• Jeremy McGrath's Offroad

    In this review of Jeremy McGrath's Offroad you'll see that it's a buggy / truck / rally game that concentrates on being fun, making no effort to be realistic. It's a low priced download game, but provides tight online racing with Time Trial leaderboards. The single player career mode is short and easy. What it lacks in polish it makes up for in accessibility.

    Arcade racing games used to be everywhere, but as graphical powerhouses became able to churn out realistic looking graphics, the need to accompany them with realistic physics has made them somewhat scarce in comparison to the number of semi-simulation racers available. Additionally the transfer of power to graphical and physical fidelity has forced a move to 30fps instead of 60fps. Whilst many people can't tell the difference when presented with one or the other, most people can when moving from one to the other (Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Vs Battlefield 3 or DiRT3 Vs Jeremy McGrath's Offroad). It's immediately obvious that Offroad is running in silky smooth 60fps action, and to achieve it at the 1080p resolution, 2XL have sacrificed a bit of detail here and there on the track and vehicle models, but overall, it still looks really good in motion while playing. Since you spend your time flinging your vehicle around at speed, the chance of you noticing or indeed caring is pretty much zero!

    Instead you'll be thinking 'Wow, I'm really high in the air and I can't even see the horizon. Perhaps I should do something about it'. Offroad lets you move the cars about in the air, both to realign a botched take off direction and to try and get all four wheels to touch down at the same time to maintain speed, in a similar style to Excitebike/truck. So, yes, physics has been thrown out of the window and replaced by an extra bit of fun. Unlike Excitetruck though, the speeds are more sane and the fun comes from drifting around corners inches from the rear bumper of another vehicle.

    Although Jeremy's advice-giving avatar would have you believe otherwise, the handling model allows for you to keep it nailed most of the time. Braking into sharp corners helps, but medium and shallow corners can be fired into sideways, brushing off speed with the drift, or by cutting them through softer sand and foliage. You can even get racing XP for ruining enough cacti ('eco terror') or fencing. This works to the advantage of the online racing because with little need to slow down for the corners until very close to them, you don't get numpties harpooning nearly as much as in DiRT. Even when you do get hit, you normally have enough opposite lock ability to prevent yourself disappearing off the track out of control, and very little time is lost. Even if you do go for a bit of uber-offroad action, the run offs are normally so wide, with little in the way to hit, so you can just keep it pinned and try and get back on the track having lost only a little time.

    Most drifting is initiated just by turning in hard and the drifting is satisfying indeed. However, if you do understeer to the outside too much, you can tap the handbrake to turn in a bit harder. Similarly for when you overcook a drift and the back comes round too much, it can be realigned fast by steering into it with a bit of handbrake. However, holding the handbrake down instead of tapping it doesn't feel quite right, almost as if someone is reaching down with a giant hand and just repointing the vehicle, but the ease with which it prevents full spins does keep the racing close. If you are getting the normal turn-in right, it's rare you should need it anyway. On the way out of a slower corner, you can tap clutch boost which slips the clutch briefly, allowing the engine to rev, giving a quick exit, but it's hard to figure out the timing and angles for it to work and mostly forgotten.

    A short career mode teaches you the basics of each vehicle type and XP is gained while racing for drifts, winning, overtaking, miles raced and clutch boosts, as well as the plant and fence damage. XP is used to power up brakes, handling, speed and acceleration. The XP applies to an individual livery, and carries across to the online mode. The facet is unfortunate, meaning that a little grinding is needed before the online is a level playing field, but it doesn't take long ' just be sure to apply all the upgrades to the same livery and choose that one when online. Even small changes in upgrades are noticeable while racing and if you are finding a race hard to win, then upgrading should see you through within the next couple of attempts. However, the single player experience is very short and easy, so if you aren't interested in time trials or online racing, knock a few points off the score and start on the hardest difficulty, because after upgrading, the easier modes lose their challenge.

    Online racing can be open class or fixed close, chosen by the session owner. Open is curious because the difference in vehicles is quite pronounced. Fixed should be your choice every time. If everyone has maxed their upgrades, racing is tight, fun and balanced. This is a stark contrast to other rally games where often some drivers seem inhumanly good.

    The Arcade mode has quick-race or Time Trial with online leaderboards (beat my times!). In the TT races it is possible to get near the top times quite quickly because most of the tracks are forgiving and designed for speed and thrills, so even if you hit one of the token environmental hazards, such as hay-bale rolling across the track, some speed is maintained.

    Jeremy McGrath is a great antidote to supposedly more realistic racers. It wears its arcade badge proudly and makes little attempt to be realistic, instead making every effort to provide fun, tight racing with a variety of vehicles. It's all presented in 1080p at a constantly silky smooth 60fps, with bright, colourful visuals. In a serious world, it stands out, and the price point is inviting. It's not without its foibles, but as an overall package it delivers.