Test Drive Off-Road: Wide Open Review
I remember playing the very first Test Drive Off-Road title and found to be enjoyable, and just a fun overall experience. I was quite infatuated with the Test Drive series. Test Drive 4 was one of my first Playstation titles (Crash Bandicoot and Need for Speed 2 being the two very first), I loved everything about Test Drive 4, the graphics, the speed, the vehicles; it was an amusing title that I couldn't get enough of. The two following sequels took everything that made the fourth great, better. While their appeal was dated, they were still good games packed in with many modes, such as a cop mode, where you can be the chaser or 'chasee.' The series itself was quite venerable, ranging all the way down to the Sega Genesis. So when GT Interactive (who was later bought out by Infogrames) announced they will spinning off the franchise into an off-road title, which would later evolve into a franchise on its own, I was excited to see what they will pull off. Gradually the Off-Road titles have spiraled downward in terms of ingenuity and depth, but remained to be good all around titles. Revealed last year, Test Drive Off-Road: Wide Open is the fourth title in the series and is easily the best.
With a development team such as Angel Studios, one would expect only the finest of visuals for the game, and while this isn't exactly the GT3 of off-road titles, Wide Open is in-fact a great looking game with some of the most expansive courses in a racing game. It seems to be running on the same engine that was powering Smuggler's Run, and when studying both games thoroughly it becomes apparent. Just like Smuggler's Run, as you approach a large texture in the background, such as a cliff or a high level of ground from a distance, you will notice that the texture quality begins to fill itself in and improve, which is somewhat of a draw-in effect, but it lacks the "pop-up" for it to be so. It's not a very noticeable tick, and it will rarely get your attention, but if you pay attention to it, it is there. On the other hand, I should also mention that the environments are almost never ending; some are larger than others, while others just have no parallel. The environments range from a forest to a beach, to mountains, and all the way to a forest fire complete with smoke effects. So you're not likely to see anything repetitive as you roam or race around on the tracks. The texture quality for trees and other space filling objects is decent, but some look better than others.
It seems as if Angel Studios took the car models from Midnight Club, revamped them with extra polygons, and molded them into 'whatever' off-road vehicle. The glare effects on each car give the feeling away, and I wouldn't be surprised if I was right. But that's not a bad thing, the car detail is substantially better than that of Midnight Club and/or Smuggler's Run, but at the same time it doesn't feature that realistic "oomph texturing" that made the cars in GT3 look so realistic. The cars look rather simple, but at the same time feature a good amount of detail for them to stand out as very nice looking car models. Like I said, they may not live up to GT3 in comparison, but the detail is sharp nevertheless. Overall, the game is a pretty looking title. Angel Studios did a good overall job, but if they are in charge of the next title in the series, they need to give the game more glare.
The subtitle "Wide Open" stays true to the game. As I've mentioned earlier, the environments are huge hence creating a "wide open" go anywhere feel, a'la Smuggler's Run. But let's put that aside already, it was covered entirely and needs to be talked about no more. Wide Open features three locales for you to race on, each locale has various parts of it closed off for racing during the career mode. So while there are 3 whole environments, there are a dozen or so stages to race through. But not all races require racing, some other types of matches are scramble races, and a blitz race. A scramble race requires you to pick up checkpoints as fast as possible. The person to hit every checkpoint the quickest wins. There is no finish line, just one open area (not the whole area, a portion) with checkpoints placed on it. A blitz race is a single-race downhill challenge to the finish line. The checkpoints are pre-determined, so keep an eye out for the direction arrow. The first one to the finish line wins.
Throughout many of the stages you race on, you will encounter shortcuts that will help you get further away or closer to the pack, depending on your status. The shortcuts are cleverly placed, and can be anything from a tunnel, to an enormous leap off of a clif. The sky's the limit. As far as sense of speed is concerned, the game does an amazing job of creating that. Going 100MPH feels exactly like it. Great job Angel. In terms of replay, the game offers a great career mode that will help you unlock the hidden races, and four monster vehicles, which include the Shelby Durango S.P. 360, Humvee, Dodge T-Rex, and The Monster Truck. There are a total of 14 vehicles to choose from, all with their own unique stats. As you progress further, you will be able to select from three other classes, which include modified, pro and unlimited. As the class of the car is raised, so do the stats, not to mention that the outward appearance changes drastically as well. The gameplay itself is great, the career mode will take you through 35 races, spanning 5 seasons. You will be able to purchase a vehicle, and sell it for the same price, and for race and event completion you will be awarded with money, which will then help you purchase the vehicle of your dreams. TD: Wide Open is fun game; don't let anybody tell you otherwise. Off-road fans: this is a MUST have title.
The soundtrack that Wide Open consists of is almost like what the generic TD title has had for a few years now; some techno, some heavy rock, and then some Fear Factory. Now wait, don't get me wrong I'm a huge fan of Fear Factory and I love some of the songs that are included in Wide Open, but some just don't fit to my liking, meanwhile the menu music and the techno tracks are awesome! The songs I'm referring to are "Get Up," "Lock it down" and "Plague" all by the Digital Assassins. As for Metallica, I don't have a problem with them, despite them raising issues over Napster, I still think their music is good, although fan boys beware, the version of "Fuel" in Wide Open is modified because of its length, and it sounds incredibly choppy when listening to it; half of the first verse is cut off. Despite those flaws, the soundtrack is generally good, and the engine noises are decent as well.
Controlling your vehicle in TD: Wide Open isn't much of an issue, both of the analog sticks are supported which is a big plus for the control and gameplay. To prevent your car from landing gruesomely, you can tilt its body while airborne by holding R1 and using a direction. But for those who think you could flip the car around and perform stunts, well you can't. The tilt movement is very slow and you will only land sideways or upside down trying to flip your car in the air. It's a great feature I must add and takes time to master. The analog works very well. There are dozens of degrees of steering, which makes the sensitivity performance almost perfect. The same goes for accelerating and braking. Overall, not much time to learn the controls.
In the end, I believe Infogrames lived up to the promise of bringing an excellent off-road title. Angel Studios did a great job of creating an amusing and most importantly a fun title that features enormous, never ending environments, very good car detail, and an excellent sense of speed. The game will last for weeks thanks to its lengthy career mode and various secret races and cars. Despite what you may have heard, Test Drive Off-Road: Wide Open is a great game, and is a recommended purchase for those looking for a racing title, or for the off-road fan out there. Simply put, this game is fun.
8/29/2001 Arnold Katayev