Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network recently got a new racer in Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad, and PopBucket has been putting it through its paces. Both Microsoft and Sony’s home consoles are hardly lacking a variety of racers to keep gamers’ interests, so we wanted to see how this downloadable title matched up.
Mr. McGrath himself cheerfully radios in some greetings at the game’s title screen, which features Arcade, Career and Online modes for multiplayer racing. The trucks and rally cars featured within the game are meticulously recreated with plenty of advertising embellishment, and each race opens with a loving pan shot of your chosen vehicle for you to ‘ooh’ at.
Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is no graphical showcase, but it’s also far from a slouch. Environments and racers alike are pretty enough, whilst menu screens have a simple silver and grey interface that does the job. Having said that, the various foliage at the side of the track is the sort of choppy sprite-work that can be cheerily ploughed through with no ill effects, and it’s here that the game starts to show a lack of polish. Have you ever driven through a cactus and not felt it?
In another example, though the main menu has the sort of pumping motorsport music you’d come to expect from this sort of game, we were surprised when the races started and there was no background music at all. This is fine and dandy if you’re the sort of person who finds a wistful poetry in the sounds of trucks gargling and roaring about the place, but for the most part we were fortunate that we had our leftover playlist on the PS3 from our Motorstorm Apocalypse and ModNation Racers days. To its credit, the game does indeed support such custom music via the XMB menu, but players shouldn’t be relied upon to fill in the gaps on either console.
The handling itself can be adjusted depending on the truck you choose and the upgrades you can buy with XP. The XP system itself is incredibly easy to gain points within, totting up your numbers for fancy driving or milestones such as driving ten miles. It’s also unintentionally comical at times, not only giving us XP for smashing down a fence in an otherwise sensible racing game, but also awarding us points for every overtake. Meaning it’s possible to exploit the system and let the same truck overtake you, then pass it again for points, then letting it overtake again and repeating the process over and over.
The driving does feel good though, with the loading screens graced with Jeremy’s common-sense advice and your racing assisted by a co-driver shouting all the types of corner and incline at you. Fortunately, this can be turned off in the options if you choose, as by the time this chap yells there’s a corner coming at you it’s not as if you’ve not seen it.
There’s seemingly a generous scope for cutting corners too, though ploughing too far off the track to explore is met with the stern omnipresence of an invisible wall. Additionally, there’s a ‘turbo’ button which, as far as we can tell, makes the engine louder and the revs go up at the bottom-right of the screen but doesn’t necessarily lead to faster racing. Odd. It’s more towards the Clutch Boost mechanic, but the game doesn’t make it altogether clear what that is or how it helps you.
Racer AI tends to veer towards the stoic, as though they’re competent and provide just the right level of challenge (which, again, can be adjusted), they’re nevertheless more than happy to drive right into you in a manner that we’re sure makes meerkats, nodding dogs and comical opera tenors cringe at the prospect of what their insurance premiums must cost. It’s not too annoying, but for a game that seems to be pretty much by the numbers, it’s a bit peculiar having cars named after respected drivers showing such disregard for your personal safety. We bought your game, Mr. McGrath! Please stop ramming us with your fearsome death-truck!
Seven tracks and five vehicle classes are included in the game, and it all looks fine indeed for a downloadable title. Despite our criticisms, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is by no means a bad game. The driving feels good, even if the collision physics lean more towards the arcade, and the five classes of vehicle handle disparately enough to feel fresh as you advance through Career mode. Each of the circuits has terrain and a climate that alters the way your ride handles, but with Career mode spanning 23 races it’s not long before those circuits repeat. By the time you’re at the end of your Career challenges, the circuits have repeated to the point that you’re so familiar with them that any further challenge from the AI is negligible.
Onine play is decent enough, with lobbies leading to races, though we’re concerned it could prove sparsely populated in the long run. It’s here that the game’s most notable flaw is revealed; seven courses isn’t enough to sustain longevity. For achievement hunters and trophy-hounds, this is a great way to clock up the numbers, and for motorheads and racing fans this is a decent game if you can forgive a few low-budget faults.
But with a packed Spring full of AAA releases, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad may suffer the fate of being lost in the goldrush. It’s a shame in a way, since the game is an earnest one that shows a genuine respect for offroad motorsport, and it does handle really nicely with plenty of customisable elements to tune your vehicle. With a few more circuits, a local multiplayer mode or even some music for the actual races, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad could have proven a surprise sleeper hit. But as it presently stands, it’s a decent distraction stymied by its own lack of reach.
Version reviewed: PS3