Off-road racing has recently become a very popular subgenre of PC driving games. The first Monster Truck Madness game from Microsoft proved that the PC-gaming community was receptive to the idea of monster cars driving into and over each other while negotiating the terrain and trying to cross the finish line. Although the Monster Truck series and other similar games have been successful in conveying certain aspects of the off-road experience, they have failed to truly deliver a sense of exploration. Instead, these games keep you on a direct route to a checkpoint or a finish line with little freedom to find alternate routes. Codemasters hopes to change all that with its upcoming off-road racer, Insane.
Developed by Hungary-based Invictus, Insane offers a wide array of features to complement the off-road racing experience. One of the more intriguing features is the jamboree mode where you must race to multiple checkpoints and place first as many times as possible in order to win the race. This may sound easy enough, but in fact, the jamboree mode requires a surprising degree of strategy. You must take into consideration the track you're racing on and what kind of topography it features, because you can and will do some serious damage to your off-road vehicle if you're not careful.
On one jamboree track, you start the race at the top of a steep hill, with the first checkpoint clearly visible off in the distance. Assuming you don't have a tremendous amount of off-road experience, your first instinct will be to drive straight for the checkpoint with total disregard for your positioning on the hill. However, this reckless strategy will usually result in your car tumbling uncontrollably down the hill. A tire could fly off, your steering abilities could be severely impaired, or your car could just flip over. Just about anything can happen to your car if you're not careful, but since this is an off-road monster car game, there will always be situations where you might have to risk damage to your car to win.
Insane includes a number of other modes that require the same line of thinking but with added twists. In keep the flag mode, a flag is placed near the starting line of a track and after the signal is given, you must quickly race to pick up the flag and drive to the first checkpoint. Strategy is also important here - you need to find safe routes to each checkpoint or risk serious damage to your car, which in turn could give your opponents an opportunity to seize the flag and continue with the race. Of course, if you lose the flag to an opposing car, your strategy may change entirely as you frantically race to regain the stolen item.
Insane also offers a more traditional off-road racing experience with its off-road race mode. Like Monster Truck Madness, you're given a number of checkpoints along a defined route; however, it's still possible to take advantage of Insane's enormous levels and take small shortcuts in between each checkpoint.
After honing your driving skills, you'll want to jump into the championship mode. Here you race through a tournament consisting of the other modes of play, winning points based on your performance in each of the three different modes. The competition gets a little tougher in championship mode, and you'll have to adjust your strategy to compensate. During jamboree races, you may even want to avoid racing toward some checkpoints if it looks like you're not going to make it there before another car does. The onscreen map quickly becomes a valuable tool because it will tell you the position of your car in relation to opposing cars and to which checkpoint you need to race.
Cars and Graphics
There are 20 different cars in Insane, ranging from small dune buggies to large 4x4s to enormous military vehicles. You can even customize certain aspects of these cars from the paint color to the finer details such as breaking, steering, and suspension, or you can select from three preset configurations. In the quick-race mode, you can select the track you want to drive on and the time of day you race. Though it might seem like just an added visual feature, the time of day can actually have a noticeable impact on your race. It's much easier to see certain objects during the day than it is at night, so you'll have to drive much more cautiously during night races even though your vehicle is equipped with headlights. The number of opponents and checkpoints in the quick race mode can also be altered.
Insane's visuals are impressive, with detailed cars and environments that look like they belong in an RPG rather than in an off-road racing game. Cars have a number of little details that add to the whole off-road driving experience, such as reflective windows, mud flaps that fly back and forth as you drive over the terrain, race damage, and an in-car driver who moves independently of the car. The driver model is surprisingly detailed, and you can actually see him shift gears and move around inside the car from the default camera view. Race damage can be clearly seen on a car especially when you're in one of the closer camera angles, and there are some smaller details like smashed taillights and pieces of the car's frame that scatter when your car collides with another object. Insane's environments look incredible with very few straight polygonal edges, which generally distort the smooth landscape. While a number of the tracks are rather sparse, in terms of structural detail, there are a few tracks with some nice details, such as small forests and enormous landmarks like lighthouses and pyramids.
Codemasters' Insane brings a number of new elements to the off-road racing subgenre. You're no longer confined within a particular route during a race, and now you must develop a strategy for each race that takes the landscape into account. Do you want to go straight for the checkpoint and risk serious damage to your car, or do you want to look for an alternate route and ensure that your car will make it to the end of the race unscathed? Add a number of different modes, customization options, detailed environments with an incredible view distance, and an online multiplayer mode that supports up to eight players, and Insane should be able to hold its own against the competition.