“ Developer: Jack Of All Games / Genre: Driving & Racing „
The demise of the PlayStation was a slow and at times painful one, as Sonys all-conquering grey-box was cast aside in somewhat unceremonious fashion to make way for consoles that could handle more polygons. There was life left in the PSOne beyond 2001 however and The Official UK PlayStation magazine (OPM) remained to cover the myriad of budget games as well as some genuine highlights most notably the arrival of supreme beat em up Capcom Vs SNK Pro and Sonys surprise PSOne-exclusive platformer Jinx. And so with a loyal fan base, came an unlikely cult-following defiant of next-gen gaming.
But all good things must come to an end OPM finally called it a day after issue #108 in March 2004, bringing a conclusive end to the consoles life as a modern platform. What relevance does this ramble have to Ford Truck Mania I hear you ask? Well, in that final issue, the Gotham Games-published racer was the last of the 1,300 or so games to have been reviewed in the magazines eight-and-a-half year publication span. Nothing much expected of this budget title, but would it provide an adequate send off for fans loyal enough to have stuck with the system?
In that it is better than most budget games, the quick answer would probably have to be yes, though somewhat unusually for a bargain bin release, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. There are many areas in which it positively excels; though some design troubles and mercilessly unforgiving nature in the latter stages of the game rob Ford Truck Mania the chance of being the last great game of its generation.
As you may have guessed from the Truck and Ford parts of the title, it was never going to trouble Gran Turismo in the speed stakes. What the title doesnt allude to is that it isnt a tarmac-based racer its got more in common with rally racers as you traverse mud, gravel, snow and various other terrains. It makes up for its lack of pace in various areas the surprisingly nippy handling, jinking courses and pranging tussles for position evoke thoughts of an odd though rather effective blend of Rally Cross and Mario Kart.
The usual single-race and time-trial options are catered for, though the Career mode is where all the action is. You compete in a set of twelve races against three other competitors, and if you finish the series with more points than the others, youll gain a promotion to the next league, which opens up longer tracks and faster trucks.
Ford Truck Mania is great fun in small doses. The amateur and semi-pro modes are where the game is in its element; the former doesnt provide much of a challenge but allows the player to acclimatise to the handling and the short, winding courses make for an enjoyable starter. Semi-pro is (predictably enough) quicker and more competitive, making for some enjoyably close-fought races that require a little more skill, and the longer, more elaborate courses are something to get your teeth into.
Sadly, the Pro mode largely spoils things, introducing a range of problems that werent apparent in the earlier classes. For starters, its astoundingly difficult the A.I. are ceaselessly consistent; collisions almost always benefit them and hinder you and its also immensely unrewarding, as literally one mistake (be it your fault or theirs) and you may as well call it quits as there is simply no way of catching up. The Pro championship also makes poor use of the Suicide game mode (the player racing one way around a course and his opponents the other) its a good laugh initially but the odds are stacked heavily against you; it only takes a prang from one of the A.I. cars to end your hopes of a decent result. As if all this wasnt enough, the physics engine seems to have been set to mimic Moon activity just for the Pro races, punishing the player for clipping a bump or taking off from a jump at a slight angle by making them barrel roll several times. At least in V-Rally it was funny
Its a shame as it puts a real dampener on a game that was shaping up so well. Graphically its hardly in Colin McRae Rally territory but is comfortably above the majority of budget racers as it manages to maintain a respectable frame-rate with no evidence of slow-down, although the scenery does suffer from the odd bit of tearing at times. The tracks themselves are varied in appearance as youve got canyons, icy woodlands and Amazonian rainforests to contend with, though the lack of defining scenery and landmarks on individual circuits means one forest track for example seems very similar to the last. Still, the trucks themselves are chunky and solid, plus there is the odd nice touch such as mud gathering on the bodywork and the option to adorn each vehicle in your own colour scheme.
The racing is accompanied by some rather anonymous, lacklustre rock riffs that seem to be there more to conform to a genre stereotype than because of their own merit safe to say, the sound is not one of the games strong points.
How long youll play Ford Truck Mania pretty much depends on how much you enjoy a challenge and how far your patience will stretch. Amateur and Semi-Pro classes should take no more than a day or two to finish, whilst the Pro setup is likely to prove too difficult and unforgiving for most gamers to bother seeing through till the end. Its good for a quick bit of fun though there are twelve trucks and over thirty courses to choose from in total (each with their own reverse version) as well as Suicide and Head-On (two cars driving the opposite way around a track) game variants that make a nice change to the standard racing. One feature deserving of mention is the great little Track Editor not only as it is simple to use, but you can actually race against computer opponents on them, something previously acclaimed editors in Micro Machines 96 and Moto Racer 2 didnt allow. Just dont expect to recreate Monza and youll be quite happy.
For PSOne aficionados, it has to be worth a look. It says a lot for Ford Truck Mania that, even taking into account its low-budget production, there is a sense of disappointment that it didnt score higher still. Though its still streets behind the likes of Colin McRae Rally and V-Rally, it does at least highlight the fact that a game can still be fun even if it isnt all that fast (and features Ford trucks!). Recommended to racing fans.