Reviewed: October 15, 2003
Released: September 16, 2003
"Why are trucks in such high demand these days?" asks the text on the case of Gotham Games' new budget title for PlayStation, Ford Truck Mania. I glance out at the Japanese subcompact parked in front of my apartment and realize that I've been wondering the exact same thing. Curiously I reply, "I don't know, game case. Why ARE they in such high demand?" I read on.
"They are tough, strong, can go almost anywhere" - so far, I guess I can understand why some people would want one - "... and are perfect for high-speed racing action!" I blink and reread that last bit. High-speed racing action? Right. Sure. That's why EVERYONE'S buying them.
Despite the dubious claims regarding real-world motivations for purchasing a pickup truck, this back-of-the-case introduction offers a good idea of what the game itself is all about. Players choose from one of four authentically modeled Ford trucks (there are a total of eight more to unlock) and a variety of race options including career, single race, time trials and more. There's a track editor, the standard camera and controller options and a series of courses scattered across deserts, mountains and jungles.
It's my educated guess that Ford licensed out its name and truck line to Gotham Games in the hopes of getting future auto buyers hooked on the idea of purchasing their own Ford when the time came. Unfortunately for Ford, they didn't do their homework - Gotham makes some of the most dismal racing games I've ever had the misfortune to play. Ford Truck Mania is no exception.
On the plus side here, Gotham has made each truck customizable in almost every way. Players can tinker with the brake bias, steering, shocks and more. Even the colors of a rig's paint scheme can be adjusted to pretty much anything (though each truck only has one pattern painted on to it). The adjustments made during this step are palpable in the actual race and can make a fair amount of difference in its outcome. Unfortunately, since all the trucks are so customizable, there's not too much variation in handling between vehicles, lessening the player's incentive to unlock more in career mode.
Career mode, of course, is where players race around a series of five-lap courses in order to unlock more tracks and eventually the next wave of trucks. Most of the new tracks are simply extended versions of the older ones, which is disappointing. Throughout this lame mode, your driver earns points based on your finishing rank in each race. The goal is to accrue enough points to finish in first place. Sounds okay, right? Well, to tell the truth, I began to feel like I was suffocating from the dead-weight boredom this mode generates after only a handful of painfully repeptitive tracks. I had to break it up into segments (Gotham, perhaps ashamed of this aspect of the game, has helpfully included an option to save your career). Trust me - by the fourth or fifth race, most of you won't care about anything but turning off the console and saving your sanity, either. The career mode is supposed to be the centerpiece of any racing title. It turns out to be the worst thing about Ford Truck Mania.
Single race, time trial and two-player race modes are hardly even worth mentioning. They're simple, basic and boring - the epitome of a generic and uninspired title. There is one small redeeming quality to one style of racing, though: an option to race head-on against either one or three other trucks. This is only available in non-career/time trial/practice modes. Choosing the "Head-on" option pits you against either a human or computer controlled opponent, whereas choosing "Suicide" throws three computer opponents your way. These modes are still a race to the finish, but since your opponent(s) race in the opposite direction, there are plenty of opportunities to ram into one of them, setting both vehicles askew and hopefully gaining you a time advantage. The idea, while not novel, is certainly a breath of fresh air in this otherwise achingly dull game and provides the most entertainment to be had from the title.
However, a couple of big problems I had with these modes kept them from substantially affecting Ford Truck Mania's overall gameplay score. Firstly, the trucks cannot be destroyed or even damaged. A head-on race would be a blast if you could try and screw up your opponent's vehicle by ramming it into a tree. Even better would have been an arena-style auto rumble - last man standing wins. Slamming into an indestructible rig just isn't very satisfying. The other problem is that when trucks collide, they often feel more like they're built from cardboard than steel. In fact, all but one of the initially available models practically fly like tin cans when hit from a disadvantageous angle.
This last point brings me to the physics of Ford Truck Mania. Surprisingly, the overall play experience is consistent on this front. Collision detection is very accurate and, unlike some other games from Gotham, your opponents' vehicles won't just mysteriously shoot past you on straightaways with no explanation. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. The main trouble here is the trucks themselves and their tendency to sporadically defy the simple laws of physics to which they should be bound. Aside from the collisions I mentioned above, the trucks' inconsistent weights are revealed during the at-times unnaturally long jumps and in the general handling of the vehicles. Pumping the emergency brake around a particular curve, for example, may execute a perfect turn, but doing the exact same thing on the next lap might almost spin your truck around backwards.
The instruction booklet claims that Ford Truck Mania is an "off-road racing game," but though I encountered some very muddy courses, there was always a clearly defined road in my estimation. In fact, Gotham has continued to utilize invisible barriers along the borders of its roads, which is always a major annoyance and makes play feel stiff.
There's really nothing of consequence to report here, except that as is generally the case with Gotham PSX releases, the graphics in Ford Truck Mania are quite poor. At least in this particular game, each vehicle can be clearly told apart from the others. Beyond that, I don't have anything nice to say here.
Jaggies abound to the point of making the entire game look "scratchy". Draw-in is cheaply avoided by designing the courses in such a way that on any given track there is either a horizon distance of several yards, or no horizon at all. This trick is accomplished by saturating a course with crappily-textured foliage tiles that try unsuccessfully to create the look of a rainforest, or simply by making the race through a closed-loop tunnel (which begs the question of how the trucks would get inside in the first place). Some boring weather effects (scattered raindrops and so forth) don't help these yawn-inducing courses.
On muddy courses, trucks gradually become caked with mud, which would be fine if the "mud" looked less like a game of Tetris being played on the rear window. The DOOM-era sprites that are supposed to look like water being kicked up are also very shoddy-looking. These sorts of graphic effects were really outdated more than five years ago.
Of particular embarrassment to the developers should be the background images used to make a backdrop for the more open courses. The pictures of mountains - I think they're supposed to be mountains - are so blurry that even a first-gen PS1 game like Ridge Racer puts them to shame. There is simply no excuse for anything ever made for the PlayStation to look this bad.
The development team obviously spent next to no time on the sound in Ford Truck Mania, and neither shall I. There's no voice acting in it. You read that right, not a single blasted word. The music isn't turn-it-off bad, but it's completely tuneless and forgettable.
Sound effects are all right, but sparse. Collisions manage to sound just as weak as they feel. A tiny bit of background noise here and there really just seems like some kind of cruel joke. All the audio in this game is massively underwhelming.
I don't know how many times I can keep warning everyone who reads these reviews about avoiding racers from Gotham Games without sounding repeptitive. Despite its being a racing title, Ford Truck Mania isn't even any real fun with a human opponent.
Judging from the number of races available and the fact that there are three difficulty levels, if someone out there were insane enough to try completing everything the title has to offer, they'd probably need less than eight solid hours. Even though the game retails for ten bucks ($9.99 MSRP), it's not worth eight small hours of play. And eight hours of play, after all, doesn't equal eight hours of fun. The amount of time most people will be able to even stomach this game is less than an hour. The most dedicated fans of Ford trucks and racing games are advised to rent - even though rentals commonly cost five dollars or more, people will still be wasting five dollars less than they would by purchasing it.
Ford Truck Mania had a cool, if not terribly original, base concept. Alpine Studios did basically everything wrong to create a grandly disappointing and terminally boring game.
Utterly uninspired gameplay, forgettable sound and hideous graphics combine to make a game with basically zero replay value. This is probably the least fun most people will ever have playing a truck racing game. It's not the worst thing Gotham has churned out in their low budget PSX line, but it's close. Stay far, far away from this one.