4X4 Evolution Hands-On

Buy a truck, customize it, and kick up some mud in this off-road racing simulation.


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If you're the type of person who likes to go boggin' through swamps in your 4x4, you've probably been waiting a long time for a video game that even comes close to doing this sort of activity justice. Terminal Reality has decided to step up and deliver just what you've been waiting for with 4x4 Evolution. Eschewing the typical off-road formula of collecting power-ups and using the turbo button constantly, 4x4 Evolution gives you a simulation-style dirt racer with all the licensed vehicles you can handle.

If you've ever spent any significant amount of time in a rural area, chances are you've seen yahoos wearing baseball caps with slogans like "I'd rather push a Ford than drive a Chevy" emblazoned on the front. While these hats seem like a joke to you and I, you can be sure that the local yokel wearing it believes it with his or her heart and soul. For people like this, Terminal Reality has licensed 70 real-world SUVs from companies like Toyota, Nissan, Lexus, and yes, Ford and Chevy. Each truck handles differently and is affected by the terrain based upon its weight displacement and installed components.

Though there are many ways to play 4x4 Evolution, the mode that's most likely to get the heaviest workout is the career mode. You begin with $30,000, which you use to buy yourself a new mudder and some spare parts to upgrade it with. You enter races based upon your truck's specs, so if you have a certain engine size or drivetrain, some circuits are off-limits. As you place in events, you are awarded with cash that can be spent to upgrade your current truck or buy a brand-new one. Don't think for a minute that the truck upgrade is placed in the game for fluff - you may upgrade your truck's appearance, brakes, chassis, drivetrain, electronics, and engine in a multitude of ways until you have a true bog wrecker. You may also go online and race against other human opponents via SegaNet, which supports the Dreamcast, PC, and Mac versions of the game. If playing online isn't your thing, you can strap yourself in for some split-screen multiplayer racing for up to four players. There is also a time trial mode to help you shave seconds off your time and a quick race feature that gets you into the action fast.

Each of the 16 different tracks is massive and completely free roaming. The only requirement is that you go through numbered gates in the correct order. How you get there is up to you. You may swerve off the road and find a shortcut between some trees or wrecked cars, and at times you may find yourself way off course. Mastering shortcuts is the key to victory, as the computer racers rarely stay on the beaten path for too long. Once you begin to play, you'll discover that 4x4 Evolution is no arcade racer. While you don't have to constantly apply the brakes or downshift, barreling around turns with reckless abandon is a surefire way to miss a gate and lose the race. As you win races and upgrade your truck, the handling becomes more manageable, and where you finish depends more heavily upon your driving skills and course memorization.

4x4 Evolution is looking pretty good. The trucks are fairly detailed and there is an actual driver in the pilot's seat that can be seen during replays yanking the steering wheel about in a realistic manner. Despite the insanely large tracks, draw-in and object pop-up rarely occurs. There are random events taking place in the environments such as trains crisscrossing through the course and airplanes gliding overhead. The mud sloshing out of potholes and the dirt that gets kicked up look very convincing. The suspensions on the trucks react accurately to the terrain, and overall the physics engine in 4x4 Evolution seems very accurate. One major qualm is that the sense of speed just isn't there yet. This is caused, in part, by the debilitating frame rate that plagues the early build we received. This is despite the fact that just four trucks race at a time.

4x4 Evolution is shaping up to be the first off-road racer of its kind. The heavy simulation elements will appeal to both Budweiser-drinking good old boys and fans of deep racers in general. The online play through SegaNet pushes the replay value sky-high, and the option to upgrade your truck however you wish guarantees a different experience every time. Terminal Reality still has a few kinks to work out, like the fluctuating frame rate and the absolutely brutal AI, but the game still has some time left in the cooker, so hopefully these problems can be ironed out. GameSpot will have more on 4x4 Evolution as its release at the end of October closes in.

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