Game: Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad
Developer: 2XL Games
Platform: Xbox 360 with Kinect
I suck at racing games. I mean, I have fun playing them, but I tend to lose…a lot. One reason I suck? I don’t think I’ve ever learned how to effectively use the brake in any racing game that I’ve ever played. I’m almost stupidly proud about that. Don’t ask why.
I keep coming back to racing games though – Gran Turismo, Mario Kart, Ridge Racer, Split/Second and Micro Machines. I’ve been heartily embarrassed in them all. Am I just a masochist? Probably, but that’s not really relevant here.
The real reason why I keep playing, and losing, is that I think that a well-made racing game is equivalent to a well-made platformer. Every action has an immediate and predictable reaction. Just as a correct timing of a jump in a platformer can land you in the exact spot to score some hard to reach bobble, a deftly applied brake could mean the difference between first and last place in a racing game. The key though, in a racing game is to make the player feel as if they have direct control of the outcome of a race. A number of ways this can happen it through the tuning down, or making non-existent, any rubber banding of A.I. cars, having vehicle customizations that have a clear impact on performance, and making sure that the application of weapons and/or obstacles is either predictable by the player or universal to all players.
Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is a well-made arcade racing game. It hits almost all of the points above in a convincing manner and has enough interesting hooks to keep the player itching to race just once more.
When racing, I couldn’t detect any obvious signs of rubber-banding, but I suck at racing games, remember? When I’ve learned a track and gotten out in front, I’ve stayed ahead of the pack as long as I didn’t make any mistakes. There are no Mario Kart blue shell antics going on in this game.
The vehicles are light, springy affairs that convey a real sense of speed as they kick up the dust and dirt along vibrantly alive tracks. You can apply three different tire types to your vehicle and they have a direct impact in how you drive. 2XL Games added an experience point system that tallies in-race achievements (passing opponents, crashing through fences, destroying plants, making long jumps, etc.). You can spend your XP to upgrade the Handling, Acceleration, Top Speed, and Braking (ha!) of your vehicle, with each increased tick demonstrably changing your experience.
The only minor gripe I have with the game are with the included course obstacles. These aren’t on every course, thankfully, as rogue hay bales, combines, and boulders leave a negative impact on the overall feeling of player control.
An added perk (?) of this game is that you can never forget that this is a licensed Jeremy McGrath game. He is your constant companion while racing, providing turn by turn voice prompts as you death grip your controller going into each hairpin curve. Some people might find this constant back seat driving annoying. I didn’t. Of course, a negative side effect is that I now imagine Jeremy McGrath’s voice, distorted through his racing helmet, whispering to me as I drive. Clearly, if the developers have not made a GPS Jeremy McGrath custom voice, they’re missing out on amazing product tie-in opportunity.
For 800 MS Points, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is an easy recommendation. It’s a visually stunning, fun arcade racer that always makes you feel like you’re in control. Which is particularly painful for someone who loses as much as I do.
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of this review.