I have to admit that I’m not a big racing fan. The main reason for this is that I’m just not that good at racers. There are some that I can hold my own in, such as the Mario Kart franchise and MX vs. ATV. Games such as Forza and Project Gotham Racing, not so much. However, these racers (save maybe for MX vs. ATV) all have one thing in common: they’re typically set on a race track or in the street. I’ve never played an off-road racing game before now (unless you count the old-school Super Off Road), so this is a new experience for me. With that said, let’s dive into the mud with Off Road Drive.
The goal of off road drive is simple: complete each lap as fast as possible. However, it’s not as simple as most racing games where you have some inclines, declines, and sharp turns. All throughout each course you have mud to drive through, hills to climb, water to wade through, sharp turns, and other obstacles in your way. The game’s tutorial stage is a good introduction as to what you’ll come across. In the tutorial, you have to get used to shifting between high and low gear, lowering and raising the air pressure in your tires, going into and out of four wheel drive (which I leave on most of the time anyway), and using your winch to pull yourself up steep areas. It seems like quite a bit to remember, but once you do it a few times, it’s not too bad. Then again, this is just the tutorial. Once you get into the main game, it’s a different story, but I’ll talk about that in a minute.
When it comes to controls, I don’t know where to start. I tried the default controls, which was the keyboard, and that was a mistake. If you’re used to games that have you move with W, A, S, and D, the default controls aren’t for you. This game uses the arrow keys to accelerate and turn, and me being left handed…well, let’s say it didn’t bode too well for me. I tried to remap the keys, but that proved futile. Yes, it can be done, but I was so overwhelmed with everything else I had to remember, that remapping the keyboard would have only made it worse. Luckily, there are options to use different PC controllers. Unfortunately, all but one of the options were for PC steering wheels, with the last option being for an Xbox 360 PC controller. I don’t have anything on that list, but instead I was able to set it to the 360 controller and use my Logitech controller. It worked…for the most part. Since I was using the “profile” for the 360 controller, I had to think of how the buttons are, and unfortunately, they don’t match up to my Logitech. For a 360 controller, the face buttons, starting from the top and going clockwise, are Y, B, A, and X. However, when I hit what would be the Y button on a 360 controller (the top face button on the Logitech), it didn’t do what it was supposed to do (hard brake). That’s when I realized that, for whatever reason, the game thought my face buttons were, from top going clockwise, X, A, B, and Y. Sounds confusing? Trust me, it is. Thankfully though, whenever I see a prompt to hit Y, I don’t think of where Y is on a 360 controller, but rather where it is on a Super NES controller, and everything works okay.
As for the main game…well, there’s one more think I didn’t mention about the tutorial. When you hit a new obstacle, you’ll see a prompt on how to get by it. The prompt will show you what buttons to hit (typically something like Shift+Y or similar). This is why I mentioned my controller confusion above. If I saw Shift+Y, I at first tried hitting where Y would be on an Xbox 360 controller, but that didn’t work with my controller. However, if I hit the button where Y would be on a Super NES controller, then it did what it was supposed to. Anyway, I’m getting off track here. The point I’m getting at is that by the time you’re done with the tutorial, you better remember not only how to do everything, but when to do it. When you hit the main courses, you’ll still see the prompts on what you need to do, but they don’t stay on the screen for very long. Not only that, but the obstacles come at you quick and without much warning, so you pretty much need to be ready to do whatever you need to do to get past them, all the while remembering what you need to hit on the controller.
The audio and video for this game gets a mixed reaction from me. The music isn’t that bad, mainly on the menus when you first start up the game. It reminds me of a Motorhead song to be honest (specifically King of Kings or The Game). The in game audio isn’t bad, but at default, all the sound levels are turned up as far as they can go. That means that while you can squint and read the tutorial text, you can’t hear what the guide is saying over the loudness of the music. Then again, all the tutorial really tells you is how to get past an obstacle, which will be shown on the screen anyway. It’s a little nuance, and you can easily turn down the sound levels in the options, but it’s still something the designers could have thought about. Why have a vocal tutorial when you can’t hardly hear him right off. As for the graphics, they’re okay. Not terrible, but nothing to write home about. On a small side note, the first time I played this, the video lagged a bit. Nothing bad, but it was noticeable. I didn’t have much else running (maybe Chrome and one other thing outside of Steam), so I shut down all running programs (except Steam), started the game back up, and turned the graphics all the way DOWN. Other than the graphics looking a bit worse (I’ve seen N64 games with better coloring), the lagging fixed itself…mostly. Now and then I get a bit of a stutter in the video, but that just blows my mind; A PC game made in 2011 with lackluster graphics that can still lag a small bit now and then. Keep in mind, I have a decent setup that includes Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit, 8GB RAM, and an ATI Radeon HD5670 PCI-Express card connected to my 32” LCD TV via HDMI…and the video still lagged a small bit.
The only thing really left to talk about is how the game itself plays. I did talk about what all you have to do to complete a course, but there’s a bit more to it structurally speaking. Outside of the tutorial, the game has six regions, each region has three to four races, and each race has about three areas. Depending on how you do, you earn race points, and these accumulate after each race. The more points you get, the more vehicles and courses you can unlock. As far as I can tell, your points just accumulate after each time you go through an entire race. Here’s what I mean by that. The first time I completed my first race outside of the tutorial, I got a whopping 16 points (yeah, I really sucked my first time). After that, I did the race again (keep in mind that each race is about three to four areas, with first place getting 25 points, and less points for lower placements), and I got 38 points. My point total now showed 54/100 (you can get 100 points max per race), showing that it took both my trips through the race and added them together. To me, I don’t mind it that much, but it also takes away a bit of the challenge. Basically, it looks like no matter how good or bad you are, you’ll eventually unlock everything, which kind of takes out any type of reward for getting better.
On top of that, there are a couple other things that kind of tick me off. While going through the first race a third time (what better way to improve?), I hit the final lap (which seems like they’re mostly two laps) and was about to cross the finish line when I came in a bit quickly and nailed the post at the finish line. No big deal right? I’ll just throw it in reverse and finish the course. One problem though; I was stuck. That’s right, thanks to a small bit of shoddy hit detection, I was stuck and had to completely back out of the race. Yeah, I could have just hit Retry, but at this point, I was tired of playing this race, so I just backed out. On top of that, a lot of the time I tried to navigate a sharp turn (or any turn), I felt like my vehicle wasn’t turning as much as it should have. Now I don’t know how much power steering off-road vehicles have (I’m nowhere near a mechanic), but I couldn’t hold Left/Right and the Hand Brakes any harder, or else I might have broken the pads in the controller, and the turn was still a bit delayed.
Overall, Off Road Drive kind of succeeded in what it set out to do: provide a nice off-road driving game for gamers, which we haven’t seen a lot of (well, at least I haven’t). However, it’s kind of hit and miss sometimes. While I finally did get used to what buttons do what on my vehicle, it still have a few issues. The graphics could be better, and the hit detection could be improved, though not all that bad. Also, knowing that no matter how good or bad I do that I’ll eventually unlock everything (at least it seems that way), that really doesn’t make me want to put more time into it to get any better. My only other qualm was if the game had a profile for generic game pads, because even though I finally got everything down with my Logitech pad, having Xbox 360 controller annotations pop up on screen can be confusing. All in all, it’s not a bad game perse, but it could use some improvements.
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