If there is one thing that the Xbox LIVE Arcade does not have a lot of, it’s quality off-road racing titles. And while Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad isn’t even in the same league as retail titles such as Codemasters’ ‘DIRT’ series, it does offer a somewhat deep, fun, and surprisingly approachable entry into the Arcade’s catalog of racing games.
Visually, the game looks a bit uneven. The environments themselves look fairly nice, especially for a downloadable title; the deserts, snowy hilltops, and muddy swamps you’ll be buzzing through are nicely done. The vehicles however, look muddled and at times, out of place with the rest of the visuals.
The menu and navigation of the game seems a bit dated in terms of style, keeping it very simple, but the over-sized control buttons and ugly design choices makes the game’s menu seem as if it was taken directly from the PS2 era. They have also changed the run-of-the-mill ‘Tips’ section we see during the loading screens of nearly all games these days, to actually having Jeremy McGrath himself tell you some of the most obvious things you can imagine. Hearing what sounds like a phoned-in recording of McGrath telling me for the fifteenth time that “using the hand-break will allow me to drift corners” got to me a bit much. I nearly dropped to my knees once I discovered you can actually disable these ‘tips’.
With three difficultly levels, the game allows for even the most casual of racer to jump right in. The game features an XP system that rewards you for not only winning races, but also completing jumps, power slides, overtaking opponents, and even destroying signs and trees, insuring that if you come in last place you can still progress through the career.
Any of the XP you do collect is used to upgrade the speed, acceleration, and handling of your vehicle. With types ranging from buggies to trucks, you’ll have many options and paint jobs to choose from. Strangely enough, the differences in vehicles seem nearly non-existent, with each one handling and performing nearly identical to one another. When you do choose to upgrade a vehicle, it applies to the individual rig’s livery, as opposed to the type of class itself, which I still can’t understand.
Despite each vehicle class feeling and handling nearly the exact same, the game plays well. Controlling your buggy or truck feels tight and natural. The game does stray a bit to the side of being arcade-like on the lower difficulties, but even the most seasoned realistic-style racers will find the game enjoyable. This leaves us with a game casual racers can pick up and play, but at the same time leaves room for the more hardcore of players to master. One complaint I would make would be the visual obstruction other cars can present. When using the third-person camera, if any opponent follows closely behind you their vehicle blocks your view, as it does not become see-through or turn into a ‘ghost’ as we usually see in other racing titles.
The game contains a somewhat small amount of events, only twenty-three in total, sprawled across six different tracks, which completing will only take around 2-3 hours for a decent player. The tracks do offer a good bit of variety, at least in scenery. The tracks also have different hazards, from the occasional Indiana Jones style boulder, to the ever popular oversized hay bales. When compared to the style of game, even with the slightly arcade feel, these obstacles seem a tad out of place, but luckily they can be turned off before the race.
Overall, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad brings a solid, albeit mediocre, off-road racing experience to the Xbox LIVE Arcade, where it is rarely seen. With an overall short career, but eight player online and 800 MS point price tag, it’s hard to not recommend the game to fans of the racing genre. But be aware, the game is still nowhere near the realistic feel of games like ‘DIRT’, or even the arcade fast-paced challenge of ‘Motorstorm’.