4x4 Evolution Hands-On
After the game's initial release on the PC and its later release on the Dreamcast, Terminal Reality is porting this simulation-style off-road racer to the PlayStation 2, minus its addictive network mode.
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Ports aren't exactly common on PlayStation consoles. During the golden years of the PlayStation, most third-party games were developed for Sony's console first. If the game sold well enough, it might make it to the Nintendo 64 or, on rare occasions, to the Dreamcast. With 4x4 Evolution for the PlayStation 2, the roles are reversed, as it's a port of the PC version released last year. 4x4 Evolution is an excellent Dreamcast racer, thanks to the ability to build a truck and take it online. Since any sort of network play is absent in the PlayStation 2 version, 4x4 Evolution might be a more difficult sell on that console.
In contrast to the majority of off-road games to date, 4x4 Evolution is steeped in simulation elements. In the career mode, you begin with $30,000 to buy a truck and some parts upgrades. There are 70 licensed trucks available for purchase, but Chevies, Fords, Toyotas, and their ilk are the only rides in your price range from the start. After finding the right mudder, it's time to hit the circuits. The circuits are playable based on your truck's specs. Some will only let four-wheel-drive trucks enter, while others require a certain make or engine size. Before heading out to race, you can choose the tire cut based on the requirements of the terrain. The 15 tracks are identical to those from the Dreamcast and PC versions, and there are plenty of shortcuts and open areas to explore. 4x4 Evolution often forces you to leave the beaten path, as the computer-controlled vehicles meander off-course regularly, finding the quickest route. After completing each race, money for parts upgrades is awarded depending upon your finish.
In true simulation style, it's impossible to jump from one engine size to another without first installing prerequisite parts like a high-capacity fuel pump or a race exhaust. Even suspension upgrades require the initial purchase of other, smaller parts. Upgrades may be purchased for the suspension, engine, electronics, appearance, drivetrain, and chassis. As you acquire money and upgrade your truck, you may enter more difficult circuits, which have heftier purses. If you save enough cash, you can buy new, luxurious trucks like the Lexus LX 470. If you're too impatient for the career mode, the quick race mode allows you to choose from a plethora of both standard and upgraded trucks and any of the tracks to get racing right away. The time attack mode allows you to test the improvements made on your truck and race against course ghosts.
Until you upgrade your truck or save enough money to buy a new one, 4x4 Evolution is a slow game where the slightest mistake makes the difference between first and last place. Money isn't easy to come by, as most circuits consist of four or more races with a total purse of $20-30,000. No matter which place you come in, you are always awarded money. This can be nice when you're consistently bringing up the rear, but even if you manage to place first in every race, you're only taking home $15,000 at the most. Considering some of the parts can cost as much as an entire truck, building your truck into the bog wrecker of your dreams takes some time.
Fortunately, the upgrades are immediately noticeable, and if you're not careful, crafting your own machine can become an obsession. But this is where 4x4 Evolution on the PlayStation 2 falls short of the Dreamcast and PC versions. The most invigorating element of 4x4 Evolution for Dreamcast is taking your truck online to compete against the products of other players' desires. This just isn't an option in the PlayStation 2 version. The PS2 version also lacks Multitap support, so just two players can partake in a split-screen race. Helping to remedy things a bit, you can save your truck to a memory card and take it to a friend's house for some heated competition.
4x4 Evolution clearly displays the slight difference between the graphical prowess of the PlayStation 2 and the Dreamcast. The visual upgrade is minimal but noticeable. The truck models do not appear to be beefed up with extra polygons, but the textures wrapped around them are much clearer. The various dirt textures are detailed enough to ascertain whether you're driving through mud, soft dirt, or packed clay. There is no draw-in whatsoever, and if you choose the "chase far" camera angle, you can literally see a mile of terrain with no slowdown. There are nice details, such as a driver who turns the wheel and reacts to collisions in real-time and construction equipment that always seems to find its way onto the road. Dirt particles get kicked up, and convincing clouds of dust are left in the wake of the vehicles. You can also set the time of day and weather conditions. Overall, the PlayStation 2 version of 4x4 Evolution is the best looking of the bunch. The overall visual clarity is impressive, but when placed side-by-side with the Dreamcast version, there isn't a lot of disparity.
On the sound front, 4x4 Evolution sports some mediocre electronica and some awesome sound effects. The tire grip can easily be determined by the sound of the engine, and mud kicking up can be heard splattering on surrounding vehicles. This can sometimes alert you to someone breathing down your tailpipe. The sound of the chassis smashing down after jumps is also amazingly accurate, and swapping paint with another truck emits believable scraping sounds.
4x4 Evolution is shaping up to be a solid PlayStation 2 racer. The graphics are sharp and detailed, the gameplay suits both sim and arcade fans, and there are enough trucks and customizable parts to make playing the game different every time. While it's disappointing that the multiplayer component is somewhat limited, the depth of the career mode guarantees long-term enjoyment. The alpha version of 4x4 Evolution we received is nearly complete, so it should have no problem making its Q1 release date. We'll have more on 4x4 Evolution for the PlayStation 2 when we receive the beta.