Break out the tow truck and head for the wrecking yard, boys, because the legend may not be as alive as 2K Games would have us believe. In Ford Mustang: The Legend Lives, developer Eutechnyx delivers a simplistic, graphically dated, and questionably presented entry-level arcade racer that pales in comparison with justifiably fashionable alternatives such as Burnout 3 and Gran Turismo 4. Sure, Ford Mustang clocks in at fully one-half to one-third the price of the aforementioned titles, but it's nevertheless an acceptable proposition only for complete newcomers to car racing who just can't afford better, and even if you fall into this category, there are better options at your disposal.
As its title suggests, the game concerns itself only with Ford's vaunted Mustang and thusly presents precious little enticement for those who prefer a wide sampling of automobile types. Still, it offers nearly three dozen choices--ranging from the pony car's 1965 inception through to 2005 and including everything from coupes to fastbacks to Mach and BOSS models and even concept cars. Accordingly, hardcore fans of the Mustang could be forgiven for feeling somewhat drawn to the game. But don't let the title or the licensing fool you--this representation of the real-life Mustang experience is only slightly more accurate than the Mario Kart games' portrayal of real-life go-karts.
By no means horrific, the Ford Mustang physics model is nonetheless reminiscent of arcade automobiles of years past. Rather than feeling the road from four distinct contact points, you'll swear each little Mustang seems to pivot on a central fulcrum. Acceleration, top-end speed, and braking are at least semi-believable, but handling is so rubbery and loose and bereft of real vehicle dynamics that you'll think you're floating rather than gripping the pavement. Consequently, bouncing off walls--whether by accident or to keep the speed high--is quite a regular occurrence. But be careful what you hit and how you hit it, because the game's post-collision reactions range from an almost imperceptible waver to bizarro 180s and 360s that will keep you spinning your tires for several seconds before you get pointed in the right direction again. Moreover, you'll stick to some walls like Krazy Glue, extricating yourself only by cranking the wheel so hard in the opposite direction that you're then propelled across the track into the other wall. Fun.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the game is your interaction with other vehicles. In Ford Mustang, your adversaries never number more than four. But because the game tends to keep things unnaturally close by injecting extra speed into the trailing cars, you'll rarely feel lonely out there. The good news is that you can carefully nudge your peers into objects such as scenery abutments. More fun can be had when you push a fellow competitor into the path of one of the game's many incidental automobiles. This is particularly effective when the incidental automobile in question is traveling in the opposite direction. Having said that, your opponents have an annoying tendency to bump you from behind and spin you around like a gyroscope. Racing's not a lot of fun when the guy behind you has the advantage because he can so easily destroy your chance at a good finish.
But no matter what you do, you'll never break or maim another car. Ford Mustang does not model vehicular damage in either a performance or visual sense, nor does it offer a garage facility to tweak critical components. You won't find an upgrade or tuner shop either, where you might want to purchase new and improved parts and accessories. Thusly, the machine you choose from the game's car selection interface will remain in showroom stock condition, unaffected by anything, from start to finish.
Despite all this, the racing is generally very fast and furious. In this way, Ford Mustang is at least temporarily exciting. Additional intrigue is offered via the game's "style points" element, which doles out additional winnings to those who can perform certain maneuvers while racing. For example, a nice long powerslide might garner you an extra 200 bucks. Getting up on two wheels or becoming completely airborne will net you even more money, depending on the length of time you can manage to remain in those positions. However, high speeds and cool moves can keep things exciting only so long.
Though the publisher claims a total of 22 racing environments, the truth is that all 22 are marginally altered derivatives of the same seven thru-the-street circuits. It is safe to assume, then, that most drivers will have seen just about everything there is to see within their first couple of hours at the controls. As for gameplay variety, drivers do have the choice of standard quick race, time attack, and eliminator modes. Yet the game's central component, the career mode, is anything but. In Ford Mustang's career mode, you do not graduate through the ranks as you would in most career modes. You do not upgrade your car, manage your money, hunt for sponsors, or participate in a variety of series. Standings and the relative money winnings of each driver are not recorded. Instead, you merely try to win races to unlock new cars and tracks. That's all there is to it. The fact that many of the unlocked cars aren't as fast or as nimble as several that are available from the outset only adds to the disappointment.
In a visual sense, Ford Mustang is equally disappointing. The graphics are, in a word, chunky--so chunky and jagged in fact that you'll have a hard time distinguishing one Mustang from another or an open road from a barrier until you're almost upon it. Most annoying is the PlayStation 2 version of the game, where the frame rate drops whenever the scenery gets busy or all three of your competitors are on the track in front of you. Granted, it's never so bad that you can't effectively drive, but for a game to look this primitive and this jumpy seems inexcusable in this day and age.
When your race ends, things go from bad to worse. If you want a quick restart, you're forced to endure a full track reload. If you've finished with a given track, you're forced to click through a hodgepodge of interfaces--one of which sends you to the replay screen even if you don't want to see a replay--just to get back to the track selection screen. Inconvenient? You bet.
Multiplayer racing adds a little spice to the proceedings, though even then you're limited to two human drivers and two forms of competition--quick race and catch-up race. The latter is especially fun, in that the race ends only when one player can grab a 100-meter lead and maintain it for 10 seconds.
Easy to learn, easy to play, and easy to afford, Ford Mustang: The Legend Lives is a barely tolerable, exceedingly temporary fix for the financially restricted racing beginner. The vast majority of console drivers, however, are advised to put the pedal to the metal in the opposite direction.