We have all seen genres being mixed in the past few years. The most successful shooters have a hint of RPG, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a very good example. It mixes the best from both worlds and creates a game experience an ordinary shooter would struggle to deliver.
Off-Road Drive promises in its promotional description “to deliver a true-to-life, off-road, extreme racing experience”. 1C-Avalon has indeed managed to develop a good off road simulation besides the lack of competition in this niche genre. All the necessary 4×4 assortments are onboard. To overcome the difficult terrain one can switch on differential locking, low range gear box, adjust the tyre pressure or even use a winch should the SUV get really stuck. The handling cannot compete with the Dirt series, but the difference between driving through corners with flat tyres and fully pumped ones can be felt noticeably and adds a little strategic thinking. Should I not bother inflating my tyres so I can overcome the next hill easier, or do I want to go faster on the level dirt track?
This takes us to the week point of the game. The racing aspect is a little misplaced in a game that is aiming to be a simulation in an area where precision and the right decisions, not rushing and racing, dominates. Most of the time it is enough to put the foot down and literally run up the hill, regardless of tyre pressure and differential lock. Instead of being rewarded for using all the gadgets your car has to offer to overcome the obstacle, you are punished because it takes much longer. The atmosphere suffers under this balance hurdle. So, why not say this is a racing game with some off road features?
As a racing game it just cannot compete against the big names like Dirt and generally is lacking the features that are standard in the racing genre today: You only drive against a ghost who is representing the best AI driver. At the end of the race you are then presented with a table of all 10 contestants. Unlike Trackmania you do not see all vehicles at the same time, so it generally feels rather lonely than competitive. You cannot take the ghost as a reference for a first place either, as it’s possible to get time penalties added to your end result. Those penalties are issued for taking out track markings like flags and little fences or leaving the track altogether. Some tracks are designed to be raced on, which results in a total failure in terms of handling, as it’s designed to be used at low speeds, and the vehicle leaps uncontrollably forward with little feedback to the driver.
Race events happen all around the globe in Thailand, Africa, Malaysia, USA and Australia. Although the tracks are quite small, they deliver a good atmosphere and a variety of scenarios. Be it desert, jungle or seasonal forest type events. The game offers two race types: Circuits and Sprint. Sprint being the preferred option, as it doesn’t repeat the same challenges, logically.
The Game is using the Unreal Engine 3 to deliver its graphics, which are not amazing, but it looks better in motion than it does in the screenshots. The collision detection could use some fine tuning, as it’s frustrating to come to a full stop on a little stone when you have just rolled over a much bigger one. They wouldn’t be a massive problem, as we have tools like the winch, but they cost too much time to be used accordingly and result in having to restart the race in order to win. Dirt and water is also visible on the car, which is lacking a damage model should you attempt to wrap it around a tree. The terrain is, at pre-defined places anyway, manipulatable so that the car sinks into the mud and leaves tracks behind. The soundtrack is ok depending on taste, and varies from Rock to Punk Rock and can be turned off in the menu.
Speaking about the menu; it’s logically built and can be used with a mouse on a PC just as easy as with a controller. One blessing is an option to change controls during the game, which some racing games have yet failed to deliver.
All put together, Off-Road Drive is purely recommended for off road enthusiasts due to the lack of competition. Any racing game fan should seek elsewhere to receive their daily intake of the ongoing fight for pole position.