Test-Your-Pain-Threshold Off Road 2
I'm sure many of you have wondered how I rate games. (I'm also sure just as many of you don't give a flying fart, but tough patootie.) Well, like your high school teachers used to say on the first day of class, "Everyone starts out with an A." I'm pretty much the same way. Every game I pick up at the office starts out with an A. (Especially since I'm a sucker for all the hype on the back of the box. See Xenogears.) So let me give you a real-time analysis of the latest game up for review, Test Drive Off Road 2.
After watching the intro movie (which looks more like an MTV video/truck commercial for Humvee, Jeep, Ford and Dodge.) I select the world tour option. I only have enough credits to buy either a Jeep Cherokee or a Jeep Wrangler. I go with the Cherokee. There are six different classes to race in, but the Cherokee is only allowed in the SUV category. So far, so good. Still an A.
Like other racing games, the human player always starts in the back of the pack. "Why am I always last?!" my self-esteem cries, "I'm better than that! I know I am!" "Will you shut up and let me race, loser!" I yell back. (Yes, I talk to myself all the time but the doc says I'm doing better.) In my first race, I not only don't win, it seems my Jeep is stuck in reverse. Button-mashing doesn't correct the problem so as a last resort, I read the fargin' manual. I find that the game uses BOTH analog sticks; the left one for steering and the right one for accelerating and braking. Coolness.
With my newfound knowledge, I start the race again only to have the timer expire before I even reach the third checkpoint. I re-start and six minutes later, I manage to come in second. Mentally, I go through my checklist; graphics are below average, but nothing too awful, the engine sounds like my upstairs neighbor's vacuum cleaner. (on On the plus side, each car has different engine sounds; the Dodge sounds like a Hoover, the Hummer like a Dirt Devil, and the Jeep is reminiscent of a Dustbuster low on batteries.
On the other hand, the track is more like an obstacle course -- it generally runs in a straight line but you have to avoid boulders, trees and other hazards, and six minutes of dodging obstacles just isn't all that fun. Seems kinda like an over-glorified Cruis'n USA to me. So far, mediocre graphics, poor track design. I downgrade to a B.
In the third race of the SUV class, I fail to make a checkpoint. Okay, no problem, I'll just make sure I do better when I restart the race. Unfortunately, the game has other plans. I'm booted all the way back to the first race of the SUV class. Say what?! This game seems pretty hell-bent on punishing you for a less-than-stellar performance. So far, still sort-of okay. I have to start all the way over. I downgrade slightly to a C+.
After about five races, each averaging 5-6 minutes of obstacle-dodging, I finish first in points in the SUV class with which I'm rewarded with another short video/commercial as well as bonus credits. Immediately, I buy the Hummer since that's the highest-profile vehicle in the game and presumably the main reason people will buy the game. I enter the Hummer class and start the first race, set in Wales. The trouble starts when I'm driving on hillside a filled with grazing sheep. Naturally, I aim for one of them. Much to my chagrin, the sheep not only stops my Hummer like a brick wall, but I also go randomly tumbling down the hillside to the left. Man, what do they feed those sheep? So far, real weak. Invulnerable sheep, bizarre random wipeouts, I have to start over at the beginning again. C-
I avoid the sheep after that (the shepherd looks tempting), but once again, I fail to make the checkpoint in the prescribed time. But there's a good reason; the lead car spun out in the tunnel, causing a four-car pileup that wasted precious seconds. I give the race another shot. Just like in the last race, the same damn car wipes out in Exactly The Same Place! And I miss the checkpoint again. I resolve to reach the tunnel first and let all the computer cars take each other out.
This time, I'm in first place with only empty road between me and the tunnel when the wipeout car blasts by me like a bat out of hell. Boy, that guy's really got a bad case of road rage. Inside the tunnel, he teases me, letting me get right up on his ass before he blocks the road again. Miraculously, I manage to get by him and make the first checkpoint and then the race continues inside of a castle. (?!) I roar down the hallway, blazing by tapestries and furniture but this time, all the drivers have that road-rage thing. If they're not bumping me off the road, they're cutting me off and slamming on the brakes. My already bruised self-esteem takes another beating. "What did I ever do to them?" So far, no good. Lousy AI, game becoming increasingly less fun, I have to start over at the beginning again. I downgrade way, way down to a D-.
Perhaps I'm doing something wrong. Frustrated, I call the Accolade techinical support line.
"Yeah," I tell the operator, "I'm having some trouble with Test Drive Off Road 2. It seems that all the computer cars are all being a bunch of dicks."
"No problem, sir," she tells me, "We get this kind of thing all the time. Just go to the options menu."
"Now do you see an option for Computer Attitude?" she asks.
"Yeah," I reply.
"What's it set to?"
I look at the screen, which reads, Computer Attitude: Evil. "It's set on Evil," I tell her.
"Well there's your problem right there," she says in a what-are-you-some-kind-of-idiot tone. "Just set it back to 'nice'."
Then I went on to set the graphics to 'Good', and the gameplay to 'Fun'. With the settings in my favor, I return to the game. This time, everything goes perfect. The computer cars are so well-behaved, the drivers actually put on their blinkers before getting in front of me. In one race that I was losing badly, all the cars stopped just short of the finish line so I could get first place in the rankings and unlock another track. So far, way good. I upgrade to an A+++.