Has anyone noticed that racing games have been rather good lately? Over the past few years we have been treated to Blur, Split/Second, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Dirt 3, and Forza Motorsport 3, which are among some of the best received racing games of this generation. Today, we now have a little game called Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad, an offroad (obviously) racing game with one of the sport’s biggest names plastered onto it. Can this release from a relaitively unknown studio in Phoenix, Arizona prove its worthiness to stand tall amongst these other great racing games?
Offroad is a pretty straightforward racing game, and a fairly generic one as far as arcade and offroad racing games go. Gameplay involves choosing between two kinds of buggies and trucks, along with rally cars, and once the game starts you are free to let loose on one of the six tracks as you race seven others. The great thing about this game is how accessible it is to both newcomers and veterans of the genre. If you are traditionally a gamer who races in Mario Kart or any such game, Offroad will take some time to get used to, but the simple controls are easy to pick up and you will start having fun in little to no time at all. Also, the game takes no time in making sure to help players do well in races, because when waiting for races to begin, Jeremy McGrath gives gameplay tips and during the race your co-driver continually warns you about potential hazards such as dips, overcrests and hairpin turns. Although this can be annoying, it is helpful when learning each track and your co-driver can be turned off. Beyond that though, the game has plenty of small tricks and elements that allow the racing to be taken even further, making the relatively standard gameplay accessible to all kinds of gamers. You face a hairpin turn? Apply the emergency brake and enter a powerslide, thus saving you from swerving into the bushes. Huge jumps or dips? Stop accelerating in midair, pitch your vehicle or decrease your speed in order to have a good landing and maintain a decent lead. It’s little things like that that make the gameplay of Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad more than just the average arcade racing game, but a downloadable title with surprising depth and a substantial fun factor.
Beyond the actual gameplay, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad employs an experience system that doesn’t exactly deepen the game as the developer has advertised, but at least it adds a degree of addictiveness to an already fun game. Basically accomplishing anything in Offroad, such as passing, running into fences, making huge jumps or completing a certain amount of events in Career Mode, earns you points. Those points not only increase your ranking (which doesn’t necessarily unlock anything, your ranking mainly just for show), but over time they can allow for upgrades to vehicles. These upgrades include Handling, Top Speed, Acceleration, and Braking, but sadly experience goes nowhere towards making deep cosmetic changes to your cars that alter performance unlike most modern racing games. To put it plainly, you only get three tire setups, five cars to choose from, and then a set of multiple bodies to decorate your car with aside from the upgrades. Despite the disappointing lack of customizable options though, the xp system was a move in the direction towards making the game more addictive (especially since each body for all five cars can be upgraded), and it certainly makes difficult maneuvers in races that much more rewarding.
In single player, you have three main modes to choose from. First of all, the Career Mode is the main draw in Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad because it makes the best use of the Jeremy McGrath license. It is based off of Jeremy’s bid to win the Pro2 championship within the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, but throughout all 23 of the events you are evidently his rival since he always seems to be at the head of the pack. Although it is indeed fun, Career sometimes gets tedious and repetitive since it only employs two kinds of race types and you repeatedly race on each of the six tracks throughout. Circuit is the most basic of the two events since it is the average “get first place in a one or more laps around a track” race, and then Point to Point is more akin to the Race mode in Halo since you have to drive from checkpoint to checkpoint faster than your competitors. Every several races or so, you then switch to a specific vehicle class, and unlike arcade mode you cannot switch to a different vehicle for these specific races. Despite the limitations, Career mode is undeniably fun and investing, plus it also allows for easy experience progression. Arcade Mode is also the other main mode, for here you can alter your own preferable settings for Circuit and Point to Point races, and you also have the option to choose any vehicle you want. Here, you also have the choice to play the third main mode, which is Time Trial. Much like any other Time Trail mode, you race around the track and then once you have set a lap time, you can then compete against your ghost for an even better time. On the plus side, Offroad’s Time Trail mode also allows for players to race around the track as many laps as they want, and then scores can be uploaded to Xbox Live leaderboards. Speaking of Xbox Live, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad also features online multiplayer! Supporting up to eight players, this game gets even more fun when playing against other people. However, there are some definite setbacks when it comes to multiplayer. First of all, this is a kind of game that employs session creation, so sometimes it can take a while to find enough players to play a match (and even then, often times there are connection errors when I have tried to jump into a match, but that could just be a personal issue). Secondly, this is a racing game that I would have loved to play splitscreen multiplayer with my friends on, but sadly that it is not a feature. Still, multiplayer is fun and smooth when you can get into a match, and it certainly increases replay value to a great degree.
In terms of visual and audio design, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is generally good, but it does run into some problems. I didn’t expect the graphics to be that great, but in all honesty there are occasionally some pretty visuals to looks at. Environments are probably the highlight here, for they do not look spectacular as in a game like Forza Motorsport 3, but at least they look respectable on a budget downloadable title such as this. 2XL Studios should also be commended for staying true to a crisp frame rate of 60 fps, for Offroad consistently runs at this rate, resulting in an impressively fast-paced game in full HD. On the flip side though, some of the trees and other plants look plastic compared to the 3D environments, car models are bland (I’d recommend just sticking with the first-person mode when actually playing), and the occasional “road hazards” such as rock slides and gigantic rolling snowballs often take away the sense of realism that the game succeeds at providing. Nonetheless, for what the game is, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad has decent enough visuals. Along with that, sound design isn’t bad either, for this game sounds as an arcadish racing game should. While Jeremy McGrath’s voice is fun to listen to, as I had noted earlier the co-driver does get pretty annoying at times, but at least you have the option to shut him up.
Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is no great game; for one thing, it’s not exactly a standout against much better and more unique retail releases. The visuals could have used more polish, I would have appreciated more customization options and splitscreen multiplayer would have been nice. Even so, Offroad is a fun game as it stands, and it’s certainly a nice surprise from a virtually unknown studio. For $10, this is a decent racing experience that’s perfect for some harmless summer entertainment. Just don’t expect this game to be a legend quite like Jeremy McGrath himself.