Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad
Developer: 2XL Games
Publisher: Reverb Publishing/XBLA
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 2-8
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Just in case you don’t know who he is (and judging by the number of friends I had message me while reviewing the game saying “who the f*ck is Jeremy McGrath?” many don’t); Jeremy McGrath is one of the most well-known American Motocross/Supercross champions in the history of the sport. Making his name in the ’90s he actually invented a number of tricks whilst riding the jumps on supercross tracks, (the most famous of which is probably the "Nac Nac") and was a major reason why the sport of freestyle motocross came into existence.

Having survived a career in Supercross without mashing his testicles too badly or breaking every single bone in his body Jeremy decided to retire in 2006 and went into the much safer Pro-2 and the Traxxas TORC Series off-road truck racing with Monster sponsorship (in the game one vehicle in every class has the famous black/green/white Monster sponsorship colour scheme).

The career mode starts you off with lightweight Sportsmen buggies then progresses through ProLite trucks, Pro-buggies and Rally cars before reaching the ultimate Trophy Trucks. There are no licensed vehicles and they seem to be just modelled on a generic design (the rally car does look a bit like a Subaru Impreza though.) You can choose your setup from three settings and select from a number of different vehicles that have different paint jobs and minor differences in design. Setting a car up is as simple as choosing from one of three handling presets. Competing earns you XP and this can be spent on upgrading various aspects of your vehicles’ performance, and unlike some racing games, these really do enhance the vehicle’s performance.

Arcade mode allows you to select from a single race, time trial or practice, turn the road hazards (things like boulders, snowballs and rolling logs) on or off and decide whether you want a grid or rally start, and you can also change the difficulty (which changes the amount of XP you earn) and decide whether the opponents are in the same class, open class or competitive.

The handling is light and responsive and runs at a constant 60 frames a second even with five or six cars in view all producing plumes of dust. You race through some extremely pleasant scenery and this all makes the game very easy on the eye. There are 4 views; full screen, bonnet (hood) cam, close and distant chase cams. Apart from rolling boulders and logs there are a few other things to distract your eye from the track and to watch out for; a helicopter keeps an eye on you on one stage, and there’s a suicidal crop duster and a homicidal combine harvester driver to avoid. The scenery looks so nice in places and some of the action so spectacular that it’s a real shame that there’s no replay mode after a race.

The vehicles ride the bumps well, power slide in a nice, predictable and controllable way (as they should), and well-timed hand braking (mapped to ‘B’) makes the tightest of hairpins easy to negotiate. This friendly handling makes the game very easy to play. Three difficulty settings should cater for just about everybody, and there are no nasty shocks or obstacles to spoil your racing pleasure-this isn’t one of those “off-road” games that resets you to the track every time you stray 6 inches off the beaten track. It may not be the most realistic off-road racing game out there, and after a bit of practice I found it a bit too easy to win, but I don't think that's real point here, this game isn’t about accurately simulating a sport and tooth-grinding difficulty, it’s about fun.

As you'd expect the tracks have many jumps and at times you seem to be spending more time in the air than on the ground. The arcadey feel is enhanced as you can steer your vehicle slightly and change the attitude of it in the air to land on all four wheels and keep the momentum going. If you get a landing from a big jump completely wrong (and this isn’t easy) you can have a crash that results in a spectacular series of cartwheels, but there’s no damage to worry about, the vehicle just gets reset and off you go again.

In a completely contrary approach to the rest of the game’s arcadey philosophy, you have a ‘boost’ button (mapped to ‘LB’), but this isn’t a simple turbo or nitro ability, it is a “clutch boost,” which means whenever the engine starts to struggle coming out of a slow corner or climbing a hill you can dab the clutch, which raises the engine’s revs and increase the speed (this can also be used at the start of races to get off the line quicker.) And when the wheels start to spin you can also dab the clutch to regain traction and make your vehicle zoom out of slow, slippery corners. Although it undoubtedly improves your lap times, the clutch boost is completely optional though so if you don’t want anything more than accelerating and braking to worry about you’ll be fine.

There are six tracks (Mythic, Utah; Limburg, Netherlands; Chippewa Hill, Michigan; Rock Springs, Wyoming; Zunac, Ecuador; Ridgecrest, California) which might not sound like a lot, and more would obviously have been appreciated, but the tracks are enjoyably long (between two and five miles) so a couple of laps of any of these is quite enough for a decent race and Rock Springs is a 7.84 miles long point-to-point rally style stage.

I had several attempts at trying the online multiplayer, but only ever found one other guy playing the game, it was another reviewer and he had connection problems and kept disappearing, so we never actually completed a race. Hopefully things will improve as the game gets better known. The game supports 2 to 8 players, you can make games private or public (good luck getting a private game together at the moment!) You can make the class of vehicle open or fixed, and specify the race distance between 1 and 7 laps.

I really enjoyed my time with Jeremy McGrath's off-road, although the career mode could have been longer, it's a quality good-looking, very smooth, undemanding and enjoyable racing game that can stand proudly amongst the best racing games on XBLA, especially at a price of at a price of 800msp (Ł6.30 on PSN.)

Best Bits

- Fun, casual racer with enjoyable handling.
- Smooth 60fps action.
Worst Bits

- Not enough tracks.
- Shortish career mode.
- No replay mode.

by: Jensen Buttons

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