As modern racing titles have evolved, more than a few brand-based racing titles have emerged, from manufacturers like Lotus, Mercedes, and Ferrari, among others. While clearly these games aren't trying to be the Gran Turismos or Project Gothams of the genre, they do tend to combine a pretty satisfying yet predictable mix of simulation-style physics with the pick-up-and-play attraction of arcade racers. When taken on their own merits, these titles often provide a somewhat quirky but satisfying burst of fun for racing fans, especially those who are emphatic about particular licenses. While only a handful of cars that roll off of Ford's factory floor are likely to quicken the pulse of most motorsport enthusiasts, Ford Racing 2 presents itself as a pretty exhilarating game regardless--and it doesn't matter whether you're behind the wheel of a 1949 coupe or a GT40 concept car.
Upon firing up Ford Racing 2, you're able to jump right into a quick race, which puts you behind the wheel of a randomly selected, modestly performing car. Alternatively, you can opt to play the game's robust single-player mode, where you can compare your lap times with those of others on any of the game's 16 tracks via Xbox Live. If you've got some company over, you can even jump into a multiplayer game with a friend. As one might expect, the real meat of the meal is in the single-player mode. This mode is divided into two sections: Ford Challenge and Ford Collection. Most of the game's progression takes place in the Ford Challenge mode, where you unlock tracks, cars, and race types by completing various challenges. Some of these challenges involve pure racing--and require you to beat the five other cars on the grid to the checkered flag--while there are also time trial and elimination rounds. Others are various permutations of technical challenges and require you to stay on the optimal racing line, pick up items, or pass through cone gates while completing a lap in a specific period of time. Another type of challenge tests your skills in drafting and requires you to "defeat" a number of opponents by drafting behind them until a life bar is drained. Each of these challenges is grouped by a certain type of car, from classics to modern cars, concept cars, off-roaders, and others. The cars and trucks that you unlock in this mode become available to you in the Ford Collection mode, where you can drive any of the cars you have collected on any of the tracks and in any of the race types available to you.
The control in Ford Racing 2 is a tightrope walk between sim-style consistency and arcade-style seat-of-the-pants loose control. The cars, which range from heavy-duty pickup trucks to antique coupes to pocket-sized compact racer concepts, all have a unique enough feel to demand a different style of play, yet none are so unforgiving that you need to spend more than a few corners learning about what to expect when you crank the wheel or hit the gas. One of the most convincing aspects of the game's control is the representation of the vehicle's shifting weight, as interpreted by the vehicle's suspension. In the game's more massive and soft-sprung cars, you will see the vehicle lean outward considerably upon cornering and before actually swooping in on the corner. This subtle motion helps significantly when unraveling the unpredictability of the game's heavier and more unwieldy cars, thus replacing what could otherwise present itself as frustration with a madcap sense of speed. Most of the cars in the game have a tendency to oversteer, but the game's refined yet simple level of control helps the player execute some very technical driving while still keeping things fun. As a bonus, players can opt to have driving assists--such as traction control and antilock brakes--added to their arsenals to help keep the rubber on the road.
The game's production values run a pretty wide gamut. While each of the game's 35 cars all look great as spot-on replicas of their real-world counterparts, the environments range from quite good-looking to leaving a lot to be desired. At best, you'll see a fantastic level of detail in the track surface, with sunlight brightly glinting off of it when it catches the right angle. The trackside is alive with activity, from birds to construction vehicles, while at the same time, it's peppered with such details as fences and shrubs. At its worst, you'll see drab, repeated textures, and very blocky detail in rock formations. Moreover, you'll see offtrack animals represented by flat sprites with only a few animated frames. While it's certainly not a requirement for racing games to showcase a system's graphical prowess, many do, and this certainly never hurts their causes. If there is a bright spot, however, it's that the game boasts an unflinching frame rate--even in a split-screen multiplayer that's full of activity. Each car's engine roars with a distinct exhaust note, while the squeal of the tires provide useful feedback to the player by making him or her aware of how much traction is available. The music in the game consists of a short list of generic rock, house, and funk music, which is good for driving but blends in all too readily into the background. If none of it happens to be to your liking, however, Ford Racing 2 supports Xbox custom soundtracks.
Graphical issues aside, the biggest problem that prevents Ford Racing 2 from being totally recommendable involves the amount of time you're able to spend with it. If you aren't a stranger to racing games, you'll be able to breeze through most races on your first try on the standard difficulty setting. However, there are so few races that you can finish the game in a dedicated afternoon sitting. The split-screen multiplayer can be fun for a few rounds with a competitive partner, and you can log onto Xbox Live from the game to compare lap times and other scores. Unfortunately, these don't do much to extend a relatively short-lived game. In the end, the game proves to be fun, especially for those with a soft spot in their hearts for classic American muscle cars.