Ford Racing Evolution firmly nails its colours to the mast the moment you click through the menus, choose quick start, and get in a car, with a thrashing corporate punk soundtrack and handling that would make Screamer 2 blush. This is a mass market arcade racer from bonnet to bumper.
Bite the Bullitt
In such a crowded market Empire Interactive and RazorWorks need to provide some unique features to distinguish themselves and there are a few of those - including eight race types in total ranging from a slalom-style gate racing system to a mode giving you a higher score for sticking closely to the racing line. There's even a race type that asks the player to slipstream behind other cars, giving the graphics programmers a chance to use their Auto Modellista-style wind effects.
You also get the more standard race types and features delivered with some aplomb - there's a split-screen multiplayer mode, a series of themed challenges, and the usual cinematic replays. The Ford endorsement has been used to good effect, with a wide and varied range of cars to unlock - a pleasant change compared with the range of just one in other single-manufacturer titles such as Ferrari 355 Challenge or Dodge Viper Challenge. And what other game would let you drive a green 1968 Mustang GT, so you can pretend to be Steve McQueen?
The cars are well implemented, with noticeably different handling and performance characteristics across the range; some of the concept cars may look like props from Captain Scarlet but they handle like motorbikes, while a 1956 pickup truck may not handle that well, but it does have a rather fetching spare tire mounted on the side! The wide range of vehicles gives some replay value, but it's a shame there is no option to customise the cars beyond simply changing the colour.
Even in the preview code, the car handling is well balanced. The cars handle sufficiently tamely to allow an easy learning curve, but will get out of control if handled too roughly. The races were a little too easy to win after only a couple of hours of play, but there is still time for fine-tuning before the game’s release.
Unfortunately, as with many racing games with an official licence, car damage and spectacular crashes are notable by their absence. In fact, graphically the game is fine but not remarkable. On my system it maintained a fair frame rate, but whilst the cars look solid, much of the graphical detail gamers take for granted is missing, including details like moving hands visible inside the car. Outside, the tracks all have some animated trackside scenery for you to glimpse in a blur and interact with, including the obligatory helicopters and seagulls, and traffic cones to punt around the racetrack.
There is a reasonable selection of tracks available, and they too come straight out of the textbook. There are the off-road jungle tracks with jumps and dirt thrown up by passing cars, city tracks with tunnels very reminiscent of those in the Ridge Racer series, and scenic seaside courses. There are even a few ovals in case your controller only works in one direction.
Opponent AI seems quite accomplished, and the other cars noticeably react to your movements, but again there is nothing on offer here obviously beyond other games in the genre. Thankfully one cliché that has blighted many an arcade racing game is avoided here - the speed of the AI opponents isn't artificially adjusted so that the player is always in second place until the last few seconds of the race. Just as well as races get boring quickly when you realise no matter how quick you are you can never overtake until the end of the last lap!
If Ford Racing Evolution has a flaw, it is that it seems the developers have been a little too ready to create a game by numbers, rather than a game that offers anything new. The game therefore looks like being a reasonably good addition to an already crowded genre. It is obviously intended to appeal to the mass market gamer, but it may not offer enough unique ideas to stand out from the other options available when launched at the end of October.