I have a soft spot for off-road, rally racing games. No matter how many times I get burned, I simply cannot help but get excited every time a new one crops up. I think I am secretly still awaiting a sequel to Rally Cross or Rallisport Challenge, neither of which will likely ever happen. This brings me to Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad; a simple name for a simple game, and one that will seem familiar to some gamers. McGrath branded his name onto several motocross games back in the Acclaim days, but now he is more focused on four-wheeled dirt devils. What we end up with is a solid, but minimal, racer that is perfectly priced.
Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad never hides anything. From the outset you know what you are getting into. There are three difficulties, a tour mode and plenty of snow, dirt and mud tracks. The physics of the trucks are handled well, and the game spouts off a more arcade vibe than titles such as DiRT. You can jump in for 15 minutes or hours if you want.
Each race earns XP that is used to upgrade vehicles in simple areas. You can improve speed, handling and braking. There’s no need for a grease-monkey mentality; everything works precisely as designed. Progression is also not hindered by the need to master the game. Sure, there are advanced techniques like clutch braking and nailing landings, but you will always be unlocking new events and vehicles regardless of coming in first or not. The game never punishes you for not being perfect, which is great for casual players.
As I mentioned there is a tour mode that takes you through each vehicle class and track style. On easy these races are still competitive, but as long as you don’t make too many mistakes, you’ll come out on top. The track variety feels like it came directly out of the ’how-to’ book of offroad racing design, but I am OK with that. Plenty of snow-covered vistas mixed with desert locales keep things interesting. Nothing ever really jumps out at you as outstanding, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.
The tour mode only lasts about two hours, but you can keep running races to improve ranks and of course, unlock new stuff. There are also arcade modes to play around in and online play. Hopping online is simple and straightforward. When you manage to get eight racers in a room it is also fun, so long as someone isn’t griefing the race. Lag wasn’t much of an issue, but finding enough opponents can be. Overall, if you have a group of friends who also enjoy the genre, I could see having some ample fun with this online for a month or so.
Visually, the game is two-sided. On one hand, the tracks look great. They are varied and nicely detailed. The physics are also fun, bringing back a subtle hint of Rally Cross with the big hills and flips from time to time. The parts where things begin to stutter are the vehicles themselves. They are not nearly as detailed as I would like, but again this is a $10 game, so sacrifices obviously had to be made. I am also not a fan of the obstacles that randomly hit the tracks. Falling boulders most often affect the guy in first, which can suck if you are having a good run.
Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is a tight package that serves its purpose. There isn’t an endless well of content, but what is here is really fun. You can see all it has to offer in a day, but perfecting races and upgrading vehicles will keep you coming back for a while. If you are like me and enjoy a good offroad racer, this is a solid purchase. The price tag is perfect, and the fun is genuine. Now back to dreaming about a true Rally Cross successor.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.