In what might be an attempt to capture the lucrative market of the Nintendo DS-owning Ford fanatics, Empire Interactive has released Ford Racing 3, a straightforward racing game featuring 25 of the most popular Ford vehicles from the past nine decades. Like its console cousins, Ford Racing 3 for the DS is a budget title, and it offers the same brand of no-frills, arcade-style racing as those versions of the game. But, while the console versions of Ford Racing 3 have halfway decent racing mechanics and online play, the DS version has neither of these things, and it looks ugly too. The end result is a stiff, lifeless husk of a racing game that will disappoint even the most forgiving of Ford fanatics.
There are 25 vehicles, 14 competitions, 22 challenges, and 10 race types in Ford Racing 3. For some annoying reason, though, when you start up the game you can only access a measly three cars and a few basic tracks. So right off the bat you can't help but feel cheated, since almost all of the content in the game is locked away. You have to complete a number of challenges, or win competitions, before you can access any of the more remarkable vehicles or interesting race types, but even those aren't really worth the effort it takes to unlock them. Apparently, all this stuff is locked away to give you an incentive to make your way through career mode, which is the main focus of the single-player game.
Career mode is divided into 14 competitions, 22 challenges, and 10 collection races. The competitions are basically race tournaments with a specific theme, such as vintage cars or off-road vehicles. These competitions consist of a series of up to six races, with points awarded based on how you place in each race. The person with the most points after the last race is the winner of the competition. The competitions mix things up by having different types of races for each round. You might start out with a standard three-lap race, followed by an elimination race where the last two cars are eliminated each lap, and then move on to a boost race, which is the same as a standard race except you earn two speed boosts per lap. It's a nice way to keep the competitions varied, but the racing isn't especially fun in any of the different types of races, so the added variety quickly becomes irrelevant. By completing competitions, you can unlock new tracks and more competitions. If competitions aren't your thing, you can try to complete the 22 challenges in the game. These challenges are categorized by vehicle type, and each vehicle has a single challenge with two difficulty settings. The challenges do offer a nice break from the standard race rules. In one challenge you have to draft behind a certain number of opponents, in another you have to collect green icons while avoiding red ones, and in another you have to place first in a sort of relay race where you pass the baton each lap by drafting your teammate. By completing these challenges you can unlock new vehicles, which in turn are used to unlock even more new challenges. There is also a Ford collection mode where you can compete in one of 10 different race types to unlock more content.
If the career mode isn't your thing, you can choose to either jump into a quick race or play with up to three other players, as long as each player has a copy of the game. But no matter which race mode you choose, you'll encounter problems such as weird physics, annoying artificial intelligence, ugly presentation, and awkward controls. All the cars do handle somewhat differently, but none of them ever feel like they really make contact with the road surface. You'll move along sluggishly at what feels like a snail's pace, bounce unnaturally off of uneven surfaces, and cruise over grass and gravel as though it were asphalt. Oddly, hitting walls on the side of the track will slow you down only slightly, but if you even slightly tap another vehicle from behind or on the side you'll come to a dead stop while the other vehicle continues on without consequence. This makes passing extremely difficult, since any sort of contact always favors your opponent--unless you get cleanly rear-ended, which results in a boost of speed as you bounce off your opponent's front bumper.
The AI seems to exploit this problem by clustering up in a bunch around you. No matter how well you race, there is almost always a pack of racers right on your tail, ready to overtake you if you make even the slightest mistake. It seems as though there's no way to pull away from the pack; they just hover behind you or pass you up as they head way down the track where you can't possibly catch them. The cars are almost always racing in twos as well, making it difficult to pass even in the open stretches. However, the AI opponents follow the exact same lines each and every lap, so they quickly become predictable, and by the third lap, you'll know exactly when to make your move.
The controls in Ford Racing 3 are functional, but they are slightly awkward. You can use the touch screen if you want to, but it takes getting used to, and it doesn't feel responsive at all. You can accelerate or slow down by moving your finger or stylus to the top or bottom of the screen, and turn by moving left or right. The easier and more familiar method of control employs the standard D pad and face buttons. The button layout is strange, though, since your gas is mapped to the A button, the brake is B, and the boost is Y. This makes it impossible to hit the boost without letting off the gas or inadvertently hitting the brake. The only effective way to use boost is by leaving your thumb on the gas and using your right index finger to hit the boost, which is more than a little awkward. It would make a lot more sense to have the boost button right above the gas button, or at the very least include an option to reconfigure the controls and possibly make use of the shoulder buttons.
Regardless of how you personally feel about the style of Ford automobiles, the vehicles in this game look downright ugly. Some of the vehicles look so jagged and nasty that you wouldn't be able to recognize what kind of car it was if the game didn't tell you. There are trucks, Model T's, Mustangs, Thunderbirds, and more, but at best they only look vaguely reminiscent of their real-world counterparts. The textures are screwy, too. The texture for the rims on the vehicles is off-center from the wheel, so when you see a car moving down the road, the wheels look wobbly and lopsided. The tracks aren't much better, but they do offer a bit of variety, which is nice. Terrain ranges from beachfront to snowy mountains to winding forest roads. You'll see a lot of objects pop up on the horizon, though, and there are some nasty-looking, flickering texture seams visible in most of the courses.
The sound doesn't fare any better. The engine noises are all the same, regardless of whether you're driving a '31 Model A or a '00 Cobra. The engine noise isn't especially good either--it sounds more like a motorized scooter than a car. Another noise you'll hear constantly is the distorted screech of tires on the surface of the road. Whether you're driving on asphalt, sand, snow, or water, you'll hear the exact same scratchy noise. The music is simplistic and repetitive, and it sounds like it was taken from a NES-era racing game.
Ford Racing 3 is a dull, ugly racing game that simply isn't worth your time. Even though there aren't many great racing games for the DS, there are at least a couple that are better than this one. If you're on a tight budget, love Ford vehicles, and you simply must have a racing game for your DS, this game might keep you busy for a few hours, but you're still much better off spending a little bit more to get your racing fix elsewhere.