Off-Road Drive

Off-Road Drive caters to simulation enthusiasts, and pansies aren't invited.

By Degtyarev, Posted 01 Oct 2011

What's in a name? Not a lot, apparently. It seems that with 'Off-Road Drive', 1C might have come up with the most generic, straightforward title for a game since Zombie Driver. Generic, because there's barely anything appealing or exciting about those two (or three, depending on how you look at it) words. Straightforward, because it aptly describes the basic premise of the game: you drive on off-road terrain. This was the easy part. Because if you think this game allows you to jump off mountains and speed through forests like in FUEL, you can think again.

Off-Road Drive is a successful attempt at simulating the phenomenon of off-road racing, with all of its difficulties included. The result is a hardcore driving experience that requires determination, pure skill and, at times, a bit of luck. And while the game could've used more variation, Off-Road Drive is great for getting a taste of what it would be like to climb muddy hills and plough through jungles with a jeep. The best thing of all: pansies aren't invited.

In Off-Road Drive, the player will spend nearly all of his time competing in tournaments. A tournament normally consists of three races, and depending on the type, a race can be won by either setting the fastest time or making it to the finish with the least amount of mistakes. Upon completing a tournament, the player will receive a certain amount of points depending on his position in the final standings. Those who finish in first place receive 100 points, with the number naturally decreasing the lower you get. As more points are harvested, more tournaments and vehicles become available. However, getting a good result in the tournaments and thus unlocking more content is easier said than done. As mentioned before, Off-Road Drive is closer to a simulation game than an arcade-type racer. As a consequence, the main difficulty is not necessarily beating your opponents, but beating the track.

Off-Road, Drive, Review

"Oooh, life... is a rocky road!"

While playing, you have to deal with vastly different types of terrain and obstacles, ranging from mud pits and swamps to fallen trees and steep rock formations. Each obstacle or terrain type presents a certain problem, and proper action has to be taken in order to overcome it. For example, mud pits can be traversed more rapidly when there's less pressure on your tires or when you switch to a lower gear, all of which can be done by pressing the designated buttons on your keyboard. Climbing steep hills and getting past tree logs, on the other hand, often requires the use of a winch.

The winch on your car can be attached to nearby trees, allowing you to effectively pull yourself up a hill or over an obstacle that would have been untraversable otherwise. This may seem like a lot of hassle at first, as you'll have to attach the winch to a target and increase pressure while making sure not to break the cord, but once you've grown used to it, the winch becomes an indispensable attribute.

This element of in-game car modification immediately presents my first major gripe with Off-Road Drive: the controls. At first, I was really excited to see that the game featured preset control schemes for not only the keyboard, but also the 360 controller and even various steering wheels. When playing with the controller, however, I quickly found out that I frequently had to resort to the keyboard to enable some of the terrain-specific features. Some of them, such as the operation of the winch, even required seemingly impossible button combinations between the controller and the keyboard.

After some unsuccessful attempts to create a more logical control scheme by means of tweaking, I was forced to resort to the keyboard. Now, the control scheme of the keyboard works just fine, but it still isn't ideal to have to use the arrow buttons when trying to maintain your equilibrium in a difficult set of turns.

Off-Road, Drive, Review

Ahh, the mud in my hair...

Fortunately, once you've managed to cope with the control issues, Off-Road Drive offers some of the most challenging and, dare I say, original races seen in video games over the past few years. Each track is challenging in its own way, with tons of different obstacles and terrain types demanding the constant focus of the racer. There is no in-race track map, so often there's no telling on what you'll have to put up with during a race. The absence of a minimap does make it difficult to tell where you're going at times, though.

Hint arrows occasionally provide this information, but they're not present at all times and they might even send you into the wrong direction on certain occasions. Consequently, some races may end up being more frustrating than challenging, but for the most part, the track design is very well done. Additionally, the race mechanics are great: the controls are responsive and the track physics generally feel authentic, although your car may sometimes spin out or flip over for no apparent reason.

Despite the ambition of the developers and the rather solid core gameplay, I do have the impression that Off-Road Drive had a lot more potential than what's offered in the final product. Not only is there a lack of variation in race modes (competing in tourneys is all you can do in single player), but the pair of available race types essentially consists of two variations of competitive time trial against a ghost opponent: you will not be racing against actual AI opponents on a given track.

There is a multiplayer mode, but I didn't get to explore it because there weren't any active servers to be found during the playing sessions for this review. But even still, I would've loved to see some race modes focusing on elements such as exploration and navigation, because the game mechanics clearly scream for this type of gameplay. Here's hoping that more content will be added with DLC or expansions in the future.

Off-Road, Drive, Review

Let's just hope for the audience the log in the background isn't slippery.

On a more positive note, the presentation of this game really got me by surprise. Even as  a fan of Eastern-European games, I will have to acknowledge that titles from these region are often brought down by a lack of polish that blurs some of their creativity and ambition. Fortunately, Off-Road Drive is an exception to this rule. Menus are slick and easy to navigate, the game is virtually bug-free and the soundtrack is actually bearable. And if you've read my blog entry on horrid racing game soundtracks, you'll know the latter is quite an achievement. Granted, the rock music featured in this game is not too special, but it isn't terrible either, and there are even some great songs to be heard here and there (such as the main menu music). To top it off, the game looks good as well.

The racing circuits are set in different places across the world, and with a good variation of lighting effects, vibrant colour schemes and terrain layouts, the atmosphere of each setting is most effectively captured. Only occasional pop-in in the distance and some sloppy textures mar the visual quality of this game.

Off-Road, Drive, Review

A beautiful sunset in an exotic location, and here I am stuck on a rock.

With all things taken into consideration, Off-Road Drive is an ambitious racing game that easily does more things right than wrong. But at the same time, this title still feels a bit too much like proof-of-concept. Developing studio 1C-Avalon did a great job at nailing the core gameplay, but subsequently forgot to come up with a game structure that did more justice to the potential of this gameplay. Still, with lots of challenge, solid racing mechanics and a slick presentation, Off-Road Drive caters to the racing simulation enthusiasts enough to potentially create its own niche following. And if this results in DLC support or even a sequel, the future can only be bright for this new IP.

Jesse Dolman, NoobFeed.

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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): 1C Company
Developer(s): 1C-Avalon
Genres: Racing
Themes: Off-Road, Simulation
Release Date: 2011-09-30

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