Reviewed: June 10, 2005
Released: April 22, 2005
For a Michigan native like myself, the Ford name is synonymous with the American Dream. From its humble beginnings in Henry’s garage, to becoming one of the largest automakers in the world – Henry Ford’s legacy will stand as a textbook example of how a little ingenuity and whole lot of perseverance can come together to build a nation. Ford really is the American Dream, and few cars epitomize that Dream better than Ford’s own Mustang.
From humble beginnings as an affordable starter car, it took less than a decade for the Mustang to burgeon into one of the most respected muscle cars of the late sixties and early seventies. And even though the mid-seventies fuel crisis proved nearly fatal for the Mustang, the eighties brought about a revival with the popular 5.0 model. But it wasn’t until the mid-nineties when the Mustang really experienced a rebirth of cool with its retro-sixties styling and sex appeal.
Soon, the Ford Mustang began appearing in some of the expected – and some very unexpected – places. Movies like Gone in Sixty Seconds reminded the nation of just how boss a Mustang really is, and recent appearances at LeMans showed Americans that even muscle cars can make good work of a road course.
Now, in the mid 2000’s, the Mustang once again stands at the head of the pack as one of the few affordable, American-made sports cars. It is no surprise then, that 2K Games, Eutechnyx and Ford all come together to give us a budget racing title Ford Mustang: The Legend Lives. And while the licensed title is strictly a no-frills take on the racing genre, gamers would be hard pressed to find a better bang for their blue-collar buck.
Compared to today’s standards, Ford Mustang is probably the shallowest of shallow in racing games – where the trend in the racing genre has been to say yes, yes yes, Ford Mustang says no, no, no. No tuning, no tweaking, no modding, no open city structure, no damage modeling, no online play – no, no, and no. Fifteen bucks, licensed game? Sounds an awful lot like shovelware, eh?
Yeah, Ford Mustang pretty much fits the textbook definition of shovelware. Except for one thing, that is – it really is a lot of fun.
In a world of Burnouts, Undergrounds, Forzas and Dubs, playing 2K5’s Ford Mustang is like stepping back and studying a snapshot of the racing genre as it was in 1997. You know – back when all we did was pick a car, pick a course, and race, period. We didn’t care about getting the best simulation physics, or the most realistic crashes – and heck, simply being able to choose our car’s color much less a personalized license place was more than enough modification for us.
Nowadays, games have you spending more time in your virtual garage than you ever do out on the course. Don’t get me wrong, I proudly fly the Forza flag at home and you’ll often see my gamer tag playing Midnight Club and Burnout, but there is something to be said about the good old days, when you just hopped in and raced a car – with absolutely no strings attached. Ford Mustang lets you do just that.
For fans of the classic Test Drive games – numbers four and five specifically – Ford Mustang is going to drum up fond memories of those days when the Test Drive franchise ruled the consoles. Everything about Ford Mustang – the look, the feel, the cars – all smack of those classic titles. And believe me, this is a good thing.
The game comes in four basic flavors – Arcade Racing, Career Racing, Career Challenges, and Multiplayer. Arcade Racing allows you free choice racing from any of the courses or cars unlocked in the career mode. Career Racing allows you to unlock these courses and cars by gaining points through a progression of street and circuit races in both amateur and professional difficulties. The Career Challenges are a series of lap-wise time trials or gated races through the courses of the main game, and you progress by meeting or exceeding specific challenges.
Racing takes place on any of 22 different courses in seven different real-world cities; New York, Miami, Long Beach, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The use of the phrase “different courses” should be taken with a grain of salt, since it really just means alternate versions of the seven main circuits. Like those old Test Drive games, most of the circuits are comprised of linked city streets and highways and have a decent amount of obstacle traffic. The Long Beach circuits are the oddballs and take the form of a closed-circuit track complete with spectators.
It should come as no surprise that the vehicle selection is limited to Mustangs. However, with over forty different versions of Mustangs from which to choose - everything from the grocery getter to the grand prix – the choice is seldom lacking. As expected, universal favorites like the Mach 1 and Boss 302 top the charts for speed, while the more recent ‘stangs max out on handling. Given that the game is heavily licensed, it should also not come as a surprise that the game features absolutely no visible damage or damage effects.
