While it's not the Dreamcast's best racer, 4x4 Evolution offers an adequate challenge, rewarding gameplay, and the ability to build your own truck and take it online for some action.
Back when the Dreamcast was just a few nice screenshots and a funny name, pessimists were warning prospective buyers that it would eventually become a dumping ground for lazy PC game developers. So far this hasn't happened, and if 4x4 Evolution is an example of what those pessimists were warning us about, then the world needs more lazy PC game developers. 4x4 Evolution for the Dreamcast straddles the line between simulation and arcade, bringing the best of both worlds along for the ride.
4x4 Evolution's gameplay is lost somewhere in the limbo between San Francisco Rush and Gran Turismo. While it strives for the complexity of a sim with vehicles that may be tweaked and upgraded, the physics engine relates more directly to the arcade side of things. There are 70 licensed trucks to choose from, so finding one that suits your taste isn't difficult. You begin the game with a middle of the line truck like a Nissan Pathfinder or a Chevy Blazer, but eventually you may upgrade to a Lexus or some other extravagant vehicle you wouldn't be caught dead driving off-road.
The majority of gameplay time is spent in the career mode. You begin with $30,000 to buy a new truck and some upgrades. Right off the bat you can buy parts to improve the suspension, engine, electronics, appearance, chassis, and drivetrain. Entering races is based upon what type of truck is chosen and what components are installed. Some circuits won't allow modified engines, while others require a stock suspension. Patience pays off in 4x4 Evolution. When you first start out, the races seem slow and calculated, as the stock trucks handle like they have pudding for tires. As you acquire the spoils of victory and buy new parts, the handling becomes tame and the speed of the game picks up. Accumulating money takes some perseverance, as even when you take first place you must share the winnings with the other drivers. Considering each circuit is only worth $20,000-$30,000, it's rare to garner more than $15,000 per circuit. The parts don't come cheap, either. In many cases you have to purchase prerequisite parts before jumping up to the high-performance pieces. Buying three or four engine upgrades just to have the option to spend $10,000 on the final upgrade may turn off those looking for quick satisfaction. If you stick with it, though, each part becomes a cherished addition to your mechanical masterpiece, and winning races becomes much easier and more enjoyable.
The real motivation to build a winning truck is 4x4 Evolution's four-player online play. Before finishing the first online lap, it becomes obvious that there is a lot of work to be done. PC players play on the same servers as Dreamcast players, and some of these dudes have some fast machines. There are some trucks online that must have taken months of playing to build. Getting whupped online is excellent motivation to go back into the career mode to build up some more cash and buy some upgrades. Of all the online Dreamcast games out there, 4x4 Evolution suffers from the fewest latency-based problems. Playing on a local server helps, and there aren't as many servers across the nation as you would like, but 4x4 Evolution's online play is still solid. For those who have no use for the online component, there is a split-screen multiplayer mode for up to four players that buzzes along nicely.