All of 4x4 EVO 2's small problems pile up to make playing the game as much fun as blowing a shock in a knee-deep mud bog.
When the original 4x4 Evolution was released for the Dreamcast it was a refreshing change for off-roading games and earned the distinction of being the dirt-bound equivalent of Gran Turismo. It was then ported to the PlayStation 2 with limited upgrades, and unbeknownst to most, so began the downward spiral of the series. 4x4 EVO 2 for the Xbox is the sequel to the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 games, and while it takes one small step forward, it ultimately stumbles back several paces as well.
Thanks to its extremely deep career mode, plethora of licensed trucks, and cache of parts to use for upgrades, the original 4x4 Evolution established itself as the off-road simulation to beat. 4x4 EVO 2 includes all these features as well as some new additions. There are more than 100 licensed trucks from Toyota, Chevy, Ford, Lexus, Mitsubishi, and more. Each truck has a specific lot of parts that can be used to upgrade it based upon its stock equipment. Building your mud monster is a trying process because you must install several prerequisite parts before making massive upgrades to performance. In past installments of the franchise, winning money for parts was a trying process that required several wins just to improve something as simple as the carburetor. While you still begin with just $30,000 to buy a truck and hit the circuit, gaining money for upgrades has been made easier by the addition of the mission mode. The mission mode rewards you with cash for accomplishing specific directives such as running supplies into earthquake-ravaged villages, finding fossils hidden along lakes, or for reaching the end of an uphill obstacle course. It's now much easier to earn enough money to buy an entirely new truck or to turn your current truck into a bogging machine.
As you begin to tackle the racing portion of the game, you realize the addition of the mission mode is a necessity. The ill-conceived track design makes it virtually impossible to even finish the first race without upgrading your truck with a winch. Without the winch, you can expect to get caught on objects and not be able to get off of them, or get stuck completely underwater with no way to escape. Even on the first track there's a jump that's impossible to clear with your $30,000 truck. By the time the computer-controlled riders pile on top of it, you can guarantee you'll end up stuck in the mud. It can make the game seem like it's full of bugs, but it's really a matter of playing the mission mode to obtain money for upgrading your truck. Even when your truck is upgraded there are several places on each track where it can bottom out or get cased, and you'll have to reset the game. Once your truck is fitted with some new parts, the problems are remedied a bit, but there's no excuse for not being able to finish the first race with a stock truck. You also have the option of joining racing teams if they become interested in you. However, once you choose a team you cannot change the make of the truck you're driving. The system used to impress prospective teams is also flawed. Instead of basing team interest upon your final finish, it's controlled by which position you complete each lap in. It can be frustrating to finish in first only for teams to turn their noses up at you because you raced with the pack the first two laps.
There are plenty of gameplay modes included in 4x4 EVO 2 for those who actually enjoy the racing. In addition to the career mode there's also a four-player quick race option for those who like to jump right to it, a time attack mode that lets you race against ghosts depicting your best run, and a free roam mode that lets you learn each of the game's 30 tracks. While improving your truck is every bit as deep as tuning a car in Gran Turismo, actually driving the trucks is far more simple. While there are two different brakes to be used, neither gets much action. You must have the accelerator floored the entire time if you want to compete, so using the brakes is not an option. The right trigger is used for the gas, and switching gears is accomplished with the directional pad. The moronic computer AI will get stuck on obstacles, and other trucks are more than happy to pile on. It helps in the early going when you need all the aid you can get to place, but seeing four trucks lined up behind each other while stuck on a pole or tree tends to detract from the experience a bit. The computer follows a predetermined path, so if you get in its way, expect to be unceremoniously knocked off course.