If fast cars, intense competition, and thrilling bumper-to-bumper action are your idea of a rollicking good time, Cabela's 4x4 Off-Road Adventure 3 might not be for you. In fact, the game actually penalizes speed. In the tradition of its predecessors, including last year's 4x4 Off-Road Adventure 2, the game requires players to cautiously guide their various 4x4 vehicles over terrain so craggy and unfriendly that they may as well be negotiating the rocky surface of the planet Mars. Yet even though the latest edition of 4x4 Off-Road Adventure makes improvements to the previous game, it is simply too quirky, too slow-paced, and too repetitious to be enjoyable for most racing fans.
The game's general concept is unique and outwardly quite appealing. You take the wheel of one of several 4x4 vehicles and try to conquer a variety of very different driving-related challenges. One moment you're testing your skill over a primitive obstacle course, and the next you're searching for a lost child or helping another driver repair his vehicle. All the while, you're up against a terrain model so challenging that the slightest wrong move could send you hurtling end-over-end down a the face of a cliff or into the nearest body of water. It doesn't take long to see that Off-Road 3 isn't all it's cracked up to be. Despite its seeming variety, the game is really a series of repetitive and completely solo forays that are made difficult by the game's annoyingly brittle vehicles, cumbersome menu system, and occasionally faulty gameplay. At times, playing Off-Road 3 can seem more like work than entertainment.
The troubles begin when you first load the game and realize you don't know what you're supposed to do. The menu interfaces are pretty enough and far more sophisticated than those of the previous game--with lots of nifty graphics and a convincing 3D garage environment--but they provide little instruction. The game's documentation offers plenty of specific on-course details, but it never really walks you through the critical preparation procedures. It's easy to see you have a "drive" option, a "driver's club" option, and several other choices, but you don't why you should select one over another--in fact, it isn't even clear how to do elementary things like save your game.
In 4x4 Off-Road Adventure 3, game designer Clever's Software Development has constructed a gameplay model that is more complex than the one featured in the previous game. The new game offers a series of "quests" that range from simple navigational tests to obstacle courses, checkpoint-to-checkpoint stints, search-and-rescue missions, and even a few instances where you'll exit your truck to walk about and shoot at various targets. Furthermore, each individual environment is linked with the others to form an impressively large world that delivers a real sense of continuity. However, if you simply follow the compass or map indicators to your next goal, you're safe. It doesn't really matter whether you're picking up a hitchhiker or changing someone's flat tire--the basic mechanics are basically the same. You merely drive from one spot to another, guided by directional indicators, and then wait for the game to give the OK to move on. How you do it and how fast you do it does not seem to matter.
The only serious errors you can make while behind the wheel are driving too quickly or not paying enough attention to the road. As mentioned, the game's landscape is downright nasty, filled with harsh bumps, sudden dips, and unimaginably steep grades, so driving carelessly can damage or even upend your realistically fragile vehicle. However, Off-Road 3's physics engine is so frustratingly inconsistent that it sometimes lets you scoot up and over a seemingly impassable grade, but then slams you viciously onto your roof for simply driving too quickly over a bit of bumpy road. Even when driving at a snail's pace, your vehicle will quickly become damaged, so you'll frequently be seeking out the nearest garage to make repairs. The game does offer an impressively intricate garage mode that lets you replace parts, install upgrades, and purchase new vehicles, but you'll visit it far too often.
The only way to succeed in Off-Road 3 is to maintain a bare minimum speed and exercise a ridiculous amount of caution when navigating even relatively easy stretches of road. As a result, the game ends up seeming much more like a laborious job than a fun-filled game. And the game's interface makes matters worse: If you end up lodged in cracks and crevices, you'll need to use the "winch me out" command to get yourself out--but in order to access this option, you'll need to cycle through two menu screens. On missions in which you need to help repair another vehicle, you'll need to deal with a series of tedious mouse clicks, and you'll also have to wait for each damaged part to be repaired. And, for whatever reason, Off-Road 3 displays congratulatory and instructional messages onscreen at various points in the game, causing the game to pause briefly. Often, these messages will appear while you're trying to negotiate a difficult terrain obstacle, throwing off your timing. It also doesn't help that the game doesn't always register successfully completed missions--sometimes you'll have to approach a certain checkpoint several times at different speeds and from different angles just to move on to the next one.
Graphically, Off-Road 3 is miles ahead of its predecessors. The new game has a series of believable environments that feature translucent water, pliable foliage, moveable objects, roaring waterfalls, and soaring eagles. The inevitable degradation of your truck is particularly impressive. In fact, the entire vehicle appears to be transformable, from the top of its roof to its doors, windows, and tires. You'll often find yourself motoring along with a missing door, a cracked or shattered windshield, a crunched bumper or hood, a smoking motor, or a flattened tire.
Moreover, the game offers a wealth of visual options and adjustments. Whereas the previous game provided only the most basic modifications, Off-Road 3 lets you specify such detailed minutiae as grass distance and the degree of shadowing. The game's audio is adjustable too, although you'll want to keep these levels as high as possible in order to hear all the excellent audio effects. From the calls of nearby birds and the howls of awakened wolves to the crunch of sand and the rattle of your undercarriage, Off-Road 3's sound is quite impressive.
You might find Cabela's 4x4 Off-Road Adventure 3 intriguing if you're looking for extremely slow, methodical exploratory driving and if you have no desire to battle side by side with other drivers. The new game certainly looks and sounds better than its predecessor, but it may not appeal to fans of the high-speed races in more-traditional driving games.