Take 2 scored a massive hit game at the launch of the PS2 last October with the frantic off-road racer Smuggler’s Run. So is 4×4 Evolution (a conversion of the PC and Dreamcast racer) a bid to cash-in before Smuggler’s Run gets a sequel proper? It’s looking very likely…
Thus 4×4 Evolution features a wealth of indepth options, tuning elements and ‘accurate’ handling, that would sit well with Gran Turismo if it were less Ralph Loren polo shirts and hatchbacks and more plaid shirts and roll bars.
The basic structure of the game is not dissimilar to the standard that Gran Turismo has set. Players start the main Career mode with a bog standard bog-hopper, costing most of your initial $30,000. Any remaining money can also be used to add tune-ups and extra parts to the truck, such as tweaked engines, gearboxes, drive shafts, suspension and so on.
Also like Gran Turismo, 4×4 Evolution features all of the major manufacturers that fans of these vehicles will go crazy for, including the great American giants of Jeep, Ford, Lexus and Chevrolet, as well as their Japanese counterparts in Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi. There are 70 trucks in total, ranging from the boxy thing Mr and Mrs Toff travel to Tesco in to the race-tuned Tundra SUV.
However, actually getting to these dream machines can become a bit of a chore, as once on the track, the vast chasm between Smuggler’s Run and 4×4 Evolution is clearly visible. The fun and excitement of bounding over endless desert dunes and rocky outcrops or swerving down tree-lined valleys is missing, due somewhat to the twitchy controls. A slight nudge of the analogue stick will veer the car towards the tree (which you’ll get wedged upon and loose the race there and then).
But the controls aren’t the biggest problem. In a bid to be the ‘off-road Gran Turismo’, 4×4 Evolution is incredibly unforgiving. The wage structure means that, though players will win money just for finishing, a win over a series of races will usually only net $15, 000 – barely enough to buy new parts. In this way, players will need the patience of a saint and equally enchanted driving skills to reach the goal of a race-tuned Toyota UV, costing $85, 000.
On top of the Career mode there are Time Trial, Quick Race and Versus game modes, with the latter being one of the biggest disappointments to the game. Though the frame rate manages to stay healthy and fast, there is no four-player mode and no other trucks on screen (save yourself and a buddy), and it lacks the online play of the Dreamcast version.
Visually too, 4×4 Evolution seems wanting. Like the basic game, the deserts, forests and valleys are very bland, with few details and uninteresting track maps. A few incidental details do impress, such as the smack and crackle of rocks hitting the bonnets of the trucks and the odd touch of humour like Stealth bombers secreted away in desert hideaways, but the general feel is of a missed opportunity.
Indeed, the overall sense is of a missed chance to meld the fun, frantic action of Smuggler’s Run with the detail and realism of Gran Turismo. The end result is a title that lacks the thrills and charms of both games. 4×4 Evolution is good if you like trucks, but bad if you like good games.