Racing superstar Jeremy McGrath roars onto your console.
Racing games, as with most other genres, can be difficult to pull off perfectly. Make it too hard, and you’ll turn off all but the most dedicated race fans. Make it too easy, and there’s just not any of that drive to win. On top of that, you need to make the tracks look great, and the vehicles handle even greater. Trying to get all that in for a ten dollar price tag seems a near impossible feat, so how does Jeremy McGrath’s OffRoad stand up to the test?
The first thing you’ll notice when you start up Jeremy McGrath’s OffRoad is that there are really no frills as far as options go. There isn’t any local multiplayer at all, and the online multi is a bit hit and miss, as you need to find someone else playing to get into a match. The solo experience is the focus here, and you have your choice of an arcade mode, or playing through a career.
Arcade mode is pretty standard for racing game. You can do quick races or practice on any of the six tracks available. You can customize your races, to a point, with the option to do single races or time trials – or even just practice until you have everything down. You can turn road hazards on or off, choose from rally or grid start, types of opponents, and difficulty levels. Of course, this isn’t the kind of customizing you might be used to from more high budget games. You can choose from two or three options, and that’s it.
Arcade mode is fun if you just want to get a quick race in, but for most people the career mode is what it’s all about. The opportunity to work your way through a full career, facing challenging opponents and harder and harder tracks really gets those competitive juices flowing. Unfortunately, Jeremy McGrath’s OffRoad really doesn’t focus all that much on beating the competition – which is generally the motivation for racing.
The Career Mode consists of 23 events, and using all five of the available vehicle classes. You begin with the Sportsman Buggy, and then unlock the ProLite Truck, Pro Buggy, Rally Car, and Trophy Truck in turn. You’ll be able to choose from different paint schemes, but none of them are really all that dazzling. Of course, the big draw is being able to upgrade your vehicles. You will earn XP as you race for any number of things – anything from passing other cars, to performing slides and boosts, to finishing a lap in first or completing a certain amount of miles. In fact, you’ll even earn XP for no-no’s like taking out signs and fences.
The XP stacks up rather quickly, so I was excited to see what kind of swag I could get for my vehicle. A new paint job? Souped up wheels? A badass engine? Nah….this game is a bit more lowkey, which is to be expected of a download. Still, I was disappointed in the upgrades. Your XP shows as little yellow bars, which you can “spend” on improving your handling, top speed, acceleration, and braking, up to five bars each. It really doesn’t take that much to upgrade all of them. There is a bit of improvement, particularly in speed, when you upgrade. But….it almost makes the game less fun. If you are already beating all of the opponents most of the time, an advantage just makes it a bit boring. Of course, as you advance through the career, you are unlocking new vehicle classes – and they are not upgraded when you start them. So there is the thrill of earning more XP to upgrade your newest ride.
Twenty three events seems like a lot at first glance, but you will work your way through them a lot faster than expected, for several reasons. First of all, the first eight or so races consist of only one lap. As you advance, the races do get longer, but when they are mostly the same tracks and the same opponents that you have already mastered it loses a bit of the appeal. Secondly, you will advance to the next track. Really. Even if you suck. Hardcore. As long as you finish the race, you will automatically unlock the next event, even if you are dead last and all the other cars lapped you. That just seemed to take a lot of the competitive spirit out of the game. However, if you have offspring who enjoy racing, this might be the perfect game for them.
Of course, finishing dead last will likely not happen real often, unless you are the very worst of races. Now, I am not the most skilled of racers myself, but I consistently placed high in the rankings. And once I worked my way into the career races with more than one lap, I almost always lapped up all of my opponents (even Jeremy McGrath himself) and finished the last lap or two completely on my own. Why? Nothing really slows you down. You can hit other cars, take down signs, go completely off the road, even flip you car over – and still be in first place. And while Jeremy McGrath reminds you over and over again that it isn’t a good idea to just keep your throttle open all the time……you totally can.
The overall look and sound of Jeremy McGrath’s OffRoad is…well, like the rest of the game. It’s alright, really. But it could have been better. The six tracks available are colorful and detailed, and their road hazards quaintly match the track – snowballs for a snowy place, hay bales for the country, etc. Jeremy McGrath delivers a lot of quite helpful racing tips during the loading screens to get you racing at your best. During the races, there isn’t any music – just the revving of engines and Jeremy McGrath’s voice. The near constant sound of Jeremy McGrath’s voice, yelling out seemingly helpful instructions like “It’s an S turn” or “ It’s an easy left” over an over, on every turn, and every race….please make it stop.
Jeremy McGrath’s OffRoad is an okay racing game that tries to offer a realistic racing career but falls a bit short. The realistic race tracks and low-key upgrade system just don’t make up for the repetition and lack of competition. Lack of a local multiplayer option combined with a lack of online players means trouncing human opponents isn’t much of an option either. However, gamers looking for an economical option for some quick solo races, or parents looking for racing action that won’t frustrate or confuse the young’uns might just find what they’re looking for.