Developer: 2XL Games
Publisher: Reverb Publishing
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is a simple driving game worth being played by young children with a penchant for rally sports. Anyone outside of this niche will likely find themselves bored, frustrated, and demeaned by Jeremy McGrath’s horrible and unavoidable pro-tips.
In this game, the player uses a variety of off-road racing vehicles to tackle 6 different tracks set in various environments around the world. Using the concepts of handbraking and brake boosting, the player can “drift” around sharp turns at high speeds.
Racing games don’t tend to have much of a story, but Offroad lacks what effort can be put into one. Games like Grand Turismo and Forza at least put in goals, objectives, or interesting career modes, but Offroad just takes the player through the motions. There is essentially no explanation given other than, “drive through these races so you can unlock more races”.
In Offroad, the player starts with a sportsman buggy, which is the lowest rank of car. As the player beats more races ProLite trucks, Pro Buggys, Rally Cars, and Trophy Trucks can be unlocked. However, new tracks are not. In other words, the player goes through the same 6 tracks about 4 times (there are 23 tracks overall), just with different types of vehicles of increasing speed. This unfortunately removes most replay value and makes the arcade mode pointless. As the player goes through races, experience points can be earned, which in turn can be used to upgrade vehicles.
The game is good in that it offers an accurate view of how off-road racing works. There is a navigator in the car that tells you what type of turns are coming up, and the handbrake has to be used to successfully pull through the tighter ones. The problem is this accuracy makes the game much less difficult, to the point where it is simplistic. In other racing games, memorizing the track was something that came with experience and time, while in this game, that memorization is handed to you. The standard difficulty is “Amateur”, which makes the game absurdly easy and gives a penalty of only receiving 75% experience. The next setting, which is “Semi-Pro”, gives 100% experience but is still very easy. Playing the game, I was able to routinely finish +30 seconds ahead of the other cars in amateur and +15 seconds in semi-pro, which means that I was ahead by an enormous margin. The final difficulty setting is “Pro”, which yields 150% experience. In order to make the game challenging, it needs to be on this setting. Unfortunately, in this mode the user ranks up so fast that a fully upgraded vehicle is not hard to achieve, making the game too easy once again.
There are several other problems with the gameplay as well. Each camera angle has its own frustrating faults. The top view camera glitches when the car turns more than 180 degrees (which is likely given the hairpin turns found in every track). It is also very difficult to see with the driver view on hills or in the jungle level because of the many low bushes. Essentially, the player is forced to switch between camera settings manually during each race, or deal with the issues as they are presented.
There is also an added component called “road hazards” that incorporates falling objects typical to the environment in the races. While a potentially good idea, Offroad makes each road hazard seem more gimmicky than challenging. On the canyon track there are poorly animated rocks, in the Netherlands track there are random giant snowballs, and on the country track there are bales of hay that are about as random as you can get.
Finally, there are some tiny glitches and inconsistencies.There are certain bushes in some tracks that will completely stop your car. And there are some trees you can topple over. In easy mode you can run into a building and still finish 1st with 20 seconds to spare. In pro mode, there is some difficulty, but the main challenge comes from working around camera problems and course glitches. The experience system is also incorrectly scaled. The player can earn as much experience from running into a bunch of signs as finishing a race in first place.
The graphics in this game are acceptable for the price. The tracks seem realistic and flow reasonably well. The road hazards are poorly designed as are the planes that sometimes fly through the track, but the vehicles are satisfactory at least.
The music in the game is also good as it does not distract the player and flows well with racing. That being said, there is some audio that is the absolutely worst part of this game: Jeremy Help. This feature, probably meant to be fun and pandering to Jeremy’s fans, is very poorly done. The type of tips he gives are in the same vein as, “Did you know rally races can be done as individual events or as one big set?” and the voice he uses makes it seem like he’s talking to a child. The inflection doesn’t even match the punctuation (he will routinely make statements when the on-screen sentence has question marks). The game even opens with this degrading voice saying, “Hi there, I’m Jeremy McGrath and this is off-road racing”. I was overjoyed to find out this could be turned off in the settings menu, then tragically depressed when I realized that the setting options for his voice did not work.
With all of that criticism being said, it should be re-stated that to a young audience, this is a great game. Jeremy’s voice certainly isn’t degrading if he is actually talking to a kid. The level of difficulty makes sense then too. This game could also be fun to serious off-road fans. The problem is that for the rest of the gaming community, $10 seems like a bit of a waste of money, especially given the low replay value. The Xbox LIVE feature that comes with the game may make up for this, but only if enough people are willing to sit through Jeremy saying, “Good luck, I’ll be watching from the sidelines” as if they were forced to watch an inspirational children’s movie.