Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Off-Road Drive Review

Off-Road Drive, developed by 1C-Avalon and published by 1C Company.
The Good: Unique realistic take on off-road navigation, tough tracks with frequent obstacles, numerous locations and cars with minor tuning options
The Not So Good: Complex control scheme, tutorial gives incorrect instructions, no difficulty settings, iffy multiplayer hosting
What say you? This challenging and authentic off-road racing game offers realistic, measured driving: 6/8

In addition to popular track-based racing like F1, a whole different world of off-road adventures exist, highlighted in games like the DiRT series. However, even then the races take place on roads and never really venture “off road.” To rectify this injustice, Off-Road Drive features off-road driving. Weird, I know! But now, it’s deep water, loose mud, and gigantic rocks, substances that were never really meant to be driven over. So it’s just you, your trusty 4x4, and the clock in a race to scale the highest mountain, wettest sand, and that spectator that’s looking at you funny.

The graphics of Off-Road Drive are pretty good. First, the various tracks look like real-world environments, complete with plenty of detail: trees, rocks, hills, and high-resolution ground textures. There are some nice effects as well: mud gets squashed down by your tires (which changes the properties of the track) and thrown up on the screen, covering your vehicle in the process. Each of the cars are nicely detailed as well, with accurate (for fake cars) exteriors and interiors and animated drivers trying their best to navigate through the hazardous landscape. I will say that the default camera angle, because of the rough terrain, made me a little motion sick with how much it was bouncing around. The crowd that is standing dangerously close to an out-of-control motor vehicle cheers you on as you run head-on into another rock, completing the satisfying racing environment. The sound effects are decent, dominated by the generic and borderline-annoying music. Also included are seemingly accurate engine effects, environmental sounds, and some voiced instructions for the tutorial. Based on the strength of the graphics design, Off-Road Drive holds up to its $35 price tag with the presentation.

Off-Road Drive has you traversing the world’s most rocks/wet/hilly terrain in search for the fastest time to the finish. The career mode is quite extensive: six locations contain three or four championships of three races each, so you can spend a considerable amount of time checking off all the events. There are three types of races: timed sprints, points-based trophy runs, and sectional trials. In addition to the career mode, multiplayer is also present in Off-Road Drive, offering ten or so maps for each race type. You can adjust the number of laps, types of cars allowed, collisions, and number of players (up to four). I should report that I was not able to host any games, getting instantly kicked back to the main menu. As you will see, Off-Road Drive is a complex game, so there is a tutorial to teach you the basics. Unfortunately, the tutorial routinely says the wrong controls (like “LT” is accelerate, even when it’s “RT”), even on default settings. The on-screen prompts during the races are more helpful, but it’s difficult to recover when you start out on the wrong foot.

Off-Road Drive is far, far more than turn, accelerate, and brake. In fact, I’d wager to say Off-Road Drive is the most complex racing game I've ever encountered, playing more like a flight simulation than a traditional car-based title. In fact, Off-Road Drive is so complex that the game runs out of buttons on a gamepad, requiring the use of a modifier button to access some features. While you are carefully driving through the game, you’ll use more traditional options like four-wheel drive, lower gears, and the hand brake. However, you can also lock the wheel and axle differential, bleed or inflate the tire, and use the winch by selecting a tree and adjusting the power to prevent the tension from snapping the wire. One thing you should not use is automatic transmission: it does a terrible job shifting at the right times and using the correct gears. Figuring out when to use these tools is part of the challenge, made a little easier by on-screen suggestions at specific points in the race.

Off-Road Drive has twenty cars that unlock as you complete events, including sport utility vehicles, trucks, and buggies. They are distinguished according to torque, acceleration, handling, and off-road capability. You are given more tuning options to further tweak their attributes as well: different visual skins, suspensions to balance handling and off-road, and tires for hard, loose, or muddy terrain. The tracks throw all sorts of crazy challenges at you, from loose mud to deep water to sand to hills to rocks you are supposed to drive over. I assure you that you’ll get stuck. A lot. Heck, I got stuck in the tutorial. Since the races are timed events, you want to finish quickly, but not too quickly that you can’t drive over the barriers in your way. You must also stay on the racing line: there are time penalties, ironically, for going off the road. The AI is pretty slow (it's extrapolated from a single ghost car) and doesn’t mount a huge challenge unless you get stuck a lot; the lack of difficulty settings makes the track the only real obstacle.

If you’re looking for an authentic off-roading experience, look no further than Off-Road Drive. The advanced driving starts with the controls: you’ll need to handle four-wheel drive, wheel and axle differential, low gears, inflating tires, and when all else fails, the trusty winch. This is not a simple point-A-to-point-B racing game, that’s for sure: the challenging tracks feature a variety of tough conditions that you must navigate, introducing a strong element of strategy into your driving. The AI is pretty weak (the challenge comes from the tracks themselves), and since the game lacks difficulty settings, unless you get yourself stuck and rely on the winch too much, victory (or at least a good finish) is assured. The lengthy career mode takes place across the globe and features three different race types against the clock and AI ghost car. Twenty cars are gradually unlocked, offering different handling characteristics and minor tuning options. Multiplayer is also present, although I was never able to host a match. Learning the multifaceted control scheme is tough enough, but the tutorial constantly references the wrong commands (even on default settings), potentially confusing new drivers. Finally, the graphics are nice and put you in the mood for some off-road excitement. I think $35 is a bit steep for people who are only marginally interested in the game, but those looking for a different take on driving will find an appealing product.