As with any game that gets a retail release, it is almost a guarantee that there will be a downloadable equivalent to scratch the itch of those looking for a similar experience at a lower price of entry. While Codemasters DiRT series is without doubt the current best of the off-road racer genre, up until now only SEGA Rally Online Arcade had been solely representing the genre on the digital marketplace.
This is where developers 2XL enter with Jeremy McGarth’s Offroad to provide some needed competition.
Like the DiRT series, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad pits players against other drivers across various events in several different vehicle types via Arcade, Online modes and the main Career mode.
Career mode is split across four vehicle categories, where players must get a podium finish in order to unlock the next race, and in turn finish all the races to unlock the next competition. To add some sense of career progress XP can be earned through varying means within races, such as overtaking, drifting, and doing jumps. This XP can then be used to upgrade your vehicles handling, top speed, acceleration and braking. However, the upgrades are little felt and it appears to be possible to progress without the need to upgrade at all. Players can reach the ‘dizzying’ heights of level seventeen, but it doesn’t mean anything in practice.
For a marketplace release Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is never going to compete visually with its retail counterparts, but for a downloadable it is a rather polished title. Desert and snow covered mountain backdrops have been drawn up in vibrant and lush detail, while the vehicle designs, although not spectacular, hold their own. Unfortunately the camera angle does its best to stop the player from seeing the impressive views. The right analogue stick can be used to adjust your viewing angle, however upon doing this the camera insists on dipping below the car forcing the player to continuously and frustratingly adjust it through out a race.
Despite the adequate visuals other small details let the game down; there is little interaction with the environment, mud, dirt and snow doesn’t splatter and vehicles take little to no obvious damage. What little interaction there is, in the form of random obstacles, prove to be a nuisance rather than a challenge.
Racing games of this style tend to be known for their intense action, and despite the details lacking in Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad it does make a decent attempt at putting forward a thrilling ‘white knuckle’ experience. Races have a hectic pace, full of overtaking and collisions, which makes crossing the finishing line all the more satisfying.
How intense a race can be is down to a number of factors. At the intensely dull vehicle select screen players are greeted with a choice of various set-ups, balancing speed and grip. Selecting a high grip will help with cornering, but offers a dull race. The deciding factor on handling is the type of vehicle — buggies are light and zip around the track, while trucks are heavier and manoeuvre as such. With its exceptional grip and fast pace the rally car is perhaps, somewhat ironically, the most disappointing vehicle choice. It’s just too good, as using it provides little challenge whatsoever when compared to the mayhem of driving the other vehicles. Fortunately, having to make use of this overpowered machine makes up just a small section of the overall game, which is just as well as having this car tackling the dangerous high speed corning with the greatest of ease isn’t really what off-road games are all about.
People looking for a full-on rally title should probably steer clear of Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad, as although there are underlying elements of a traditional rally game here, they’ve been misplaced. It’s flawed, it’s short, the track selection lacks variation and it is missing some of the intricate details found in its retail counterparts.
Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is a decent off-road racing title, but it’s nothing more than that. However, there might be enough here for hardcore off-road fans to part with 800 Microsoft points.