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Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open (Xbox) Review

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I have never been a big fan of games that make you stay on a beaten path or keep chuggin' along on the same old rails. When I plop down 50 bucks for something, I want to be able to keep it and go back to it over and over again without knowing what's coming up around the next corner. “Oh yea there's this big green alien who I have to jump over, run back between his legs, and then hit over the head with a hammer three times to kill it.” That's fun once but usually not two or three times. I guess that's why I have always leaned towards sports titles because it's never the same thing twice. Test Drive Off Road Wide Open (the title covers it all) for the Xbox is a very good example of a game that's never the same thing twice. It's a claustrophobic man's dream and a “drive around and explore” game at heart. On the other hand if you want a game that's deep-rooted in features and rich in options you've come to the wrong place. But take Wide Open for what it's best at and you could really have some fun.

Presentation/Graphics : 69
Graphics are a mixed bag and seemed to be a little rushed so they could quickly get this title to market. After seeing Halo's beautifully drawn environments, the terrain of Wide Open just doesn't impress me as much as most Xbox titles. Also, you can expect some pop-up for larger objects like mountains every now and then, as well as draw-in for almost all distant textures. It does get a little annoying seeing no mountain, then seeing the mountain, then seeing the mountain's textures. But when everything does draw in it looks good but still with a little bit of a haze to it. I just don't understand why Smugglers Run, a game that was released over a year ago, looks better than this game and generally doesn't have any of these problems. The two titles are also developed by the same company – Angel Studios. Try and make sense of that.

On the other hand the truck models are exceptionally life-like and are accurately detailed. All vehicles have the correct badging and things like original rims are a nice touch. You'll even have detailed undercarriage items like shocks and rear-end differential. Tires are amazingly detailed too. Now one thing that really stands out are the trucks shiny bodies. They are very reflective and are great to look at. Too bad they don't quite match the environments though. Another note is all the vehicles in the game are real manufactures of trucks. You'll have Chevy's, Ford's, Dodge's, and Hummer's all at your fingertips with just about any color you could want. It makes the game a lot more fun if you're about to scale a mountain in a new Avalanche instead of some no-name fictional truck. I guess that's what videogames are all about. My favorite is the old 70's model Chevy Blazer with the classic two-tone white and baby blue paint job. I love that truck. It's like a rock. Overall the graphics are do-able but I expect these environmental issues to be cleaned up next year.

Presentation/Audio : 83
Infogrames has snatched up some official licenses for music of such bands as Metallica, Fear Factory, 303 Infinity, Digital Assassins and UnLoco. Metallica's “Fuel” is the featured title, and the other songs give a heavy/hard-rock soundtrack. If you are a fan of this type of music, you should enjoy most of the selections, but you might wish they had a few more tracks to listen to. As much as I liked the songs that are in the game, they do get a little repetitive, and without the option to rip your own soundtrack, you might find yourself not paying much attention to the music after a while. This is one game that you'd think would have the rip option in it. I mean c'mon - that's one of the reasons for the Xbox's hard-drive and I don't think that would have been a hard option to put in. However, I rarely get tired of listening to Fear Factory, and Metallica.

The audio effects of the vehicles themselves are good and do the job well. You'll get unique engine sounds for each vehicle, revs, crashes, bangs, and squeals like you should expect in a game of this type. When you land after a big jump, you can really hear the shocks working hard and sometimes it sounds and feels like your truck's frame got cracked in half. It's some pretty good stuff. Another thing to note is when climbing different surfaces such as rocks, grass, or dirt you'll notice different sound effects for each one of these surfaces. It's just another added touch that brings things to life in Off Road. Environmental sound effects are somewhat quiet and probably will go unnoticed for the most part. Sometimes you will hear a bird chirping here or a helicopter going by you there but that's about it - nothing too spectacular. Overall though a good job in the audio department.

