|System: Xbox 360*, PS3|
|Dev: 2XL Games|
|Pub: Reverb Publishing, D3 Publisher|
|Release: June 26, 2012|
|Players: 1-8 Online Multiplayer|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
It's hard to make a racing game unique. The basic formula of "pass other guys in the race" never really changes, and if you aren't looking for a kart racer with crazy explosions and power-ups, you have to find something else that makes the variety of steering, braking, and throttle stand apart from everyone else's. Jeremy McGrath's Offroad combines some interesting RPG elements with a game engine that looks to deliver a real offroad experience, and, to an extent, it does so quite well. However, the game's sparse feature set unfortunately undermines the innovation lies beneath it.
The big gimmick in Jeremy McGrath's Offroad is the leveling system. Over the course of a race, you'll earn XP from performing certain actions. Pass a car, and you'll get XP. Win the race, and you'll get even more XP. Smash into a bunch of fences or tress and you'll get achievement-style XP bonuses. In fact, it's hard to do anything without earning XP in this game.
On one hand, this means that you can continue to level up even if you lose races. This is great for newbies that just can't seem to get the hang of braking around turns or easing up on the throttle.
On the other hand, this means that winning the race doesn't always end up being your goal. For example, finishing a race in first place would net me about 120 XP. However, passing other cars gave me 60 XP each, and crashing into a bunch of fences got me 300 XP. Players looking to level as fast as they can will purposefully drop positions and go off track just so they can earn more XP, and it wasn't uncommon to find lower place finishes netting higher XP than solid first place finishes where I simply stayed ahead of the pack. So yes, you can choose to level grind instead of racing your hardest, and it's kind of goofy.
So what does earning levels get you? Well, unlike other racing games, Offroad starts you out with several vehicles, each with totally blank stats. There are several different vehicle classes from buggies to rally cars, and they each obviously handle differently. However, you get several vehicles in each class to choose from, and each one starts with a rating of 0 in handling, braking, top speed, and acceleration.
Each time you earn 1000 XP, you get one upgrade point to put into any of these categories in any of your cars. This lets you build up your own unique garage of vehicles, each with different stat layouts to be used for different sorts of races. While this is all cool in theory, there really isn't anything preventing you from dumping all of your upgrade points into one vehicle and making the super truck. This also means that racers of a lower level are just blatantly racing worse vehicles than higher level racers, which makes multiplayer more than a bit unbalanced.
All this being said, the upgrade system is actually pretty cool. At the very least, it's fun to see your vehicles get better and better as you progress through the game. It gives you a reason to keep playing after you have already unlocked all the courses and completed career mode, and while that tiny bump in replay value doesn't last long, it's fun while it lasts.
The suite of modes is pretty sparse, and this is probably the game's biggest detriment. Other than arcade mode, career mode, and multiplayer, there's not much to speak of. Career mode doesn't really give you a story or setting to work with. The races mirror Jeremy McGrath's bid for the Pro 2 championship within the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, but you are never actually told this in game. You simply go from one track to the next, completing races and time trails that don't really differ from the arcade mode in any meaningful way. You'll go through career mode just to unlock all the tracks, but after that you won't really bother touching it again.
Other than the upgrade system, the actual racing engine is probably the most interesting feature of Jeremy McGrath's Offroad. It actually does a decent job of simulating offroad racing. Or at least I'd assume so, considering I have never been in a real-life offroad race. You can't just hammer on the throttle all day, you have to judge how much traction you have on the dirt and use the clutch, brake, and e-brake to get ahead. Performing jumps to cross huge stretches of track is a great way to get ahead, but your engine will stall if you let it rev in the air. You can even bypass entire portions of the track by driving through out-of-bounds areas, though you'll do so at a severely reduced speed. Heck, you can even use other vehicles to help you corner. Ramming into them at high speed provides a barrier that lets you take turns tighter.
It's actually somewhat hard to tell where the track ends and where out-of-bounds areas begin in this game. The track looks like dirt, and anything out of bounds looks like slightly rougher dirt. However, you do have a co-driver that tells you what turns are coming up and when, and that's a decently innovative twist on the offroad racing formula. The only issue is that the co-driver is made up of a very small selection of pre-recorded voice clips. His call out for "turn right" is always the same, as is his call out for any other maneuver you have to make. It makes him sound more like a robot than a real person, which annoyed me enough to turn him off completely.