Review: Ford Racing Off Road

FordRacingOffRoad.jpgThere is one thing that pretty much everyone can agree on: racing games are just a load of fun. Whether they are arcade-style games like Outrun or simulation games like TOCA or open world games like Test Drive Unlimited or extreme off-road racing like Pure… there is a style and a game for everyone. Due to this, games don’t try to be ‘all things to all people’, they focus on a style of racing and type of car and track environment and make their best effort. In this case, the style is light off-road, the tracks are variations of mud and desert and ice, and the cars are off-road variety SUV’s from Ford and Land Rover (which was owned by Ford until recently). The possibilities seem promising – a budget game offering a narrowband experience should be able to deliver solid results good for several hours of gameplay against the computer and with friends.

Sadly this game fails to deliver anything that begins to earn even the budget price. You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t read further, just please make a note never to buy, rent or play this game on any platform. I also had some play time on the PSP version, and it is no better.

There are three major areas of the game to consider: the technical details such as graphics, sound and controls; the physics and core racing elements; and the breadth of cars and tracks as well as multiplayer elements that contribute to keeping players engaged. Unfortunately the best part of the game is also the least important: technically the game looks and sounds quite good. It is not up to the standard of the photo-realistic simulation games, but the look and feel of the cars and environments is pretty reasonable. The reason I say ‘unfortunately’ is that there are some significant problems: I was not surprised to find that this was also a PS2 game – the graphics look very much like they are from that generation of console, and do not scale well to a high-resolution PC display. While that is good in terms of lowering the system requirements, it makes the game look lousy for most players. This lack of detail extends to the cars: there is little that distinguishes one SUV or off-road truck from the next in terms of their appearance, certainly nothing that makes you anticipate unlocking new vehicles.

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It only goes downhill from there (no pun intended): I have a top-notch sound system that I can hook up to my PC as needed, and something like a racing game is a cool thing to feel and hear at a higher volume as you tear through the turns and speed over bumps and jumps and slides. So it is unfortunate that the sound is… underwhelming. The cars sound like little three cylinder Geo Metros rather than powerful off-road vehicles, and when you move and groove on the various surfaces you get nothing that reflects the slipping and sliding and normal noises you’d expect. Moreover the guitar-heavy soundtrack is annoying at best and really doesn’t fit with the feel of the game.

Things like graphics and sound don’t make or break a game, but the fact that you pay too much attention to them often indicates either that they are superlative or that the rest of the game is failing to hold your attention. The reasons are pretty clear: Ford Racing Off Road is a lackluster experience that offers little distinction between vehicles and tracks. As an example – have you ever gone off a paced road in real life? Your handling and perception change pretty dramatically. But in this game, it is hard to tell one track from the next, and one surface feels pretty much the same as another. And if you leave the road it is often like running into a wall – you stop dead in your tracks. The sense of speed you get from racing fast cars, or power from muscle cars is also missing – replaced by what often feels like a trip down the odd country road that has a 55MPH speed limit but also some twists and turns. In other words – don’t anticipate getting your pulse racing.

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Finally there is the physics model: as physics and math are my life, this is one that really offended me. Racing games have advanced so much in their use of collision models and tracking physics and other aspects of making the games look and feel more real that Ford Racing Off Road stands out for having done such a lousy job in this regard. While I understand that the multiplatform aspects of this game (it is also available for the PSP and PS2) make it harder to encompass realistic effects, even PSP releases such as the Burnout and Test Drive games include realistic feelings to the vehicles as they collide and crash. Damage modeling is also lousy, as it rarely reflects what is going on… and was something my kids had hoped to exploit.

In a crowded game market, a new entry needs something to differentiate it from the crowd – not necessarily innovation or top-notch graphics or even ground-breaking gameplay, but perhaps low price combined with a charming presentation, or a brand link that attracts fans. Ford Racing Off Road attempts to lure gamers who like off-road racing, budget games, and are partial to Ford’s vehicles. It is unfortunate that they do little to exploit any of those potential markets, and instead produce a sub-par racing game that is easily dismissed as yet another piece of licensed ‘shovelware’ to be avoided.

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Pros:
+ Looks decent
+ Budget Price

Cons:
– Indistinct cars
– Indistinct tracks
– Indistinct surfaces
– Lousy soundtrack
– Poor physics

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available for PS2, PSP and Wii
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Razorworks
Release Date: 9/23/08
Genre: Racing
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!