Road To Solar Crown - Chapter 4: Off-Road

Not all Test Drive games were about desirable, exotic cars. In this week's shorter Chapter, we'll be taking a look at the off-road-focused spin-offs

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A Quick Recap

At some point during the mid-90s, Accolade decided to bring back the Test Drive franchise. UK-based studio Pitbull Syndicate was tasked with developing Test Drive 4, which was released in November 1997 and, despite the mostly unenthusiastic reviews, managed to sell more than 850,000 copies. However, the people at Pitbull weren't the only ones responsible for Test Drive's great return; Somewhere, someone else had also tasked with creating a game that would help bring back the series, and they took it in an entirely new direction...

Goodbye Asphalt, Hello Mud Trails

Released in March 1997, about eight months prior to Test Drive 4, on PC and PS1, Test Drive Off-Road was the first game in the series since Test Drive III: The Passion (1990) and it was completely different from its predecessors.

Goodbye exotic sports cars, hello rugged off-roaders! (Image credit: www.retroplace.com)

Goodbye exotic sports cars, hello rugged off-roaders! (Image credit: www.retroplace.com)

Developed by Elite Systems and published by Accolade (US) and Eidos Interactive (EU), it focused, as its name implies, on off-road racing with off-road vehicles, rather than driving/racing exotic sports cars on suggestive roads.

Test Drive Off-Road featured eight playable vehicles, four of which were real, licensed offroaders from the era, more specifically the Chevrolet K-1500 Z71, Hummer, Jeep Wrangler, and Land Rover Defender 90. The remaining four were unlicensed bonus cars. The game also sported a toggleable visual damage model.

A total of 12 tracks were present (6 of them were available from the start), set in three different environments (dirt, sand and snow) with varying weather conditions. Some of the tracks were more speed-focused, while others were more technical, and each one of them featured jumps, hills, shortcuts and various obstacles.

- (Video credit: World of Longplays)

Three game modes were available to choose from:

Practice Race: Players can choose a vehicle and track of their liking.

Mixed League: A series of six tournaments ('Cups') in which players could choose a vehicle of their liking. Winning a Cup unlocked one of the 6 locked tracks.

Class League: A series of four tournaments ('Leagues') in which only one specific vehicle can be used. These comprised of the Hummer League, Jeep League, Land Rover League and Chevrolet League. Winning a League awarded the player one of the four unlicensed bonus cars.

The game's sountrack featured songs by popular alternative rock band Gravity Kills, while NBA announcer Bob Fitzgerald provided voice-overs.

Test Drive: Off-Road is an acceptable entry in the suddenly crowded field of off-road racing games.

GameSpot

Reviews for Test Drive Off-Road were mixed on both platforms.

As with TD4, there were many parts where reviewers disagreed. For instance, while some felt the car models were good, others found them to be poorly made. The sound effects also divided opinions, with some deeming them realistic, while others felt they weren't all that great.

What most critics agreed on were the severe pop-up problems, which were widely criticized, and the soudtrack, which received praise.

Click Here to read AllGame's review of Test Drive: Off-Road

Click Here to read Computer Games Strategy Plus's review of Test Drive: Off-Road

Click Here to read Computer Gaming World's review of Test Drive: Off-Road (page 206)

Despite the mixed reviews, Test Drive: Off-Road managed to sell over 500,000 copies, which, coupled with TD4's 850,000+ sold copies, made Test Drive the best selling racing franchise at the time, and Accolade wanted to take full advantage of this success.

Pitbull Strikes Again

A sequel to Test Drive: Off-Road was released around a year later, in 1998, on PC and PS1.

Time for Round #2 (Image credit: www.mobygames.com)

Time for Round #2 (Image credit: www.mobygames.com)

Unlike its predecessor, Test Drive: Off-Road 2 was developed by Pitbull Syndicate, and thus ran on a modified version of TD4's engine.

Similarly to TD:OR1, the car list of TD:OR2 comprised of several popular SUVs and off-road vehicles from the era, such as the Ford Explorer and the Jeep Cherokee. A total of 20 licensed vehicles was available, plus 4 unlicensed ones for a grand total of 24 playable vehicles, which had to be purchased with in-game cash, while some also have to be unlocked first. Unlike in TD:OR1, there was no damage model in TD:OR2.

The game came with 6 different tracks with reverse variants. Instead of being closed tracks, like in the previous game, this time they were point-to-point tracks. Only four tracks were available out of the box, the rest (including the reverse versions) had to be unlocked.

- (Video credit: World of Longplays)

Just two game modes were available:

• Single Race: The player can pick any car and track he/she likes and race

• World Tour: A total of six tournaments ('Classes'), each restricted to a certain class of vehicles (Hummer, Military, Safari, Truck, SUV and Open). Winning a Class unlocked a new track and earned the player money.

Bob Fitzgerald returned as the announcer in TD:OR2.

All in all, Test Drive Off-Road 2 is worth a test drive if only to occupy some time before something better hits the road, nothing more.

AllGame

The PS1 version of Test Drive: Off-Road 2 received mixed reviews, while the reviews for the PC version were mostly negative, criticizing the bland graphics (even with 3Dfx enabled), boring track design, clipping issues, uninspired gameplay, dull sound effects and wacky physics, a staple of Pitbull Syndicate's Test Drive games. The soundtrack, featuring songs from Sevendust, Gravity Kills, and Fear Factory, was also criticized, along with the lack of a two-player game mode.

Click Here to read AllGame's review of Test Drive: Off-Road 2

Click Here to read Computer Gaming World's review of Test Drive: Off-Road 2 (page 205)

Click Here to read GameSpot's review of Test Drive: Off-Road 2

Overall, Test Drive: Off-Road 2 was deemed worse than its predecessor in just about every way. The only real improvement was the increased draw distance, and that wasn't enough to save the game.

The Other Off-Road Games

In the following years, two more off-road themed Test Drive games would be released.

However, these two games weren't in any way related to the Test Drive series; They were simply sold under the Test Drive name in the US to help boost sales there.

Because of that, we'll only be taking a quick glance at these 'not-Test Drive' games for the moment. A more in-depth look will come at a later date.

a.k.a. Test Drive: Off-Road 3 (Image credit: glitchwave.com)

a.k.a. Test Drive: Off-Road 3 (Image credit: glitchwave.com)

4X4 World Trophy was released in 1999 on PC, PS1 and GBC. In the US, it was sold as Test Drive: Off-Road 3 instead.

The PC and PS1 versions were developed by Infogrames North America, who also published the game in the US, while the GBC version was developed by Xantera, who were also responsible for the GBC port of Test Drive 6 and the GBC-only game Test Drive 2001.

It wasn't very different from TD:OR2, but featured a bunch of welcome improvements.

From the creators of Midtown Madness, Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run (Image credit: www.covercentury.com)

From the creators of Midtown Madness, Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run (Image credit: www.covercentury.com)

Off-Road: Wide Open was developed by Angel Studios, the same studio responsible for the Midtown Madness, Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run series. In the US, it was known as Test Drive: Off-Road: Wide Open.

Released in 2001 on PS2 and Xbox, it was published by Infogrames.

As implied by the title, this game featured a relatively large open-world map that players could freely explore, something found in all of Angel Studios's racing games.

"Road to Solar Crown" will return next week with "Chapter 5: Not Test Drive". Stay tuned!

< Chapter 3: The Pitbull Era <

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