You know, it's getting increasingly difficult to justify a racing game that offers only one brand of car (or in the case of Ford Racing Off Road, two, though Land Rover was still under Ford control when the game was in development). With the more serious sims now delivering literally hundreds
of cars, the allure of having a handful of different makes from the same manufacturer isn't nearly as strong.
Razorworks has been cozy with Ford for years now, so it's not entirely surprising that it's back with another Ford Racing game, though taking things (literally) off the streets of the previous games and transplanting things to deserts, mountains and beaches doesn't really deliver the same sense of speed, the same variety or, well, the same kind of basic fun that the previous games offered.
Much of it comes down to the overall lack of excitement. Sure, you're bounding around in off-road climes, but that doesn't mean the game is especially speedy. Most of the vehicles, despite supposedly having different handling, speed and acceleration characteristics for the most part, and the fact that you have to not only unlock but buy the 18 cars in the game means that you'll be doing a lot of the same stuff over and over again, just with a slightly different mechanic.
It's this endless amount of regurgitation and repurposing that was done with the game's tracks that helps hasten the feeling of mind-numbing boredom. Sure, on paper Elimination, Time Attack, Damage Control and Point to Point races seem different, but in actual practice they're remarkably similar; just make it to first before the other guys and stay there -- minding the damage done to your car since it carries over between races. I know that describes like every racing game ever made, but it's all pretty brainless. Likewise, the Checkpoint, Slalom, Gold Rush and Seconds Out! Events just have you racing to a pickup or gate as fast as possible. None feel particularly engaging once you've played them a few times, and with literally dozens of events before the end of the Career Mode, they all start to drag on.
FROR's particular brand of physics is... interesting to say the least. While the vehicles definitely feel weighty, and slidey if you just lay on the gas all the time, the odd jump has the potential to send the car spinning, which can be a serious buzzkill when heading into the final stretch of a race. Things also tend to break down as soon as cars touch. There's really no proper collision model, so cars will stick together, bumping constantly and sending the screen into spasms that just make the cars look like they're vibrating in place. That the AI really just picks a route and drives through
you rather than around or even with you is equally troubling.
It should be noted that Ford Racing Off Road does at least look
impressive, but that's due more to Razorworks' core engine than anything else. Butta smoove and rock solid, it really is a nice change of pace from some of the other
racers in recent memory. This is, after all, fairly old hardware, and developers should
have engines up and running at 60fps on the PS2 by now. FROR certainly does that, and sports solid, nicely detailed SUV/truck models that really do look like the real thing.
Unfortunately, that don't always react like the real thing. The game features an extremely limited damage model (trucks and SUVs will smoke if the damage meter gets high enough, but they don't really get banged up to any significant degree). I can understand if Ford wouldn't want their vehicles getting banged up when racing against other companies' rides, but it's a pure Ford (and the since-jettisoned Land Rover brand) offering, and being of-road, there was ample opportunity to paint the classic "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" picture of a beat-up truck racing through the finish line where other cars would have fallen apart.
Another missed opportunity: where are the sound effects? Cars sound like little RC versions of the big boys, there's no real sounds of dirt or sliding around or different types of surfaces. Bringing those effects to the fore would have also helped drown out the frankly lame music bits. The odd wailing guitar solo or cookie-cutter jazzy riff doesn't really do anything to help set the aural tone of the game.
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