|a game by||Rage Games|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 2 votes|
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Driving games continue to spew forth unfettered onto the PC, and the current vogue appears to be for the offroad variety. As all but the most dim-witted will have worked out, Offroad falls comfortably into that category, and while it's certainly a functional name, it's hardly the most imaginative. What if everyone took that approach? Would Doom have been a benchmark game with the name Shooting Monsters? Would Coronation Street still be going if it was called Simple Folk?
We'll never know. What we do know is that Offroad was supposed to be out last summer and has been sliding down the schedules ever since. The fact that pretty pictures of it are emblazoned across this page would suggest that a concrete date is drawing ever nearer, although in the crazy world of games only a fool takes these things for granted. Assuming it does make it onto the shelves some time this year, what will you get for your gaming dollar? We'll tell you, shall we? Great big four-wheel drive buggies bouncing around like there's no tomorrow.
The game features six outdoor locations. You've got your canyon, your dried-up riverbed, your tropical affair, and even your docklands, to name but four. Whether against the clock or other drivers, the idea, quite clearly, is to get around in the shortest possible time. Obstacles to this cause are provided in the form of intemperate weather conditions, troublesome terrain, not to mention a few rogue buildings, as the version we played seemed to have a couple of sheds on the track. It also had some diggers in the way, which in a well-ordered society would have been removed for violation of safety procedures.
Clearly, we are in the realms of the arcade game here, and while Offroad makes no claims to being a documentary, it is boasting a state-of-the-art physics engine. We're not sure what state the art is in, but if anyone's counting, Offroad employs a variation of the engine used for the sublime Hostile Wafers. It seems to work, and the buggies tear around like buggies do, complete with the requisite lighting effects and all that jazz.
For those who like their games to have objectives, you can start as a shit-kicking no-mark in Division Four of a made-up league, progressing through the ranks towards the ultimate goal of the Drivers' World Championship. And if you're still not happy, you can play it in splitscreen mode or with up to five pals on your home network (whadd'ya mean, you don't have one?). That's pretty much Offroad then.
If it doesn't sound like we're pissing ourselves in anticipation, it's because we've seen quite a bit of this sort of thing lately. That said, this looks a cut above the rest of the crop, and with its wide-open tracks it could be set to provide some welcome nip and tuck racing, with numerous opportunities for spectacular pile-ups. Fun for all the family.
Tragically arriving too late to be included in last month's rally and offroad Supertest, history will not record whether Rage's contribution to the genre could have been a contender.
Picture the scene: five grown men are locked away in a secret room deep in the bowels of ZONE, intensely debating the merits of the cream of the non-road-based driving games currently available for the personal computer. The jury is about to give its verdict when a small boy appears wielding new evidence in the form of a shiny silver disc. A hush comes over the crowd as the game kicks into life. It proves to be such a sensation that it elbows the opposition aside and snatches a memorable victory. Could this scenario have happened? We'll never know.
We can have a pretty good guess though, and if we were gamblers we would definitely err on the side of caution. In fact, there's no guarantee that Offroad would have even made the shortlist, despite the obvious relevance of its bleakly functional name. It's not the worst game ever made, but it certainly isn't going to be looming in Colin McRae's rear-view mirror. At best it'll be a speck on the horizon, struggling some way behind the leaders, caked in the mud and grime of its superiors.
Enough of the motoring analogies, and anyway it's not supposed to be a rally game, it's an off-road game. The difference? Buggies instead of 'proper' cars, and actual races instead of lone pursuits. Six (count 'em) specially designed vehicles compete in each race, which take place over such geographically disparate locations as the Swiss Alps, Nevada and Hawaii. Yadda-yadda-yadda, you've heard it all before. What are you doing even reading this? Look at the pictures, check the score, and move on. Nothing to see here. It's an off-road game for Christ's sake. It's even written down for you in great big letters. What is there to say? What? The handling? Oh god...
The handling, as it goes, is fairly unspectacular. The sensation of gripping the road is noticeable by its absence, and initially it feels like trying to guide a blancmange over a trampoline with a stick. Not great. Thankfully, the tracks are wide to enough to absorb a bit of errant driving, except for the narrow ones, on which you'll find yourself clipping the side of the road in infuriating fashion.
To compound problems further, the courses are littered with hazardous obstacles. There are few more frustrating experiences than tearing along at pace only to be brought to a standstill because some twat has left a barrel in the road. And what's going on with the diggers? Half the tracks seem to be set on building sites - surely an oversight by the organisers?
Basically, it seems that every course has been deliberately designed to catch you out. You can easily go from leading a fairly close race to being last while trying to extricate yourself from an advertising hoarding, a dangerously positioned pile of logs or even an unnecessarily sturdy bollard. You then have to waste one of your nitro boosts getting your godforsaken buggy back up to speed. Yes, it's got nitro boosts in it three per race, the unleashing of which gives you five seconds of increased speed, and-coincidentally - creates a noise that bears a passing resemblance to something from Knight Rider. If nothing else, these gimmicky boosts underline the fact that Offroad is not particularly geared towards the simulation crowd. Nothing wrong with that, but the arcade approach does tend to give developers carte blanche over the laws of physics. And while it's unlikely to have Isaac Newton spinning in his grave, the gravity setting does make for a healthy dose of violent bouncing around on the perennially undulating tracks. Not content with simply tossing the buggy into the air, the whole screen moves in sympathy and it can have a nauseating effect, particularly if you are under the influence of prescription drugs.
So what else do you want to know, you ungrateful dogs? Oh yeah, there's a pseudo-career mode, which essentially adds longevity to the game by giving you something to aim for. Starting in the fourth division, a few decent performances will see contract offers being tabled by rival firms. These will usually be dependant on you reaching a set number of points over the course of a season, enabling you to begin the next term in a shiny new buggy, replete with ludicrous name. In theory, this gives you a greater chance of mounting a bid for the championship, and the accompanying promotion to a higher league. However, it's not necessarily a good idea to sign every contract offered, as you can just be getting used to the handling of your present car, only to find your new one entirely unwieldy, thus jeopardising your chances and making you look a tit. Also, buggies are randomly updated with new pieces of equipment such as exhaust pipes, so if you stay in the same one for long enough it will eventually evolve into 'Super-Buggy X'.
Ultimately, Offroad is a test of anger management, and in this reviewer's case at least, the frustration of dicking about on the deliberately annoying tracks isn't quite tempered by the excitement of the occasional bloodless victory. That said, it's easy to spend a couple of hours going through the cycle of despair and reward. However, it's probably even easier to do something else. Offroad: it's not great, it's not rubbish, it's just there.