Format: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, Wii U, Switch, PC
Released: November 2016
Back in my ZX Spectrum and Master System days, one game stood the test of time and still does for single-screen multiplayer racing and that’s Ivan Ironman Offroad. Four trucks, 32 tracks and sharp tight handling made it a timeless classic I still play today. Despite its so bad its fun track record with its previous game Rock N Racing Grand Prix, it looked initially like Unfinished Pixel had hit the mark better with Off Road DX – sadly I was very wrong.
Each track takes place on a single screen but half the tracks are reversed and some are day and night versions to make up the difference. That would be fine is the tracks had some variety but when some are a circle, some a figure of eight and some giant B shape then you start to wonder when the difficulty will ramp up. Much of tracks have lots of weird and wonderful gradients which initially is great – but because of the view and the non-linear way the gradient works across the tracks it is sometimes very difficult to understand if a hill is actually a hill or not.
This wouldn’t be so bad if we had some vehicles that handle well – my biggest gripe from Grand Prix – but here we have a mixed bag. Vehicles in the single-player campaign (5 mini championships of 4 races apiece) are locked in these championships and whilst you aren’t bound to using certain ones in certain races, the AI clearly have their favourites. The first truck handles really well but as you unlock more they get too fast for the track and too slow to turn and we are right back where Grand Prix, Unfinished Pixel’s previous game, was before. It’s not that braking and turning shouldn’t be a challenge in an arcade racer – it’s just it needs to feel in proportion to your surroundings. When you brake to a halt, the turning circle isn’t really much improved and so you wonder what the point is. The slipstream effect returns too (for trucks?!) and is overpowered in relation to the size of the tracks too so handling wise the entire thing is unbalanced.
Then comes the AI. The AI seem to be optimised for different cars to be used at different tracks because the more you change things around, the more they get stuck, drive backwards to find the last time they were on the AI path or simply just grind to a halt when they don’t know which part of the AI path to follow. It’s amazing that when driving around an oval the AI doesn’t understand where it should go. As with Grand Prix, it renders the game nearly useless as a single player experience.
So as a demotivated player you return to scant options of Championship which has no customisation at all, time trial which is rigid and car dependant – which makes it frustrating and then multiplayer for up to 4 local players. The game works better with humans rather than AI and if you all understand the over-excitable car physics and lack of precision then actually it has its moments of genuine fun. That’s when the frustration kicks in. Once again the game is so close to being competent and actually a good laugh that it is painful. I have so many games nearly 30 years old that got this balance of playability, precision and skill right that it feels lazy that it is so far skewed.
You can watch my live video review below:
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