Reviewed: June 30, 2005
Released: March 22, 2005
2K Games has been pumping out a fairly steady stream of Ford-licensed budget console titles recently, the newest of which is Ford Racing 3. Featuring over 50 Ford models from the past, present and future, Ford Racing 3 runs the gamut of street, track and Off Road racing genres in a no-frills sort of way. Still, for a $15 title, Ford Racing 3 is a respectable release.
The racing of Ford 3 is broken up into a surprisingly large selection of different arcade and career modes. From the standard Quick Race, to the multiple varieties of goal and time-based challenge modes, I was astonished that a budget title would feature this much gameplay – even if some of those modes are really just carbon copies of others.
The main premise of Ford 3’s career mode is to compete in an interweaving web of challenges and racing circuits similar to the massive tree-structure of Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2. For each win, you unlock new game modes, new courses (for use in other modes), and more importantly new vehicles from the 55-plus included Ford models ranging from early sedans of the 30’s to the high-tech concept cars of the future.
Although the game definitely has a very arcade-like feel to it, each car does seem to have a unique sense of acceleration, speed and weight. Again, Ford Racing 3 is no simulation by any means; but the big off-road trucks do seem to lumber around a bit, whereas the R2000 rally cars are really quick and twitchy.
In the standard career mode, the first few hours of racing will find you winning race after race as you progress through a fairly easy progression of races. But then it all becomes quite difficult – and this is where the game begins to show one of its biggest flaws, the inconsistent balancing of the AI competition. Where can a pair of F150 pickup trucks suddenly overtake, outrun, and outmaneuver a Focus rally car through the final stretch of a very tight and lengthy gravel course? Well, in Ford Racing 3, of course!
This kind of “suspension of disbelief” was common practice back in the early days of gaming, but in 2005, most gamers have come to expect a bit more reality. Sure, some artistic license can be taken in an effort to keep the game exciting – but if developers are going to take these kinds of liberties, they should at least be fair and let the gamer in on the fun. But that’s not the case with Ford Racing 3, because when the tables are turned gamers will find that the F150 pickups drive like slow, plodding behemoths against the spry AI hotrods. Suddenly any real sense of challenge comes less from getting a good racing line than it does from simply blocking the opposition without losing control – which proves to be harder than it sounds.
As mentioned, Ford Racing 3 takes the gamer through a number of racing styles and themes. From the streets courses, to the circuit tracks, to the off road runs – there is always something new to find in any of the twenty-seven racing environments. Each surface has its own unique feel – again, not entirely sim-like, but unique from the others.
Since simulation plays such a little part in the mechanics of the game, the gamer can all but forget about chaining together smooth racing lines. Mastering the loosey-goosey drifting is the key to success in Ford Racing 3. And given that the courses are rife with invisible walls and barriers – none of which significantly affect speed or direction should you come in contact – the gamer can easily ride the guardrail through a particularly hairy curve without issue. Sure, it’s a cheap move – but against the unfairly dominating AI, riding the wall is a necessity.
I particularly enjoyed the challenge modes. Especially the icon races, which placed you on a course scattered with green and red icons. You would be posed with a challenge to gather a certain amount of icons in a certain amount of time; green icons subtract one from the total, red icons add one to the total. What results is a very tense minute and a half of pedal-to-the-metal sprint to gather enough green icons to not only count down to the goal, but to offset all of the red that you collide with along the way. I’m a sucker for challenge modes and license test, and this mode stole the show for me in Ford Racing 3.
On a side note, I recently had the pleasure to review another 2K/Ford title, Ford Mustang: The Legend Lives, which was developed by Eutechnyx – the developers of last year’s commendable Street Racing Syndicate. I noted in my review how Ford Mustang reminded me of the Test Drive series from the original Playstation. There was a definite look and feel to the game that really felt familiar.
Ford Racing 3 has that same feeling of familiarity; only with a different title from that era – the highly under-appreciated racer, Vanishing Point. I really can’t pinpoint it specifically, but the environments, the vehicles, the racing structure, and the challenges – they all looked and felt similar and for me it made Ford Racing 3 very painless to ease into.
All in all, Ford Racing 3 plays better than expected for a fifteen-dollar game.
The visual presentation of Ford Racing 3 definitely gets the job done, but by no means will this budget title win any awards. The graphics overall are crisp and clear enough to get by, and the car models and animations are quite detailed. However, the cardboard-cutout backgrounds and monotonous levels really date the game circa 1999. And the sheer amount of jagged edges and screen flickering is enough to induce seizures as large portions of the screen (shadows especially) pop in and out randomly.
The cars all have an unfaltering showroom sheen that is 100% resistant to the effects of environmental and physical interaction. Translation: no mud, no dirt, and no damage. Why car companies are so afraid that gamers will thing negatively of their vehicles if they show even the slightest amount of vulnerability is beyond me – but they do. Ford Racing 3 showcases pristine vehicles dancing across mucky and dusty off road courses without collecting nary a spec of dust. For a game that touts “fully interactive environments” on its back cover, I really didn’t see much of that interaction here.
Again, while ultimately getting the job done, Ford Racing 3’s sound is equally as unimpressive as its graphics. Monotonous engine sounds will lull you to a near-slumber, only until the random tire squeal or screech nudges you back awake. Granted, there isn’t a whole lot more aurally to be found in most other racing games – but Ford 3’s overall lack of visual excitement just makes the sound quality seem like it drones on, and on, and on…
2K Games seems to be licensing some of the lesser-known garage punk bands to round out the music. While this is probably done ultimately for cost-cutting measures, it does introduce some of the “best of the best and worst of the worst” in the indie music scene to the gaming masses. This is a win-win proposition for all – 2K saves money, bands get exposure, and gamers are introduced to music other than the mainstream.
At just fifteen dollars new, it’s hard to knock a game too much – and for all of my nags, Ford Racing 3 is still a competent game all around. The problem is, budget titles generally appeal to a very niche audience; either those who can’t financially, or those who won’t ethically, shell out full price for a new game. And in the case of Ford Racing 3, timing is its worst downfall. With the recent listing of Burnout 3 in the Greatest Hits line – anyone who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, buy Burnout 3 at full price before by now will already be neck-deep in Burnout 3’s deep career mode.
Still, on it’s own, Ford Racing 3 definitely worth a look – even if only to gander at some of the old Fords that make us Michiganders proud. And yes, embarrassing as it is, Michiganders is the official term.
While I applaud Ford for embracing the video gaming culture as enthusiastically as they have over the years (much more so than other car manufacturers), it is hard to score their titles any higher than slightly above average. I wish the Ford-licensed game developers would finally make the decision to cast aside those outdated and mediocre gameplay mores of the 90’s, and really deliver a solid, entertaining experience.
The Ford titles need to progress to a more realistic, more sim-like experience if they plan on garnering any real following. As it stands, Ford Racing 3 presents solid, yet no-frills, racing experience that would have wowed audiences a year or two ago. In 2005, however, it will surely give games a few days of fun – but not much more.