Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open
The Test Drive series hits the Xbox at full speed with Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open. The Off-Road arm of the franchise showed up on the PlayStation and then Wide Open was released around three months ago for PlayStation 2. So, has Infogrames done anything to better the PS2 version with this Xbox release? Read on and you will see.
If there is one thing that can be said of the Test Drive series it is that they know how to get the licenses. Test Drive holds the exclusive license to represent the Hummer, so you are not going to see it in any other game. Throw in trucks from Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Jeep, and Mercedes to round out the line up and you have a solid garage of off-road rigs to choose from. If you are looking for realism though, you had best move on.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
I have always enjoyed the Test Drive series, although they seem to have something missing that keeps them from the top tier racing games. Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open was no exception. The more I played the game, the more it grew on me and the more I wanted to keep pushing forward. While the game is not perfect (more on that later), it is still a fun one to pop in and go crazy with.
The game sports a number of different play modes, but you will spend the majority of your time in the career mode. This mode has you racing through a number of seasons earning cash to buy upgraded vehicles. Most of the career events are made up of three individual races. The interesting thing is that the three races were never just a race to the finish line. There are three unique types of races that you have to complete to move forward, starting off with the circuit race, which has you navigating checkpoints in a predetermined order. The second type is the Blitz race. The Blitz also uses checkpoints, but the checkpoints are not activated until you complete each one, so you never really know which direction to go next. The final race type is a scramble race. This race has no predetermined path and it is up to you to activate all checkpoints in the least amount of time. Needless to say, the racing never gets boring.
When you start the game, you have a limited amount of money with which to purchase your first vehicle. I found that the majority of the normal vehicles were more than adequate to win races. They did a great job of offering selection and, more than likely, if you own a truck or an SUV, it will be in the game. All trucks are rated by their top speed, acceleration, handing and climbing. I found the ratings to be portrayed fairly accurately when I would drive the vehicle.
However, even though the game is fun to play and offers a good variety of races, all is not well. I have a few complaints that drag the score down. First, this game is very unrealistic. I don't mind games that are extreme, but this just takes things too far. You will fly hundreds of feet in the air off cliffs and keep on going. I understand that they are trying to make the game fun and it did help. That is not what bothered me. The thing that bothered me most was the way you can actually use the right stick on the controller to change the pitch of your truck in mid-air. I am sorry, but that is just way too much for me. I could just picture the driver yelling to all the passengers 'everyone over to the right side of the truck -- we're leaning too far left!'? This just took away any credibility of being a serious racer.
Another thing that bothered me about the game is that you cannot purchase upgrades to your vehicle. You can only purchase vehicles that are already upgraded so you do not have the type of customization and control I would have liked to have seen. I am not talking Gran Turismo level customization, but it still would have been nice to decide how I wanted to build up my truck. Along these same lines, you are also not allowed to purchase modified vehicles unless you complete a pre-determined number of races and place in the top two. I had plenty of money but was not able to buy a modified truck until I finished the second season.
My final complaint was with the truck physics. They did do a good job of making the trucks bounce and jolt when hitting certain environmental objects, but for some reason, the slightest of taps will send the truck into an uncontrollable slide. I can't tell you how many times I was driving along in first place only to have the guy behind me nick the corner of my truck making me go into an uncontrollable spin. It is very frustrating because the further you get into the game, the more competitive the races become. One spinout and you can almost forget winning.
To say I was unimpressed would be putting it lightly. I did play the PS2 version a little and felt the graphics were sub par on that version, so I was hoping the extra juice of the Xbox would help things out. While there may be a minor improvement, overall, this will not be a game you pull out when trying to impress people with your shiny new Xbox. The trucks did look nice and as you race, mud and dirt will collect on the vehicles, but I found a lot of the tracks to be dark and found it difficult to determine where I was supposed to be going. There were even times when a number of trucks would be on the screen and dirt would kick up, causing the frame rate to drop noticeably. This is just not what I expected from my Xbox, running component video.
If you like Metallica, you will be happy. The heavy metal tunes shake throughout the game. Some are better than others but overall they are decent. The trucks have a nice beefy sound to them and as you come smashing down to earth from one of the 1000-foot drops, your suspension will squeak and groan in protest.
There is no denying there is some fun to be had with this game, however I really can't help but think it could have been more. I love racing games and I also enjoy racing trucks so I had high hopes for this one. Having played the PS2 version, I kept my fingers crossed that some improvements would be made in this version, but I guess it was not meant to be. I would recommend a weekend rental and by the time Monday roles around, you will be ready to return it.
Download Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open
Getting into a 4x4 with a thyroid problem has always appealed to me. Monster Truck rallies, car shows and the simple fact that one of my neighbors (while growing up) had this really cool Toyota that was jacked up. However, the idea of a monster truck rally game seemed pretty dumb. Yeah, the giant trucks would be cool, but the race (if you could call it a race) seemed far too short and far too trivial. So, when I was offered Test Drive Off-Road to review, I began to feel like that young kid again. Especially, when I saw what the game was like.
