Larry Ragland 4X4 Challenge

a game by XICAT Interactive
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 6/10, based on 1 review
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Overview

Larry Ragland will probably not be remembered for building his furniture manufacturing business. Take a gander at the Ragland Racing and you will quickly see that his greatest accomplishment is winning. Mr. Ragland actually began his career racing dirt bikes in the Phoenix area in 1976. As early as 1981, after switching from handle bars to steering wheel, he picked up his first 4-wheel victory. He went on to win the Baja 1000 five times throughout the 1990's. For those who don't know, the Baja 1000 is the world's most grueling desert endurance race. The event stretches across the dusty, hot Baja peninsula of northern Mexico. Man and machine must become one to finish this torturous race. Did I mention that he sold the furniture business?

Don't believe everything you read. Believe it when you play it (or read a review of someone who played it). Superlative descriptions in a game's promo are a usually a signal that substance is lacking. This excerpt appears at the Xicat:

Jump in the driver's seat of the most nimble adventurous vehicles to ever tear through the earth. With professionally designed tracks that have more curves than a bikini contest and muddier than a pig wrestling match this game slops the fun on with extreme off road excitement.

After "wrestling" through a few races, my suspicions were confirmed. Many standard racing features seemed to be missing and quite a few shortcuts were taken in the game interface.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

If you're expecting a scenic desert tour, you'll be in for a surprise. One would imagine that a game endorsed by a Baja 1000 champ would have some long, rugged, desert races. The Baja 1000 spans a thousand miles and once took the man himself a bit over 20 hours to complete. Yet, Larry Ragland's 4X4 Challenge events are loaded with short arena-style races. Brevity certainly eases the pain of a simplistic game that seemed stuck in first gear.

Indeed, Larry Ragland 4X4 Challenge is very simple to understand and play. The three modes of play consist of Arcade, Championship, and Multiplay. If you need a quick race, jump into the Arcade mode and see how far you can advance through the various tracks (you must win to go to the next track). You will be able to choose from a limited number of trucks and SUV's, each of which have a preset acceleration, suspension, maximum speed, weight, and steering. If you want to change one of these components'normally tweakable in other racing games'you will have to switch to another vehicle which hopefully has the right combination you are looking for. Each vehicle's only adjustable item is the transmission: manual or automatic. Even the number of laps is preset. The more challenging Championship mode combines into one season small track events at different locations across the country. You have to accumulate points to unlock a new season. It took me only a little while to become competitive. Things started looking up for this suburban Atlanta boy about the time that I switched to a SUV. It wasn't long before I caught myself experiencing something akin to fun.

Graphics

The graphics are a strong point of the game, but not quite strong enough to be called excellent. As you crash around into embankments and other vehicles, damage becomes apparent by sparks, dust, smoke and broken windshields. One nice touch is seeing the driver's head move in the direction the wheels turn. There weren't many distinctions in the vehicle models and no matter which one I drove, I always had the sense that I was behind a giant painted polygon. Some off-road fans will be let down that there is no first person view as in other racing titles.

Customizing the controls via the game interface requires some getting used to. You may have to CTL+ALT+DEL if your mouse disappears or a warning message refuses to go away. Enter the Options, Control setup at your own risk.

Audio

The GUI music mimics the gritty guitar sound of Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler in the hit, "Money for Nothing." When the game starts you hear tunes that smack of Bruce Springsteen and ZZ Top, but minus any vocals. I would have preferred to have heard tracks more reminiscent of the southwest, perhaps in styles akin to that of Chris Isaac or even The Doors. Engine and damage sound effects all appeared generic, or at least they were all very similar.

Multiplayer

If you have a local computer network in your home, you can invite the neighbors over and thrash them in multiplay competition. Some events even allow AI drivers. The split screen option is nice feature to use if you want to compete console-style on the same computer.

Bottom Line

The checkered flag in Larry Ragland's 4X4 Challenge was blurred by the exhaust fumes of simplicity and want of inspiration. The positives'good graphics and game stability'don't make up for the lack of diversity in vehicles and inability to tweak performance. A valuable lesson learned here is not to judge a game by its endorsement. This game is truly a downshift from Mr. Ragland's noteworthy career. It also finishes behind other competitors like Gathering of Developers' popular 4x4 EVO 2. Unless you are severely addicted to off-road racing PC games, purchase this in the WalMart bargain bin for an Enron office party white elephant gift.

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