Interface : 76
There's quite of few things going on in Off Road that should keep you busy. You've got 12 trucks to choose from with such favorites as the Hummer, Ford F-150, Dodge Durango, Jeep CJ5 and the Dodge Ram 2500. Each vehicle has 4 classes to them, which determine the usual attributes: speed, acceleration, handling, and climbing ability. As you progress in the game, you unlock the faster and better classes of vehicles, as well as some secret vehicles. Races are set up into 3 types. First is your standard circuit race that consists of your usual 3 laps around the track. Blitz races are based on a point-A-to-point-B race. And finally Scramble is a race where you have to clear all the checkpoints first, but in any order you desire. Remember that the road ahead isn't always the fastest way to the next checkpoint. If you see a hill in your way, you can try to go over it and you're really only limited by the type of truck you have. Almost every mountain in the game can be conquered. A vehicle with little climbing power isn't going to get up a hill very fast or for that matter at all. Now what it lacks in climbing may make up for with top speed. So maybe you can fly around the hill. These possibilities can make for many different race scenarios.

You can run these races in a single quick race mode, or try to enter a career mode and race different circuits. The higher you place, the more money you get. The more money you get, the more you can upgrade your truck. It's quite simple. Also included is a nice playing 2-player mode which is pretty standard these days, but nonetheless fun. Infogrames has featured an all new mode to the Xbox version of Off Road - Stadium Racing. This new feature includes small indoor or outdoor tracks like you'd see in Stewart's Iron Man Racing. Tracks consist of figure 8's and motocross style tracks with some nice bumps and jumps. This mode seems to add a whole new type of gameplay to Off Road but it really won't just knock your socks off or anything like that. But hey it's something new and it is fun for a while. There's also 3 different types of environments to race through and they are Yosemite, Hawaii, and Moab. All three are huge areas of land featuring all different types of landscapes and terrain. You can even drive to the beach.

Gameplay : 88
If you're wanting or expecting a simulation title, you won't find it here. Test Drive Off-Road: Wide Open is definitely all arcade racing and this style is what helps keep the game's level of fun relatively high. You won't have to pay close attention to car settings because this game isn't about tweaking your truck for maximum performance. It's about hightailing it out there on the track, winning, and buying better equipped trucks to advance further in the game. How things are set up is not an individual component customization but an overall truck overhaul of tires, roll bars, suspension, and engine. This is a good thing and makes gameplay simplistic.

Control-wise, the game is rooted in solid arcade style gameplay. The trucks are heavy and a small turn of the wheel will affect your truck. One thing that's cool to me but maybe not to all folks is you can fly high off cliffs and jumps, and no harm will be done to your vehicle other than being jolted around and slammed to the ground. Even after a big fall you will usually land on all fours. There is a definite magnetic pull towards the ground in the game, and you shouldn't have too much trouble controlling your movement. I like it because it doesn't break up the action. Now the touchy steering stated before might have your truck in the wrong direction unexpectedly, and these are some annoying factors that may frustrate you. Wide Open is for the most part gas, brake, and steer. You do have the handbrake option that's nice for power-slides, but it is a little difficult to control.

The games A.I. is pretty good and it keeps things for the most part competitive. There's also a track map that helps point out where to go after each checkpoint, otherwise you will probably not win the race. On some of the tougher courses, you might need to run them a few times to memorize the track's route. One tough part of the game is how badly the other vehicles can affect you during the race. If you are bumped by another truck you will usually be sent spinning out of control and it makes things a little frustrating. So it's best to keep to yourself and avoid as much contact as possible with anyone. Now, even with some of these problems the gameplay is still very fun.

Replay Value : 75
There is quite a bit of replay value in Off Road. First off you have what I think is the most fun out of all the modes - free roam. Here you just hit the road and drive until you can't drive anymore or seek and destroy anything that moves by bashing into them just for the fun of it. As you can tell I like senseless fun. Then you have the single, career, and the new stadium modes. These modes are where you can earn the 4 levels of upgrades for your truck. And again a mind boggling rip feature that was left out of the game. Finally there is a two-player mode but that doesn't help me much since I have no friends. It's the split screen variety of gameplay and I have never been a big fan of that.

Overall : 78
Off Road does have its share of problems and for the most part they are acceptable. What I get out of this game is just a fun time. I have this thing about freedom in a game and I would be happy with just the free roam mode this title offers. In the long run I really only played the career mode so that I could get more cars and upgrades to play in the free roam mode. I love just exploring and off-roading on my own. If I see a mountain a mile away, I can drive to it and try to conquer that mountain by finding a way to the top. If that sounds boring, this might not be the game for you. But if you liked playing in the free roam mode of Smugglers Run on the PS2, you will like Off Road as well.

By: Michael Wicks 1/14/01

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