Lunar 4×4 racing.
Most SUV owners only take their pricey toys off-road to enter the parking lots of suburbian malls, but 4X4 Evolution lets you drive your Explorers and Xterras wherever you like. Developer Terminal Reality has been down this road before; fans of the Monster Truck Madness series for Microsoft will feel right at home. Maybe even too much so. Driving the bouncy SUVs of 4X4 Evolution will make you think they have balloon tires.
While the physics make the game feel a bit like Moon Patrol, it does include a detailed solo game and a multiplayer component that is by far its most impressive feature. The PC version links up perfectly, seamlessly and invisibly with Macintosh versions of the game, which is quite unique. Though somewhat prone to warping and occasional synchronization problems (on multiple occasions on the unpatched versions, cars “won” the race but never left the start-finish line on some systems), the overall multiplayer experience is a positive one.
While the game’s multiplayer is truly innovative, it seems to come at the expense of the solo game. While it initially appears deep and detailed, it has an oddly tacked-on feel. You start the game with $30,000 and no car. You select from the available cars, run some races, buy some upgrade parts, sell the car and buy something better, repeat ad infinitum. Dreariness settles in and one might be left pondering on a career change. Yet there’s tons of stuff in there – over 70 different vehicles (all real world models, from Ford Explorers to Toyota Pathfinders to Dodge Dakotas), with an ungodly number of accessories (from engine and suspension pieces to mud flapsâ€”too bad you can’t sell parts that you’re no longer using).
Once you get over the sheer quantity (it might take a few days or even a week), you realize the solo game is pretty pointless. It’s not a traditional racing game, in the sense that there are no real seasons where you get points for each victory and are competing against other drivers. Each series is just a bunch of individual races versus anonymous bots with prize money for placing. The overall goal isn’t really to beat your opponents; rather, it’s just to finish and earn some cash in order to build a better car for multiplayer. Once you’ve completed one series, you can keep replaying it over and over again until you’re blue in the face.
The game does do a good job of scaling the opposition to your current car. If you’re happy with your existing car and are winning regularly, you can keep running the same races over and over again and make a ton of cash. Your opposition is pretty much matched up in identical cars. As you add new pieces, they scale up accordingly, giving you a fairly consistent sense of challenge.
The theoretical collision model makes the races more frustrating than they should be. Physically squeezing through checkpoints can be difficult, requiring you circle around for it to count. Some rocks stop you while you can drive right through others. And when you do hit an object such as a wooden construction sign, it tends to bring your two-ton vehicle nearly to a complete stop, but other times you can drive through power lines without so much as a sweat. Hitting other cars tend to launch you in all sorts of interesting directions, something exacerbated by an AI that pretty much stays on fixed paths, regardless of what’s in its way. And we can’t forget the aforementioned lunar gravity.
The game is visually rewarding, though the cars are proportionally too small in relation to some trackside objects (they just feel… tiny and insubstantial, which isn’t a charge you’d normally level at the ludicrously oversized Expeditions and Suburbans of the real world). The track design is also impressive, with quite a bit of variety, lots of luscious scenery and plenty of shortcuts. While there are 16 tracks in all, the game doesn’t allow you to race them backwards or with alternate routes, which makes the game more repetitious than it would have been even with something as simple as a reverse mode. The less said about the interface the betterâ€”people have died waiting for the painfully slow-scrolling text to tell you why installing a supercharger is a very good thing. And I need not even go into the wonky ingame camera modes.
4X4 Evolution has its place in history as the first truly multi-platform multiplayer game, and should be remembered for that impressive technical accomplishment alone. It’s too bad the game itself isn’t nearly as memorable.
System Requirements: Pentium III 450 Mhz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, Win 95/98/2000/XP