Get in, strap down, start up and haul ass in one of the many cool 4x4's featured, as you race through a series of challenges that appeal to the 13 year old in all of us. Jump incredibly large distances, fall off cliffs and drive like the disturbed person you always wanted to be. These trucks ain't street legal, but then again, using someone's roof to jump off a cliff isn't either.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Racing games have always been a staple in videogame libraries. With Test Drive being one of the longest running racing titles, all I can say is 'It's about time.'? But after playing it extensively, I was left feeling a little let down.
Test Drive Off-Road uses the same effects engine as the game Smuggler's Run. Trucks shimmy, bounce and ride the bumps in an effective (if not unrealistic) enjoyable way. I only say that because it would be impossible to jump the distances and land without becoming much more than crimson mist. But hey, this is a videogame not real life, so I'm good with that. First off, driving is a snap. Using the d-pad or the analog stick controls the steering, you've got an accelerator and a brake plus an e-brake for tight turning. Players choose whether or not they want an automatic or a stick in which case the triggers act as the shifting gears. There are also three different views on which to race: in the car, 3rd person and far back 3rd person. I like games like this, ones that don't make the gameplay complicated. My Grandmother could play this game it's so easy -- that is, if she wasn't afraid of videogames (they're the devil's work!).
Once you start the game, you are offered three modes of play: single race, career race and a free roam mode that allows you to go 4x4ing wherever you want. In single race, you can select from one of the three areas -- Utah, California or Hawaii -- and race on any one of the first three races offered. Once a race has been selected, you can then pick from up to 13 different off road vehicles. Detroit must have had their hands out, cause the big three are all in there: Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet. Of course the coup de gras is the fact that you can race in the different styles of Hummers. From there, you wait for the course to be loaded and away you go. Now, it's important to mention how this racing game differs from others. In most games, you must stay on the track or predetermined course in order to make it to the checkpoints and ultimately finish the race. In Off-Road, you are encouraged to find the shortest route, whether it's on a road or not. Hidden tunnels are scattered everywhere, as are shortcuts, over the river and through the woods, if you will. Now, while blazing your own trail is certainly fun, the one thing I couldn't quite understand was the fact that the majority of the checkpoints were either on or right next to the road. I would have like to have seen more variables in checkpoint placement. Yes, some were placed in precarious places, but this is a 4x4 game! No, scratch that, this is a SERIOUS 4x4 game. As far as I was concerned, there shouldn't have even been a road.
Now it's important to mention that there are upgrades available. Not in the traditional sense, but rather if you unlock enough courses and finish first place enough times you unlock an upgraded version of the existing trucks. Example, after beating the first nine races and finishing first in all of them, I was able to use the 'Pro'? version of the Chevy Blazer. This increased all the stats on the vehicle (handling, acceleration, etc.) and effectively improved my performance.
In career mode, players start off with a limited amount of money and must finish in the top three of each race in order to get credits in order to purchase new trucks or upgrade the existing vehicle. Racing through several seasons will enable you to unlock the 'hidden'? vehicles like the 'Shelby' ?Durango, The 6x6 'T-Rex'? and the full on 'Monster Truck.'? These are the reeeally fun trucks to drive. Here is where the bigger challenges lie.
Lastly, the free roam mode allows you to drive anywhere and everywhere without any sort of clock so as to familiarize yourself with the various courses and hidden areas.
While racing either the single race mode or the career mode, the tracks vary in terms of what types of races you must beat. The three types are Circuit race, in which you must complete a certain number of laps while hitting each checkpoint. The second is the Blitz race, which is a type of point A to point B race, making sure you run through all the checkpoints. The last is the Scramble, where you must hit all the checkpoints before the opponents do. The problem is, everyone must hit the checkpoints in a different order. It's really a crazy race that reminded me of the demolition derby -- you will undoubtedly collide with the other racers.
Off-Road has a two player head-to-head option that uses the split-screen implementation. I had hoped that it would take advantage of the seemingly non-existent communication cable, but it doesn't. Hopefully you have a large TV as split screen racing really takes away from the gaming experience.
After speaking with my boss we both agreed that it seemed to us that Off-Road probably needed two more months of tweaking and cleaning up. Yes, the graphics look good, but they could have looked a bit better. On the flip side though, there is zero lag while racing, even when the screen is filled with racers. A good graphic effort, but not as good as it should have been. While playing, I was reminded of the Dreamcast game Speed Devils.
It seems lately that every game I play has a soundtrack of angry, loud rock bands. On this disc, there are no fewer than 12 different rock songs by bands like Metallica, Fear Factory and Digital Assassins. I'm sorry, but I'm personally getting a bit tired of this well-worn formula. On the sound effect side, I felt the engine rumblings were thin and tinny sounding. If I'm driving a massive 400 horsepower truck, I wanna hear the base rumbling in my living room.
It was a breath of fresh air as far as racing games go, it's just too bad the air wasn't THAT fresh. Yeah, the game is easy to pick up and generally fun to play, but it's missing that special something that elevates games to greatness. Maybe it was hollow audio, maybe it was the missing sharp graphics. Either way, an all around racing game.