I love Dirt as much as the next guy, but when it comes to off-road racers (I don’t care what the title says, I like a dash in my off-road thank you very much), there’s no comparing to the truly incomparable arcade thrills of the Sega Rally series. It may not be as realistic as Dirt and it may not have nearly as many tracks or vehicles, but in terms of pure, unadulterated gaming joy, there are few racers that can compete. In fairness to Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad though, it does make a decent stab of it.
Clearly attempting to emulate the arcade sensibilities of Sega’s off-road classic, McGrath’s Offroad decides to keep things simple, with a clear emphasis on short-term excitement over long term content…….wise choice. While not quite in the same league as Sega Rally, I was genuinely impressed by the handling model employed for McGrath’s Offroad. With just the right level of control and a pleasing predictability to the drift point of each vehicle, McGrath’s Offroad allows you to throw your 4×4 of choice around corners with a pleasingly brazen disregard for both physics and safety. It’s by no means subtle, but like the best arcade racers out there, it sure is fun.
Regardless of what type of 4×4 you go for; Sportsman Buggies, Pro Buggies, Rally Cars, Prolite Trucks or Trophy Trucks, the handling never veers too wildly from that core balance. There are a few subtle differences here and there, but for the most part, once you’ve learned the basics, you’re just about ready to jump behind the wheel of any vehicle in the game.
By keeping things simple and accessible, McGrath’s Offroad proves itself a racer ready to be enjoyed by just about anyone. The simple controls and unforgiving mechanics will help to ease in the casual crowd while the basic, but smartly implemented XP system does just about enough to keep things interesting for the hardcore after those initial arcade thrills start to wear off. While XP is awarded win or lose, and thus giving newcomers an excuse to keep pushing on even if they aren’t winning events, it’s the constant reward for skilled driving and the subsequent trickle of unlockabe goodies that will keep many coming back long after they have made their way through the 2 hour long Tour Mode.
Although skimpy of basic game modes, it’s the promise of consistent rewards (new vehicles, tracks, upgrades etc) that will prove the driving force of the experience for many. With clutch boosts and skilled landings delivering points, races are given an additional incentive meaning that, whether you are miles out in front or stuck at the back of the pack, you’ll still want to deliver the goods for the remainder of the race.
While the absence of local multiplayer is a shame, the inclusion of competitive online racing for up to 8 players certainly eases the pain. It may be difficult to find 7 other willing racers, but if you are lucky enough to find a crew of players, or better yet, have friends who enjoy off-road racers as much as you, McGrath’s Offroad can provide an extremely enjoyable online experience. It’s a bare bones package, but the core gameplay shines with 7 other racers on the track and, well, let’s be fair, this is an 800 MS Point download, let’s not go expecting miracles here.
With its smart XP system, surprisingly decent visuals (the tracks are far better looking than the vehicles) and pitch perfect arcade handling, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad has seemingly appeared from nowhere to deliver one of the finest arcade racers on XBLA. Yes, it’s short on game modes and will probably be forgotten after a week or so worth of gaming, but for as long as it lasts, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad delivers all the excitement one could hope for from an off-road racer.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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