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4x4 Evolution Review
game: 4x4 Evolution
four star
posted by: Rick Fehrenbacher
publisher: GOD Games
date posted: 09:10 AM Fri Jan 1st, 1999
last revision: 06:29 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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Here in Idaho, we know a lot about off-road driving, partly because the state has a lot of places without roads, mostly because even the major highways up here barely qualify as roads. And we know that when you get to rooting around on Forest Service roads and skid trails, you\'re not very likely to see an Sport Utility Vehicle. Trucks, sure-that\'s what rigs are for. But SUVs, here as in any other place in the USA, are the favored vehicle of yuppie lawyers and upper middle-class families. Even though they\'re built for 4 wheelin\', you\'ll seldom see them in any place more rugged than a Safeway parking lot. That\'s a shame, like using a really fine \'76 Riesling for cooking wine. Terminal Reality does its bit to remedy this troubling state of affairs by offering 4X4 Evolution, a slick arcade racer that allows you to steal the keys to mom\'s Ford Explorer, take it into the woods, and muss it up. A little.

First things first-4x4 Evolution is an arcade racer, not a sim, so don\'t expect a lot of realism. In fact, on the realism scale it stands in there with the Madness games-Monster Truck, Midtown, and Motocross. All of these games are wildly unrealistic, but also wildly entertaining, and that\'s what you should expect from 4x4 Evolution. The physics model is pretty forgiving, jumps are impossibly spectacular, and there\'s not really that much difference between how the different vehicles handle out of the box. But it\'s all a lot of good clean fun.

4x4 Evolution allows you to race in three modes-Quick Race, Time Attack, and Career Mode. Quick Race allows you to select from any of the sixteen tracks included in the game (no unlocking-yes!), and to race several other bot-controlled SUVs. Time Attack gives you the opportunity to race against \"ghost\" cars in attempts to better your own best lap and race times. But the most appealing mode is of course Career, in which you can race your vehicle in either one-off events or a variety of series, most consisting of five or six races. You\'ll start off with a stock SUV, and are given a very wide choice of vehicles--over 70 different models, including SUVs from Lexus, Toyota, GMC, Ford, Chevy, Nissan, Toyota, Dodge. It\'s an impressive array, and whoever managed to work through all those licensing deals must be commended. Though you\'ll start with the floor model, as you win races you\'ll win money too, and that money can be used for any of about 100 different upgrades to your vehicle, from reducing weight to adding fog lights to upgrading your engine or even buying an entirely different rig. As you progress in your career, the races become more challenging-they begin to take place in fog, at night, in terrible weather, and against much more competent drivers. Of course, the purse gets a lot more tantalizing, too.

Gameplay isn\'t exactly revolutionary, but there are enough quirky little touches to raise the game far above the run-of-the-mill. For example, on almost every one of the 16 courses are shortcuts that can be used to gain a big advantage on your opponents. Some of these shortcuts your opponents will discover as well-in fact, a good way to find them is by following the bot racers around for the first couple of races on each track-but many of them you\'ll have to figure out yourself. The world doesn\'t end at the track\'s edge in 4x4 Evolution, either-most of the tracks offer a vast amount of off-track areas to explore. The game also adds a dash of Speed Busters-like obstacles-stuff like trains, construction equipment, taxiing airplanes, and sharks. It speaks to 4x4 Evolution\'s arcade sensibilities that none of these obstacles do any real damage to your SUV. Run into a train, and it\'ll push you back or knock you off the track, but your vehicle will emerge otherwise unscathed. Drive into a lake, and you\'ll continue to drive along the lake bottom. Just like in the cartoons. You can play from several views. Though the default is first person cab view, I imagine most will prefer the chase view, which though unrealistic (is that still an issue with this game?) is the best way to enjoy the game\'s action-packed proceedings.

It helps that the game looks great, too. The vehicles are meticulously modeled. Even better, as you add upgrades they\'ll appear on your SUV, so as your career progresses your ride begins to take on a very distinctive look. The tracks look good as well. From the Arizona desert to the Arctic Circle to a tropical island, the courses are chock-full of graphic personality and detail. A track editor ensures that new courses will be available for download as well.

Even though career mode is a blast, the best way to enjoy 4x4 Evolution is online. Hell, this game was made for online play, and one of the most impressive things about the game is that you can play online not just against PC opponents, but also against Dreamcast and Mac players. Initially I was skeptical about this, but have since played a several games on Gamespy against DC and Mac opponents, and the races ran very smoothly. A track editor ensures that new courses will be available for download as well.

Though 4x4 Evolution is for the most part a fun and colorful game, there is some sugar in the gas tank. Sound effects-especially engine noises-are weak, and the soundtrack unremarkable and repetitive. And I know this is an arcade racer, but the lack of any damage model is perplexing. Partly this is an aesthetic concern-you can run 20 laps through the mountains and finish the race looking like you just drove off the showroom floor. That\'s just not right-the 4x4 ethos demands dirt. More troubling is how damage affects vehicle performance-that is, not at all. There are no real consequences for smashing into a cement truck, and that seems just a bit problematic. A few other problems include the game\'s lack of a rear view mirror view or force feedback support. The in-game map would be more useful if the checkpoints were marked on it, and the game\'s menu interface is fairly clunky-you\'ll spend a lot of time clicking through screens in career mode.

Final verdict-if you\'re looking for a uber-realistic sim, forget it. But if you\'re looking for a colorful and action-packed arcade racer with excellent online support, I heartily recommend 4x4 Evolution.