Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ford Racing Off Road Review

Ford Racing Off Road, developed by Razorworks and published by Empire Interactive on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Easy-to-drive arcade physics, nice car models, number of racing modes
The Not So Good: Damage does not affect performance, robotic AI that ignores the race rules, can’t adjust difficulty for career mode, no penalty for going off-track, lacks online multiplayer, no car setup or part upgrade options, pixilated environments
What say you? An arcade racing game with a lot of race types but not much else: 4/8

Since my favorite NASCAR driver, Mark Martin, used to drive the #6 car for Jack Roush, I had some sort of “allegiance” to Ford. But now that’s he’s moved on to DEI, and Hendrick next year, my interest with Ford vehicles has waned (plus, I own a Subaru). So here comes Ford Racing Off Road, the latest in the long line of Ford-branded racing titles. Now, the Ford trucks and SUVs (that's an abbreviation for “man, gas is expensive!”) take to exotic locations like “desert” and “wet desert.” How will this semi-budget ($30) arcade racing title stack up?

Well, Ford Racing Off Road certainly looks and sounds like a budget title. Not surprisingly, the best aspect of the graphics is the highly detailed car models. Nothing like product placement to raise the quality! The rest of the visuals are not as good: the damage model is underwhelming, with only small changes to the front of your vehicle and an increased amount of dirtiness, even if you slam head on into a rock at 100 miles per hour. Man, those Ford trucks are sturdy! The background textures shimmer with some weird shadowing effects or something odd going on, possibly artifacts from this game likely being a port from the PSP (yeah, PSP). The suspension and dust effects look fine, though. The sound is along the same lines, featuring a generic rock soundtrack and your typical engine effects. Overall, Ford Racing Off Road looks like a game ported from a handheld console shown at an increased resolution with improvements made only to the car models, which is most likely what happened.

Ford Racing Off Road features off road racing with Ford vehicles. Who knew? The game comes with a number of real vehicles in computerized form with different attributes for speed, acceleration, and handling. This has no relation to reality, however, as the lower-level vehicles top out at 100 mph while I am sure they can go faster in real life. In essence, a truck and an SUV can control exactly the same as long as the attributes are identical. Gameplay comes in several flavors: career, tournament, arcade, and multiplayer. The career mode is the method in which you unlock new tracks, vehicles, and tracks. You cannot adjust the difficulty of any of the races; I found some to be trivially easy (and therefore boring) and others to be more challenging. Tournament modes just has a selection of four races in a set, and arcade mode lets you choose from the content you have unlocked. Multiplayer options are quite limited: you can only play the game using a split-screen mode on the same computer, rather than taking it to the Internet, and you can only enjoy a couple of the game modes. This means that you will most likely have to play against the AI (this is not a good thing, as you'll see). All of the races put you in last place to begin with and require you to finish first, which doesn't really sound fair to me.

The best part of Ford Racing Off Road is the selection of race types. We have regular three-lap races that is the only type found in the tournament and comprise a majority of the career mode. There is an addition eleven modes to enjoy that are variations on the standard race, collecting things, racing a countdown clock, or passing a lot of vehicles in a short amount of time. First, elimination mode takes out the last two vehicles every lap. Damage control requires you to keep your damage above a specified level when you finish the race. Gold rush requires to you collect an exorbitant amount of coins and still maintain first position; most of the coins are off to the side, so you have to balance collecting the coins and racing the AI drivers. Expedition mode is similar, except you are collecting artifacts instead of coins. Seconds out mode introduces a countdown timer that can only be increased by collecting green hourglasses (and avoiding red ones). Gauntlet requires you to be in first place after every lap and gives the AI drivers a head start. Time attack pits you against the clock in an excessively long nine lap race. Overtake requires you to pass a number of vehicles within a time limit. Checkpoint mode is completely superfluous, since you have to get first place anyway and the checkpoints are in order and located in the center of the track. Point-to-point is the more classic checkpoint race and slalom mode adds gates to worry about. All of this variety goes a long way towards making Ford Racing Off Road enjoyable, but the frequency of normal lap races and inability to change the difficulty negates any potential fun. Another bad thing about all these interesting game modes is that the AI drivers are immune from a lot of the rules. For example, they don't need to worry about damage in damage control mode, so they will happily slam into you with no repercussions. In addition, they do not need to collect any coins in gold rush mode, which means they will stay to the fast line around the track while you trudge through the bushes. It doesn't really sound fair to me.

Unfortunately, the actual racing in Ford Racing Off Road is not that great. The vehicles handle fine for an arcade racer, but the lack of online play means we have to rely heavily on the AI drivers, and that's not a good thing here. The AI drivers are very obviously artificial, as they follow almost exactly the same line every lap and are almost impossible to wreck, even if you slam really hard into them. In addition, they don't take the player's position into account when racing, especially coming out of corners, so expect to get rammed a lot. This can be quite a problem in the damage control races, where you have to worry about doing undue damage to your vehicle but they do not. Speaking of damage, any damage you do to your vehicle does not affect performance at all until your truck magically blows up at 100% damage. In addition, the damage seems to be only dependent on the quantity of collisions and not the quality: running head-on into a rock at 110 mph results in less damage than having a couple of side bumps going down the straightaway. Despite being an arcade game, there are no power-ups to pick up along the way other than magical repair pods that restore some of your car's luster. Ford Racing Off Road also lacks setups or upgrades to your vehicle and all vehicles come with automatic transmission. The driving model, even for an arcade game, is very rudimentary: going off-road into the bushes results in the same speed as going down the trail. Now, I know the game is called “Off Road,” but I should go faster on compacted dirt than loose sediment. The races last about a lap too long and not being able to change the difficulty in the career mode (which you have to play to unlock all of the content) makes playing the game excessively tedious.

Ford Racing Off Road comes with a wide range of racing modes, but the rest of the game is just mediocre. The game is approachable to a wide audience thanks to the simplistic physics and it certainly takes advantage of the Ford license by providing some detailed vehicles. However, the racing is generally very bland thanks to the stiff AI drivers and static difficulty. The fact that the AI drivers aren't held by the same rules as you are in some of the events is insulting. The driving physics don't slow you down for going off the road and the damage model is very elementary. The graphics (other than the cars) are archaic as well, and multiplayer is not for online enjoyment. There are too many missing features or over simplifications to make Ford Racing Off Road anything more than just another arcade racing title.