The Ford Racing series has been in the hands of British developer Razorworks for almost three years now, since they took over the reins for Ford Racing 2. The team thought that they had taken the series as far as it could go with Ford Racing 3, which is why they decided on a change of direction for the next game. Ford Street Racing was the result, and earlier in the year, Empire published the street-racing game at a budget price on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC. The game is now set to move to the PlayStation Portable in October in a substantially expanded form, with more cars, tracks, and team modes than even the home versions had to offer. On the year of the studio's 10th anniversary, we headed to its Oxfordshire home to play an advanced build of Ford Street Racing: La Duel, which, incidentally, is being published in North America as Ford Bold Moves Street Racing by Eidos.
Like the home-console versions before it, Ford Street Racing: LA Duel's unique feature is its team-based gameplay, where you control two different cars in one race. While using one of two powers, you juggle between your two vehicles to attain a better overall position than your opponents. The first power is boost, which lets you share a speed gain between your vehicles to take them to the front of the pack. Once there, the two cars are able to use the block power, which will make it difficult for the opposition to overtake them. If both cars team up in this way, they will line up adjacently and cause approaching players to slow down. While the mode is initially confusing, it adds an interesting dynamic to the often stale racing genre.
One of the team-based modes that we got to play in multiplayer was called elimination. In this mode, the two cars in last position are taken out of the race, and if you lose one of your cars, it can be very difficult to compete. The result is that you spend a small amount of time trying to keep one car at the front of the pack, while making sure your other car isn't tailing behind too far at the back. The other mode we played, called team spirit, forced you to race with a fast vehicle while being handicapped by a slower one. Up to three human players can compete over ad hoc wireless in the team modes, and even though this is the roughest area of the game in the preview state, it was fun to play against the development team.
The list of features for the PSP version of LA Duel stacks up favourably against the home-console versions. LA Duel has 24 vehicles, whereas the home versions had 18, and there are now 37 tracks to play through, up from the previous 24. Also, the game boasts 11 team-racing modes, six solo-racing modes, and multiplayer games with support for up to six players. Further, the PlayStation Portable version has PlayStation 2-quality artwork and graphics and runs at a solid 30 frames per second.
Even though Ford Street Racing takes a novel approach with team-based gameplay, it still has a single-player career mode at its heart. Unsurprisingly, the goal here is to accrue a full garage of Ford vehicles, with individual challenges offering vehicular upgrades and competitions offering monetary rewards to help improve your cars. The Ford showroom offers all of the 24 vehicles available, and when you buy one from the dealership, you'll take it home to your garage. From here, you'll need to worry about making repairs between races, and as you progress through the career mode, you'll want to sell off your old cars to pay for the next upgrades. The career mode isn't linear; instead, you'll be offered a choice of races to tackle, with more becoming viable as you increase your options in the garage.[ Razorworks promises a career game that will span some 20 hours.
The prior work put into modelling the cars for the home-console versions has freed up the art team to spruce up the presentation of the game, and there are now specific loading screens for each of the 24 vehicles. Graphically, the game stands up well to other PSP racers. The music lets it down somewhat, however, as the game still features none of the licensed music that we've come to expect in the genreAt least with LA Duel, the motor company has finally allowed Razorworks to include damage to its vehicles. Now boasting CAD document reference tools, each of the vehicles bend and break realistically and boast some nice reflection effects as they tear through the pretty cities.
At the moment, Ford Street Racing: LA Duel looks like a modest racer with a clever team-based driving element. The game is slick and fast, and while it lacks the sense of speed and adrenaline of the Burnout titles, it looks like the team-based gameplay will let the game compete on its own terms. Thanks to a budget release and a wealth of improvements over the PS2 version, it's bound to be welcomed by fans of Ford and those who enjoyed previous games in the series. We'll find out if the team-based elements are enough of a hook when the game arrives in October.