Off-Road Drive Review (PC)

Game Review: Off-Road Drive
Release: September 29th, 2011
Genre: Racing, Off-Road
Developer: 1C-Avalon
Available Platforms: PC
Players: 1+
MSRP: $34.99
ESRB Rating: Not-Rated (It would be an E game if it was)

Let’s see…. 4-wheel drive is on, the differentials are locked, and my tires are at the right air pressure… time to gun it! No wait, that won’t give me optimal torque, let me slowly apply the accelerator so I can clear this steep hill.

Off-Road Drive is not about blasting across a track; if anything it is like a strategy racing game. So much is simulated in Off-Road Drive that it’s really quite amazing.  Off-Road Drive is not just another racing game with dirt painted over asphalt, it is a true off-road racing game. Before you can start traversing the landscapes of Malaysia, Africa, and many others, it’s highly recommended that you take a look at the tutorial first.

Off-Road Drive simulates numerous parts of both your car and the terrain. Suspension is fully modeled, and so are the various mechanics of your drive system. When you plow through muddy fields, the terrain will deform based on your speed and the weight of your vehicle. Driving through semi flooded areas will cause variances in traction, causing your car to sway.  Climbing rocks and cliffs will take the proper angle, traction, and vehicle. Plowing into deep rivers will slow you down, and going too deep will flood your exhaust. Thick muddy hills will deform as your reach the top, causing your car to bottom out. The level of detail is very impressive and makes for a fun and dynamic experience.

Before you enter each event you can choose a vehicle and modify a few pieces of kit onboard. There are traditional jeeps, as well as SUVs, trucks, buggies, and prototype vehicles. You can also change the suspension height and tread type before starting to optimize your car for the track.

Courses take place in Malaysia, Africa, USA, Australia, Lagoda, and Thailand. Each area has its own slight personality, but for the most part the tracks are either mostly centered around mud, dessert, or rocky mountain landscapes. There is very little repetition in the tracks, however, so most of the time you will be seeing new courses.

Each event consists of three races, with your positions for all three being averaged at the end for your overall placement. The higher you place, the more points you get, which in turn unlock more events and vehicles.

Overall the career pacing is very casual, and with no option for AI difficulty you will find yourself mostly coasting through the tracks, with occasional difficult spots.  The one thing that will add to the difficulty is switching to first person view, but most of the time that made it far too difficult to complete the tracks. The one thing I thought was missing was the ability to toggle mechanical damage. Falling down cliffs or rolling your car will put a few scratches and dents into the vehicle, but I would like to see the ability to lose tires, break suspensions, and damage engines from overheating.

There are two main types of races, first being time trials where you must get to the finish fastest. There are also staged races where you must complete sections of the track without error, or else you lose points which contribute to a total at the end of the stage.

The myriad number of controls is extensive, yet not overwhelming. After a short amount of practice I started to understand how to climb the rocky and muddy terrains. Hints will help ease you in the game, telling you when you want to lock your interwheel differential or interaxel differential. And eventually you will just know what setup, vehicle, and approach you will need.

With most racing games it’s the same old controls, one button for acceleration, one for braking, and then two for steering. Off-Road Drive has that, there are also two buttons for changing tire pressure, four for winch control, as well as buttons for changing drive type and many others.  It’s quite a layout, and it ends up taking up quite a bit of the keyboard. However I would not recommend a keyboard for this game. The precision and feeling of an analogue controller is almost never captured properly in a keyboard and this game is no exception to that rule. Add in the exceptionally complicated controls and you will want to invest in a decent controller, such as the Xbox 360 Wired Controller, before you take off on your mud-splashing journey.

The graphics are a bright and washed out, but beautiful effects actually give the game a very modern look. The god-rays shining off the tree branches help put you into the landscape, as does the splashing and rising of the water as your enter the rivers. There are few bugs in the game, and none of them are major.

The career mode will take about 10 hours to complete, which is on the short side of racing games, but if you were a perfectionist there is replay-ability. There is an online multiplayer mode, but I have never seen anyone playing.

Coming from 1C’s internal studio 1C-Avalon, and receiving next to no promotion or hype, I was expecting another generic and boring racer; however Off-Road Drive is quite a treat. Great simulation aspects, nice graphics, and a good amount of variety in both vehicle types and techniques all add up into a very unique racing experience. You will spend some of your time racing at 50kph+, but mostly you will be trudging along at around 20kph. If your idea of fun isn’t doesn’t have to include high-speed chases and explosive crashes then Off-Road Drive is a fantastic buy, and the $35 price tag doesn’t hurt.

+ Great simulation, especially in water dynamics and terrain deformation
+ Deep gameplay but manageable options
–  No mechanical damage and few overall options

8 out of 10

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