Low budget film guru Roger Corman famously boasted in his autobiography that he made a hundred movies in Hollywood and never lost a dime. He pulled off this impressive feat by using bigger movies to gauge what people were interested in, and served up more of the same, only faster and cheaper. When Spielberg made Jaws, Corman produced Piranha. When Star Wars exploded, Corman brought out Battle Beyond The Stars. When Jurassic Park dominated the box office, Corman gave us Carnosaur.
And what, I hear you sob, does all of this have to do with Ford Street Racing? Simple - it's essentially a Roger Corman version of Burnout, Project Gotham Racing or Need For Speed. The kids are into souped-up cars and urban speeding, so here's a bandwagon offering that attempts to offer similar thrills but at a pauper's price.
Trouble is, a low budget movie rip-off can have its own cheeky charm. A low budget game... not so much. While Ford Street Racing does a respectable job of looking the part, the scant gameplay options and characterless presentation soon reveal its second tier status.
Following on from the three previous Ford Racing titles, the first thing you notice about this "street" edition is that there are actually fewer options. Ford Racing 3, while no great shakes in the gameplay department, at least boasted road races, off-road challenges and circuit tracks. By comparison, the rather predictable and limited locations on offer here soon feel repetitive. The paltry selection of eighteen cars also feels lightweight, and doesn't seem like a great use of the Ford license. You can't customise or tweak them either, thus removing the fast and furious core appeal of car modding from the equation.
Ford Street Racing's one glimmer of innovation comes in the form of the Team Racing mode, in which you can control up to three cars in the same race. You can switch between them with a quick prod up or down on the d-pad, thus helping all your cars move up the pack, and pass orders to other cars to block advancing opponents.
It's a nice idea in theory - presented via a swooshy camera that shamelessly rips off Burnout Takedowns - but constantly having to shuttle your attention up and down the track merely dilutes the racing experience rather than enhancing it.
It doesn't help that the AI is timid and obvious, as once out of your control your team-mates don't seem to put any effort into advancing on their own. They'll hold their position, and sometimes slip backwards, but I've yet to see one of my team push for pole position under their own steam. The same lack of spark applies to rival racers as well - there's no sense that these are genuine opponents hellbent on beating you. They follow the racing line, and occasionally (and inexplicably) veer violently from side to side, but they're easy to overtake by using simple human ingenuity and cutting corners. This adherence to the central racing line is so limiting that even your own team-mates will ram you off the road if you stray into their path, rather than reacting intelligently and moving aside.
Sadly, these fussy Team Championships are the only way to earn the points needed to buy new vehicles or unlock new stages, and as you need to buy cars for your whole team, progress can be a long slog for a rather uninspiring reward.
Smash and drab
Visually the game is better than you'd expect for a twenty quid title, with some nicely detailed locations let down only by their utter lack of imagination. The cars also look better than expected, though they have that fake plasticky shininess that blighted many early PS2 racers, while the damage models are basic. The engine noise is thin and tinny, while impacts are accompanied by comical "clonk" and "tinkle" sound effects that rather undersell the action.
The steering of the cars is surprisingly responsive, but this is cancelled out by some spongy braking and accelerating, which make the numerous hairpin turns a trial rather than an exhilarating haven for powerslides. There's just no visceral thrill to the racing, no surge of adrenalin as you hit the gas for a last second push for the lead. You simply glide around the scenery, reacting with the sort of mental engagement usually reserved for stacking loose change in size order while chatting on the phone. Not so much pedal to the metal, Ford Street Racing feels more like putting pedal to the kettle... and having a nice cup of tea.
Ford Street Racing's biggest crime is to be an ambitionless entry in a genre already overstocked with faster, cooler titles. The low price point is certainly a bonus, but as you can pick up the still superior early entries in most rival racing franchises for the same price, it's not quite the bargain it seems. To quote another famous Ford: mostly harmless.