|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, youre not very likely to
see an Sport Utility Vehicle. Trucks, surethats 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 theyre built for 4 wheelin, youll
seldom see them in any place more rugged than a Safeway parking lot. Thats 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 moms Ford Explorer, take it into the woods, and
muss it up. A little.
First things first4x4 Evolution is an arcade racer, not a sim, so dont expect a lot of realism. In fact, on the realism scale it stands in there with the Madness gamesMonster Truck, Midtown, and Motocross. All of these games are wildly unrealistic, but also wildly entertaining, and thats what you should expect from 4x4 Evolution. The physics model is pretty forgiving, jumps are impossibly spectacular, and theres not really that much difference between how the different vehicles handle out of the box. But its all a lot of good clean fun.
4x4 Evolution allows you to race in three modesQuick Race, Time Attack, and Career Mode. Quick Race allows you to select from any of the sixteen tracks included in the game (no unlockingyes!), 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. Youll 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. Its an impressive array, and whoever managed to work through all those licensing deals must be commended. Though youll start with the floor model, as you win races youll 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 challengingthey 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 isnt 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 wellin fact, a good way to find them is by following the bot racers around for the first couple of races on each trackbut many of them youll have to figure out yourself. The world doesnt end at the tracks edge in 4x4 Evolution, eithermost of the tracks offer a vast amount of off-track areas to explore. The game also adds a dash of Speed Busters-like obstaclesstuff like trains, construction equipment, taxiing airplanes, and sharks. It speaks to 4x4 Evolutions arcade sensibilities that none of these obstacles do any real damage to your SUV. Run into a train, and itll push you back or knock you off the track, but your vehicle will emerge otherwise unscathed. Drive into a lake, and youll 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 games action-packed proceedings.
It helps that the game looks great, too. The vehicles are meticulously modeled. Even better, as you add upgrades theyll 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 effectsespecially engine noisesare 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 concernyou can run 20 laps through the mountains and finish the race looking like you just drove off the showroom floor. Thats just not rightthe 4x4 ethos demands dirt. More troubling is how damage affects vehicle performancethat 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 games 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 games menu interface is fairly clunkyyoull spend a lot of time clicking through screens in career mode.
Final verdictif youre looking for a uber-realistic sim, forget it. But if youre looking for a colorful and action-packed arcade racer with excellent online support, I heartily recommend 4x4 Evolution.