At first glance, Ford Bold Moves Street Racing looks like a portable gaming advertisement for a now-dying motor company. Its roster is obviously lined with exclusively Ford models, the challenges are all emblazoned with Mustang and Thunderbird logos, and the big cursive "Ford" is inescapable from start menu to exit menu. By all rights, it should be a complete cop-out of a game, but the makers did a few key things very right.
First of all, the title knows that the essence of video game racing is in the turns. The courses mostly throw in a fair amount of switchbacks, curves and 90-degree angles to test your skill and keep it from just being a visualizer set to the X button. More importantly, the enemy AI mostly does a good job of feeling very human, occasionally over-skidding, slipping out of control, and flipping 180 degrees into a wall. The fallibility of your opponents keeps the experience from just being a robotic repetition of impossible races.
That said, the difficulty is still very steep in every available mode. If you don't learn how to handle skidding, braking and team racing tactics, both solo and team races will quickly become exercises in pure frustration. There are a lot of options to learn the ropes, but Quick Play is the first one you'll find and a perfect place to learn. In this mode, there is no punishment and no reward, but only a simple six-car race against evenly matched cars. It's here that you can get a feel for the game's realistic, if sloppy, handling and start learning where to brake, where to let up and where to just slam the gas down and turn.
After a few consequence-free quick plays, you can move onto the slightly risky Career mode, or you can stick to the redundant Arcade mode, which offers the same type of game as Quick Play, with a selection of unlocked cars, tracks and the various race types. Career is the heart of the game, and the only thing with a semblance of linearity or progression, so that is where hours are bound to be spent.
Solo Career is boring. You can race in three-race cups for "credits" or complete challenges that are slight variations on simple races. These include time trials, solo races, duels (one-on-one races), overtake challenges (pass X number of cars in Y time) and the nerve-wracking elimination race, which drops the last two cars in the race after every lap. Only the last two of these are anything more than a simple race, and all of them require identical tactics. Outdo your opponents in the turns and, you'll succeed, but if you swerve all over the place and run into walls, you'll fail. Lack of variety in racing tactics is nothing new, but it actually becomes more frustrating because an interesting twist in the racing genre is just a menu selection away.
Team Career is the other option for progression, and it's simultaneously more frustrating and much more interesting. Every event in team racing puts you in control of two cars at once, and the main events make you choose two different cars from your garage to race. Scores are combined between your two cars, so if you have a car in first place, it's no guarantee that a team won't still score more than you with a combined second and third place finish. Just racing on your own while your helpless AI partner tools around in the back will send you to the garage with nothing to show for it.
The AI partner is an inseparable and frustrating element of team play. Even in multiplayer mode, your partner is controlled by the computer whenever you don't control it, and the computer can't seem to figure out what aggressive driving is even when the other players are smacking its rear bumper to bits. What you need to do to win is be a good teammate. Even more strangely, you have to be two good teammates at once. Team events give you the ability to switch between cars at any point by pressing up on the d-pad, pausing the action and keeping it slowed until the game catches up with itself and puts you in full control of the other car. The AI picks up your place quickly, and despite it not being as competent, it usually keeps off the walls and stays on course. Switching to keep both cars together gets a little tedious, but it also makes it exciting as you try to push your cars together to block others or boost ahead on a straightaway. It's very intuitive to start working together with yourself, and the other teams focus on doing the same so you're not going to be stuck with only your partner at the back of the pack.
Team racing turns out to be a lot of fun in just about all the challenges except for the cups, where the three-race tourney drags on a bit. It's exhilarating to play variants of the solo games, especially come elimination time. Your goal is still to rush to the front, but if your partner is gone, then you no longer have any team racing options and your opponents do. The ability to boost speed when close together, or brake and block out sections of the road with a partner, give every team a cutting edge in the competition. In almost all the game types, you need a partner or you will lose nine times out of 10.
As the career modes progress, you unlock branching paths into other tournaments and challenges in a very formulaic pattern. Opportunities to unlock and purchase come and go as you work your way through, and there is some level of strategy in how you spend or don't spend your earned credits to get new cars and touch up the superficial damage on your current cars. There's no waste on trivial things like paint jobs and decals, but only pure buying, selling and repairing, so there's not much incentive to play and play again. The range of vehicles isn't all that expansive either, and each vehicle is usually clearly superior to another in some way, easing the pain of decision making. Everything outside the team racing is really quite bland and generic, as you'd expect it to be.
The graphics are passable, looking like a standard PSP game. As you take "damage" in the game, car textures are replaced with progressively crummier-looking ones until your whole car texture looks like a pile of junk. That's when you usually go in, repair it for a few thousand credits, and then go back on to dinging it up. The tracks look more impressive, rendering plain-looking backdrops of palm trees, lakes and buildings with ease and never slowing up. For the PSP, it's about as good as it gets, unlike the audio portion, which is practically absent. The only sound Street Racing spits out is the rumbling of engines, the skidding of tires, and some menu music. Other backgrounds are strikingly absent, especially for a genre based on driving. Personally speaking, I don't drive anywhere without some tunes going in the background.
The multiplayer is also noticeably cut out, present but unplayable. Like many PSP games, network support of any kind isn't included, so two people with PSPs and the game must get together to even try out any sort of racing mode. The fact that two people playing together can't play as a team in a race is even more peculiar. Much like the audio, multiplayer seems like an off-hand addition without any thought or effort put into it.
The final product, when taken into consideration, is a surprise hit. Ford Bold Moves Street Racing does very few things wrong and gets a lot in the genre right. Street Racing even makes an honest attempt at innovation and doesn't mess it up. Best of all, everything it does, it does without ever slowing down or glitching out. The biggest flaw in the game is occasionally repositioning cars when hitting a wall, letting you maintain a little more momentum than you should and actually lending some exploitation strategy to a fairly bland experience. To ice this Ford-flavored cake, you can find a used copy for next to nothing nowadays. Ford seems to have done better in licensing a silly little racing game than it's done at selling cars.Score: 6.8/10
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