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4x4 Evolution (PC) Review

Background Info

In my preview of this game earlier, my biggest complaint was that there weren't enough vehicles or tracks. Problem solved! Read on and learn about an arcade racer that even I can love…

Up Front – a note on installation
Make sure your graphics setup is properly listed on the opening screen. When I installed the game, I kept getting bizarre visuals until I finally figured out that the installation program had not read my Voodoo card correctly.

Presentation/Graphics : 70
The trucks in the game are beautifully and accurately rendered -- true-to-life right down to the trim and the working brake lights. Reflections are spot on and the suspension works realistically. Another area that is handled well is the headlights in nighttime races.

Unfortunately, the scenery isn't up to the same standard. Everything is blocky – dirt thrown up from the wheels consists of black triangles, even in snowy scenarios. Water is just a flat, non-reflecting surface that doesn't even create a splash when trucks go through it. And this is with the graphic detail turned up full blast! Some tracks are okay – Motocross and Salvage Wasteland come to mind -- but others, such as Arctic Wasteland and Final Destination are simply not up to current visual standards in games.

Presentation/Audio : 75
Game sounds are acceptable with believable thumps and splashes. But the engine sound seemed muffled, which made it impossible for me to know when to shift by the sound.

It's interesting that that the game provides the sound of thunder in rainy settings but there's never a flash of lightning.

The usual, generic background music is available, but as always, it was the first thing turned off.

Interface/Options : 85
The first option is to choose your weapon, and Evo gives you the choice of just about every truck and SUV available in the country today from both US and Japanese manufacturers. The vehicles are divided into three groups – rookie, which is stock, intermediate, which is slightly modified and Professional, which is heavily modified for performance.

Graphic options include draw distance, scenery complexity, vehicle and ground shadows, tire tracks, vehicle detail level, vehicle reflections and sun glare. I turned on everything except sun glare with no noticeable effect on frame rate with my P2/400 and Voodoo 3. Keep the draw distance as great as possible or there is the distracting element of the game drawing mountains and forests as you are almost on top of them.

Race viewpoints include near and far chase, overhead, both sides, front chase and cockpit, which is really more like a bumper cam. These correspond to the replay angles, and, of course, most are impractical for use while driving. The bumper cam worked fine for me. Screen overlay options include a “finder” arrow, which points to the next checkpoint, race info, a track map and speedometer and tach. The game keeps you too busy to read gauges and race info, so I used only the arrow and track map, which are convenient during the cross-country shortcuts.

Among the options that are not there are ones for damage or opponent strength. You can drive off a cliff or to the bottom of a lake and your truck will be just fine. If you find yourself hopelessly lost or behind, you can stop and restart the race as often as you like, though in career mode, once the winning car crosses the line, you cannot restart that event.

Finally, a big hint: reverse is the brake pedal. Nowhere in the manual, the on-screen help or the readme is that information provided and it took dozens of times getting stuck on some obstacle with accompanying foul language and having to restart a race before I found this out by accident.

Gameplay : 90
The four game options are:

    1. Quick Race – a single event on either a random or selected track. This is best used to become familiar with the course.

    2. Time Attack – a run either alone or against a ghost car where the object is to set the best lap time for the track.

    3. Multiplayer – I didn't get to try this option, but it would be mechanized mayhem to have about a dozen human beings attacking both the course and each other.

    4. Career – the player starts out with no car and very little money and works through a series of both special events and series, collecting prize money that is used to improve the vehicle. This is the option that makes the game worthwhile…

Races can be run against 0 to 7 computer opponents and from 1 to 20 laps distance. Additionally, races can be run in the daytime, twilight, night or pitch darkness. Weather can be set to clear, fog, dense fog and rain.

There are 15 tracks included in the game: Arctic Wasteland, Arizona, Bayou Flats, Black Gold, Construction Junction, Crazy 2000, Farm Road 109, Final Destination, Laguna Del Sol, Motocross, Restricted Area, Salvage Wasteland, Silverton Pass, Treasure Bay and Truck Stop 101.

Arizona is a good track for players just learning the game. Drive it a few times with different Handling Balance settings and learn to set the car into a drift through the corners so you lose as little speed as possible. Using the handbrake helps.

