Platform: PSN | XBLA (reviewed)
Developer: 2XL Games
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Don't let the rally stylings and namedrop fool you. Jeremy McGrath's Offroad may appear to be an authentic rally game at face value, but it soon becomes apparent that 2XL's latest title is a full-on, no-messin' arcade racer. Choosing from a small selection of vehicles including off-road buggies and souped-up cars, you'll hoon around some looping tracks as sideways as possible, spend plenty of time in the air and leave opponents eating your dust. It's more Outrun than Colin McRae, closer to Hydro Thunder than TOCA, and a downloadable dose of uncomplicated enjoyment.
Jeremy McGrath's Offroad isn't the biggest, deepest, most realistic or best looking rally game you'll ever play. But it's as fun as it is eminently affordable.
As mentioned, Offroad's driving mechanics are accessible arcade-style fare. Though some of the vehicle classes are slightly more nuanced than others (the hulking Trophylite Trucks are much heavier than the nippy Pro Buggies, for example), even genre newcomers will be able to get all kinds of sideways without wrestling against finnicky realistic controls. Spongy handling, a generous physics engine and full air control make for a responsive and bouncy ride, which can be slightly tweaked by choosing from a small number of different tyre packages before each race. Offroad does feature a few nods to authenticity, such as an E-Brake and a copilot who shouts out oncoming directions in an annoyingly repetitive manner, but if you're a sucker for realism then you're fresh out of luck. Adrenaline junkies who just want to drive as fast and dangerously as possible, however, will be in their element.
Track design can make or break a racing game, and luckily Offroad 's six stages are fantastic fun to navigate. They're wide and deep enough to encourage players to take corners as sideways as they're humanly capable; using the berm to gain some extra speed or cheekily cutting across grass and gravel in hairpins. Jumps, ridges and dips abound, providing plenty of opportunities to get airborne. Some tracks even offer some silly environmental hazards such as rolling snowballs or haybales to avoid. Realism takes another hit, but in terms of raw enjoyment, 2XL definitely know what makes for an enjoyable selection of courses.
Slick 60 FPS visuals unite the refreshingly simple mechanics and thrill-focused track design into something unapologetically, stupidly, brilliantly fun (there's that word again). You'll get a real sense of reckless speed regardless of the camera angle, and though the texture work is fairly mediocre, chances are that you'll be barrelling past it too fast to notice. You'll need to play on the hardest difficulties to get much of a challenge from the somewhat predictable AI opponents, mind.
As a gamer who appreciates RPG-style upgrade systems, I did get a kick out of accruing Offroad's persistent experience points. Every overtake, massive jump, smashed signpost and completed race rewards players with upgrade tokens to improve their vehicle's handling, top speed and acceleration. It's a great way of rounding out some of the slower ProLite trucks, not to mention ramping the buggies and cars up to insane levels. The feeling of always improving, always earning regardless of whether you're online or off, proves to be an intoxicating draw.
In terms of game modes, you'll have access to a 23-level career (through which you'll unlock all of the vehicle classes) and an arcade mode that offers races, practice laps or time trials. Multiplayer is limited to straight races, which is slightly disappointing, though admittedly good fun. Unless you consistently switch to the highest difficulty setting, the singleplayer races are fairly easy, so getting online will be a must for many players.
After getting to grips with the solo content, my first instinct was to immediately invite a few people to drop by, perhaps crack open a tinny or two, and throw down in some riotous splitscreen shenanigans. Arcade racers are built for awesome local multiplayer action - hence the 'arcade' prefix - but no such luck. There's absolutely no splitscreen to be found here, not even for two players, and its omission is a crying shame. Worse, I can't see the online player base lasting too long (it can already be difficult to find a game), so this decision will effectively give Offroad a dismayingly short shelf life.
This is one of many omissions that marks Jeremy McGrath's Offroad out as a disappointingly bare-bones proposition. The career mode has no context or overarching narrative (such as participating in a world series), it's just there for the sake of it. A flaccid championship leaderboard serves no purpose whatsoever, suggesting that 2XL had grand designs that never came to fruition. There's no in-game music, forcing you to rely on custom soundtracks. Offroad's structure boils down to a simple list of events with no real sense of progression beyond the upgrade system, and Jeremy is relegated to spouting out some middling to useless soundbites every few minutes while browsing menus; a far cry to how closely Ken Block was woven into DiRT 3's DNA. Six tracks and five vehicles may also not be enough for some people, testament to a less is more philosophy and - we assume - some strict deadlines to meet.
Then again, Jeremy McGrath's Offroad will only set you back 800 Microsoft Points/£6.30. Considering how much fun you'll have, I'm inclined to cut it a fair bit of slack.
- Fun-focused arcade racing mechanics and track design
- Compelling experience system
- Competent 60 FPS visuals for the price
- Bare-bones presentation and style
- Questionable longevity
- A bit on the easy side
- An arcade racing game without splitscreen. Come again?
The Short Version: Jeremy McGrath's Offroad doesn't set out to reinvent the rally genre, nor does it try to be the biggest or best.
What it does is provide a handful of great tracks, ridiculously fun mechanics and an addictive progression system for less than £7. Which is absolutely fine as far as we're concerned.