4x4 Evo 2 Review

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Publisher: Universal Interactive
Developer: Terminal Reality


Platform: GameCube
Reviewed on GameCube

Go off-road in this truck and sport utility vehicle racing game. Choose from an array of vehicles and race tracks for a quick race, or enter a career mode in which climbing the ladder demands raceway success and completing special challenge missions. Customize your vehicle inside and out, then hit the mud.

Rating:
Solomon Dirigible


To really compete in this day and age in which consoles approach PC performance, any racing game wanting to separate itself from the other games in its genre needs a hook. Racing is, essentially, driving from point A to point B, and without something to separate the various games, they'd all be the same. EA's NASCAR Thunder series relies on the NASCAR license and its ever-growing fan base to attract racing gamers, while Nintendo's Mario Kart racers have used the universal appeal of their characters to attract their fans. 4x4 Evo 2 appears to be seeking a hook in control, realism... and trucks.

The game's realism comes from two sources: its remarkable environmental graphics and its use of fully customizable, real-life vehicles. The surroundings through which you will drive in this game are breathtaking, and distant objects gradually come into focus in a recognizably true-to-life manner. On one of the first courses, called appropriately "Autumn Leaves” you race around a course set in a quaint New England town, passing trees stocked with fall colors, and sliding occasionally on the fallen leaves surrounding the track. The details are stunning, right down to an old covered bridge you'll pass through as you navigate the course. The vehicles also look realistic enough, down to the Mitsubishi diamond decal on the spare tire cover at the rear of their Montero Sport model. But if there's one thing that has been proven on this generation of consoles, it's that phenomenal graphics mean very little when paired with subpar gameplay and, in this case, a host of other problems which plague this very pretty, but severely hampered, racing game.

Unfortunately, because of the splendid graphical content, the load times on this game are unbearable. I've never actually felt like I had to hit the TV/Video selector switch to go back to watching a TV program while a game loaded before. But in the case of 4x4 Evo 2, I did just that. The courses take an eternity to load, and are generally finished well within ten minutes. And if you want to continue playing, the entire race must load again before you can do so. The ratio of load time to actual playing time is far too lopsided to tolerate.

What's more, when you're whizzing 'round a course, you want adrenaline-pumping tunes to get your pulse-rate up, and you want the roar of the engine as you hurtle around corners and rev along straight-aways. Unfortunately, you won't find either of those here. The soundtrack to this game consists of a couple of different tunes, with repetitive wailing accompanying repetitive beats on what sounds like someone's leftover Casio keyboard. As you're making multiple laps around a course, the last thing you want to be reminded of is the repetition, and one way to avoid that would have been to add a wide selection of different songs that were actually songs, and not glorified MIDI tunes. As far as the roar of the engine is concerned, you'll hear what can best be described not so much as the open-mouthed roar of a great, angry, metallic beast, but as the distant buzzing of a crowd of mildly disgruntled bees. It is impossible to lose yourself in the experience of racing if you can't escape from the fact you are sitting in your armchair – and the way to escape is not merely through graphics, however superior they are, but also through superior phonics.

The different options in this game are extensive – too much so, at times. The most straightforward option is the Quick Race option, in which you select a vehicle, customize it to a degree (different cuts of tire, automatic vs. manual shift, adjusting the steering, etc.), and a course, then go compete against your opponents. As you start racing, you'll notice that the background seems to be going by rather slowly. This has less to do with poor gameplay than being too faithful to reality. As gamers, we are so used to the hurtling speeds of other racing games that the realism makes the game seem slow by comparison. Still, it's hard to fault the designers for achieving the realism they sought. On the other hand, if you fall behind early in the race, you will notice, upon catching up to your opponents, that they are in a pack, all jammed in with one another. This is because your opponents tend to travel at roughly the same rate of speed. With all the attention to detail, you would think that one of your opponents might spin out and lose a few hundred feet to another, but that doesn't seem to happen, as they all remain virtually neck and neck throughout the race.

Another irritant is that for all the realism, your vehicle suffers little damage as you race. If you happen to hurtle into a large tree at 60mph, rather than cracking up your hood or even scratching it, you simply come to a sudden halt. One second you're flying around a corner at high speed, the next you're idling in front of a large obstacle. You'll also notice the same absence of physics should you flip your car over. If you skid on a hill and tumble down, the second you would have otherwise come to rest on your roof, you'll be back on your wheels again, idling. In a game that seems so bent on a realistic experience, it is senseless than real-life cars would be portrayed as utterly indestructible.

The Career Mode is this game's most appealing feature, for those with the right background. You start out with $100,000 to buy vehicles and parts, and then start completing race events or missions to earn more money, which in turn, buys you better vehicles and parts. The vehicle list is extensive, and you can select what color you want to your vehicle to be. You can then customize your ride with different additional parts, such as exhaust fans, suspension systems, and engines, among assorted others. Unfortunately, unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool motorhead, you won't find much of interest. If you don't have a thing for cars in real-life, the odds are that you won't know what torque is, let alone what features can be used to increase it, or why, for that matter, you would want it increased. And the game doesn't tell you.

Missions are little mini-games that you can undertake in the career mode to earn money and take a break from the monotony of racing. The idea is a good one, but would be better if some of the missions were a little more challenging. You'll be given a little mission guide, telling you your goal, and a map, showing you where you might have to go, and the location of your starting point. You'll see the tracks you can take on the map, but given that you're in an off-road vehicle, you can also just note what direction you have to go on the map and head over hills and through streams to get there. The ability to take the direct route detracts from mission mode, as any challenge is pretty much thrown out the window. You simply decide that you have to go to the extreme southeast of the map, for example, and you head that way until you reach your destination.

Ultimately, though, if you want to continue advancing your career, you'll have to complete missions to earn money, buy parts, and get yourself noticed by one of the racing teams. Getting noticed by a racing team allows you to join up with that team as you progress through your career. This will unlock vehicles which are restricted to certain teams, such that you must be a member of a specific team to purchase a specific vehicle. This gives you access to vehicles that you would otherwise be unable to use. When you start out, none of the teams will notice you, but as you start winning races, upgrading your vehicle, completing missions, and winning series races, teams will start to pay attention. You can choose to join any of the teams which are impressed enough to present you with the option of joining in. This is a nice feature, as you are able to give yourself goals of getting noticed and working your way up the chain to become an elite driver.

Beautiful scenery and complete control over your vehicle of choice are all well and good, but ultimately not enough. Shoddy physics, mind-numbing load times, and substandard audio plague this racing game. 4x4 Evo 2 is a beautiful '57 Chevy chassis, bright red and looking great in the garage, but housing a transplanted '74 Pinto engine and limping along behind the blue-haired ladies in the slow lane. Ultimately, the positives (breathtaking graphics, intensely realistic vehicles/customization) are simply not enough to overcome the array of negatives (unbearably slow load times, forgettable sound, meaningless missions, dubious physics) to make this game a worthwhile expenditure.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 13, 2002 8:31 PM.

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