Each track has its idiosyncrasies, but they all have one thing in common – shortcuts. For example, at Bayou Flats, it saves a lot of time to jump off an embankment, bounce off a riverboat and onto the opposite shore. At the Final Destination track, which is an airplane graveyard, you drive through the fuselage of a plane to start a cross-country trek. If you drive quick races and follow the AI cars around, they'll show you the tricks of the tracks. It just strikes me as odd if the AI cars follow these shortcuts every time, why didn't the designers simply make that route the regular course of the race? There are shortcuts (and longcuts) in the Need for Speed series as well, but in those games, different cars take different paths.

My personal favorite tracks are Truck Stop 101, which is a nice mix of pavement and rugged terrain, and Motocross, which is the track where driver skill seems to play the largest factor. My least favorite would be Arctic Wasteland since rather than feeling slick, it's more like the handling is just mushy, even when using the option of studded tires. The graphics are especially poor there as well.

As I said above, the quick race is mainly for practice and I'm not much of a hotlapper, so I'll concentrate on the career mode. The player starts with $30,000 and no vehicle, so the first order of business is to buy a truck. No stock vehicle is really that good, so if you buy a cheaper model you'll have more money left over for modifications right from the start, and that's what will really make you successful in your races. Start out with a couple special events to gain a little money, spend it all on parts and then join the Amateur series. These races are all run in daylight over the easier tracks, so it's a good way to get some relatively easy wins and the purses that go with them. Remember that you can reset a race any time before the lead car gets the checkered flag – that seems sort of like cheating to me, but if the game lets you do it, may as well take advantage because money is scarce in the early going. Balance your spending between engine and suspension mods – both are important though generally good handling will carry the day over raw speed at most tracks.

Regarding the driving itself, it's pretty basic stuff. The physics model isn't complicated, and emphasizes the airborne while making it impossible to be anything but perfectly level while you're in the air. In fact, it's very difficult to tip over under any conditions – land on an almost vertical slope and the vehicle will miraculously settle in and drive on. But that doesn't mean that there isn't some strategy involved. Flying might be fun, but it's not the quickest way around since you can't accelerate while you're in the air. At some tracks – notably Construction Junction – there are several places that if you just take a flying leap, you'll get in trouble, in one case going into a tree and another, into the scoop of a bulldozer. Learn which blind hills have disaster on the other side and which require maximum speed to clear the hazards below.

Even with performance-enhanced engines, these are big, heavy trucks and once you lose speed, it takes time to build it back up, so while the player might be able to run over some obstacles (such as telephone poles and gates), valuable time is still lost. Other objects are immovable, such as trees, buildings and checkpoint gates, which don't cause damage, but bring you to a complete stop and will almost certainly cost you the race.

AI skill level seems to vary widely from one track to the next – it's hard to win at some while at Construction Junction, the computer cars seem to run into every obstacle making victory easy.

Among the oddities in the game, it's possible to drive underwater – which felt really strange -- and if you get hit head-on by the semi in Truck Stop 101, you can never get free – it just pushes you down the road forever. The trains at Farm Road and Black Gold might do the same, but I was never unfortunate enough to get hit.

Replay Value : 85
This game has a high replay value because there are 37 different series in which the player can compete, each ranging from 5 to 17 races as well as a special endurance series. And as you compete, the quality of your vehicle keeps improving as you plow your hard-won earnings into performance parts. I've got some great plans for the little blue Dakota I've been driving…

The challenge remains high since the opposition is kept on a par with your own truck. And at the higher levels, things can get pretty hairy on the tight courses with lots of banging and slamming and cussing around as some inconsiderate lout of a computer car decides to punt you off a bridge or into a tree.

Overall : 82
There are a lot of great racing games out there. Usually they require both incredible skill and considerable investment in time for practice. Sometimes you can spend a whole week getting ready for an online race only to have it all turn to ashes in the very first turn. Well, 4X4 Evolution is the cure for your sim racing obsessions -- smashing through junkyards and leaping over freight trains in a single bound will put a smile on even the most dedicated simulation junkie's face. It's not a great game, but you'll have a great time, and sometimes we forget that having fun is the whole idea.

By: Paul Hamilton 12/19/00

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