that I have some kind of peculiar virtual dashboard fetish, I do think that a distinctive in-car view for each would have helped in this regard. If you’re interested enough to buy a game that exclusively features Ford vehicles, it’s the very least you deserve.

Putting a ferris wheel by the track doesn’t make NASCAR more interesting.

Putting a ferris wheel by the track doesn’t make NASCAR more interesting.

In a game like Test Drive Unlimited, for example, there’s plenty of fun to be had in a variety of vehicles, and slower cars aren’t just to be endured until you unlock faster ones – there can be as much pleasure in chugging your estate agent’s Audi from one side of Hawaii to the other at a gentle pace as there is in hitting 200mph plus in one of the game’s ridiculous supercars [*insert Clarkson phwooarrragh sound here*]. Even in a much older game, like the original Need for Speed, part of the enjoyment was in using the full roster of cars, with each one having their own distinctive ‘feel’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, although the game was developed in England, there’s a heavy bias towards US models in general, with a variety of interchangeable trucks and stock cars bulking out the vehicle list. For British people of my generation, the word ‘Ford’ is most likely to evoke dusty memories of an unloved family car (in the 80s, my Dad had a brown Ford Sierra which he christened ‘The Flying Turd’ after it broke down repeatedly during a holiday to France), but those hoping to hurl Fiestas, Orions and perhaps even a Capri around a track are going to be disappointed here. Aside from the movie Mustangs, the Starsky and Hutch Torino, and the Ford Focus, there’s little that will be familiar to European eyes.

When I was little, I always dreamed of winning the Ford Challenge Trophy.

When I was little, I always dreamed of winning the Ford Challenge Trophy.

With a bit more variety, and significantly more detail, I could at least imagine someone wanting to use the ‘Ford Collection’ mode, but otherwise it’s just like revisiting races you’ve already raced (and won) – and although Ford Racing 2 isn’t unenjoyable, it’s not good enough to sustain significant repetition. It’s like playing any other lap racer of a similar vintage, except you only have Fords to choose from.

There’s not a lot more to say about this game: my own interest in the concept, and a habit of defaulting to undemanding driving games as the ones to squeeze in a quick play of here and there when there’s work and everything else going on, meant I got something out of it. If your predilections are different, then I imagine it’s safe to continue ignoring its existence.