As mentioned earlier, multiplayer is split-screen only, but it plays on at a pretty decent clip.
The racing itself is surprisingly solid for a budget title. Well, I guess not really all that surprising once you realize that Eutechnyx is behind the wheel. Eutechnyx is the very same developer that brought us Street Racing Syndicate and Test Drive LeMans, so there is no question that they know something about making a good racing game.
It appears that the Street Racing Syndicate engine powers Ford Mustang, because the two share a great deal of mechanical similarities. Eutechnyx take on handling has historically been for the controls should be a bit delayed in timing, yet quite sensitive in response. That may seem like a self-defeating setup – and in a way it is – but it can be overcome. Needless to say, the controls take a bit of getting used to – you have to learn to feather the controls just enough to initiate a response, but not so much that you get into an oversteer condition.
The races pit you up against three AI drivers in races of generally three or more laps. While at first quite easy to nail first place, it becomes significantly more difficult as your progress – especially given the fact that Eutechnyx doesn’t care much for the rubber band catch-up logic you generally find in arcade-style racers. If you pick a fast car, it is quite possible to get a half a lap lead or more within the first lap and never once see other racers. On the other hand, if you pick a weak car, it’s quite possible that you simply cannot keep up with the pack, no matter how well you race. As you can expect, you’ll pretty much stick with either a newer Mustang GT or the older Boss 302 in ensure a strong showing.
Once again, for a budget title, Ford Mustang has surprisingly good graphics for a budget racer – no doubt a result of the Street Racing Syndicate engine. With the license comes great car modeling, right down to the chrome rims and tire treads. A few jaggies pop up every now and then on some of the sloping surface of the trunk and hood, but overall the vehicles look like they were cleaned for the showroom.
The environments represent their host cities well – from the tight grids of New York, to the palm-treed vistas of Los Angles, the courses look crisp and clear. With real time shadowing and reflections on and about each vehicle’s hood and roof, it really looks like Eutechnyx was able to put their Street Racing Syndicate engine to good use. I never saw much popup, but there were a few times where the framerate hiccupped a bit.
There are four camera settings in Ford Mustang – behind near, behind far, bumper and hood. Kudos to the car games that give us a hood view! Still, given that the game is of the street-racing ilk, only the behind views give a good perspective on the course ahead and the challengers behind. By why doesn’t a game like Forza have a hood view, eh Microsoft?
The overall sound quality is fairly solid. Obviously, racing games don’t generally give you much to listen to, but in general, Ford Mustang’s effects – roaring engines, squealing tires, etc. – are all fairly well programmed.
What really stood out for me personally was the very cool garage-rock soundtrack. As a budget title, the developers decided to pick up lesser-known bands to fill the aural roster, and in my opinion they did an awfully good job. As a former Detroiter, I’m a sucker for anything that has that Detroit sound and Ford Mustang is thick with it. More than once I had to check the label to make sure I wasn’t hearing an old Stooges or MC5 song. Really, this is one of the better soundtracks I have heard in a game. Sadly, for those non-believers, there is no option for custom soundtracks.
Oh, and remember the annoying guy from the old arcade games who shouted “ “PICK YOUR CAR!” and “PICK YOUR CITY!”? Remember him? Well he’s here. Yep…he’s here… Let me show you where that volume button is…
Fifteen bucks? For someone who is not looking for a deep racing experience, Ford Mustang is a pretty good choice. It has solid graphics, great gameplay, and best of all – a cheap price. I really felt like I was back in the old days of gaming and to me, that’s worth fifteen bucks.
It’s shovelware, people. But still it’s some pretty fun stuff. I know that a certain “best racing game of 2004” just went on Platinum Collection this month – and if you haven’t already check that out you owe it to yourself. But if you have fifteen dollars burning a hole in your pocket, and you remember the early days of 3D racing games, you might want to try Ford Mustang on for size. It’s shallow, it’s hollow, but it is a whole lot of fun.
And it’s only fifteen bucks for heaven’s sake!