4x4 Evolution Preview

4x4 Evolution was created by the makers of the Monster Truck Madness series, and features dozens of real-world trucks and SUVs.

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4x4 Evolution is Terminal Reality's third off-road racing game, which follows in the footsteps of the popular Monster Truck Madness and its sequel. 4x4 Evolution is aptly titled, as it is indeed an evolution of the Monster Truck series, and as expected, it offers better graphics, more tracks, and more off-road vehicles. 4x4 Evolution was announced by Gathering of Developers last March and was publicly shown for the first time this year at the E3 trade show in Los Angeles. GameSpot recently received a version of the game, which, according to G.O.D., is about one month away from reaching beta status and still needs a solid four months of development before completion. Regardless, the game seems nearly complete already, as it features a number of playable trucks and three finished tracks.

For an added sense of realism, Terminal Reality has pursued official manufacturer licenses for the vehicles in 4x4 Evolution. To date, Terminal Reality has only announced deals with Toyota, Nissan, and Lexus. However, since more than 50 trucks and SUVs are planned to be included in the game, it's safe to anticipate vehicles from Infiniti, Honda, and Isuzu, as well as several American manufacturers like Ford and Chevy. Yet because these deals are currently under negotiation, Terminal Reality won't confirm any such expectations until the game ships.

There are certain disadvantages to the game having licensed vehicles, however. Even though 4x4 Evolution will include actual SUVs and trucks, the assorted vehicles won't display any visible damage effects whatsoever as you put them through various trials. In fact, 4x4 Evolution won't have any damage modeling at all. You'll be able to careen off the side of a mountain or crash your truck headlong into a boulder without having to worry about so much as scratching the vehicle. While some might feel that a racing game without any damage modeling would be missing a crucial element, the intent of 4x4 Evolution isn't to be an accurate driving simulation. Instead, the developers at Terminal Reality have designed the game's physics model and tracks to make 4x4 Evolution a game that's easy to get into and lots of fun to play for short spurts and extended lengths of time alike, much like Microsoft's Motocross Madness 2.

In fact, it's easy to compare 4x4 Evolution to Motocross Madness 2. Both games have a lenient physics engine that practically makes it seem as if you're driving on the moon. For example, in 4x4 Evolution you'll be able to launch a one-ton truck into the air by driving up a steep face at around 25mph. At slower speeds and on flat surfaces, this effect isn't noticeable, but once the terrain gets a little rough, it'll seem like your truck is spending more time in the air than on the ground. The graphics of both games also share a certain resemblance. 4x4 Evolution's landscape lacks any discernable polygon edges whatsoever, and instead, the terrain is rendered smoothly while still managing to retain a high level of ground detail.

The trucks contain the same high level of detail found throughout the rest of the game. Each is modeled using an extremely high number of polygons, and only uses a hint of environment mapping to show enough glare on the surface of the vehicles without overdoing it. Truck enthusiasts will appreciate the game's visual splendor, as everything from the placement of the vehicles' badges to their paint jobs is accurately represented. Even players without a specific knowledge of cars will be able to recognize these trucks as the ones they see on the road every day. The manner in which these trucks and SUVs interact with their surroundings is also presented in a realistic manner. Vehicles will spin their tires and kick up dirt and pieces of rock as they accelerate. The trucks also leave their distinct tire tracks emblazoned on the ground as they make their way around each track.

Controlling the vehicles in 4x4 Evolution is simple. In the version we've been playing, the controls are mapped to the keypad. Up accelerates, the horizontal arrows steer, and down brakes (and then switches to reverse when your ride comes to a stop). Terminal Reality will include support for all types of joysticks and wheels, including force feedback, before the game's release.

Terminal Reality plans to include 16 courses in the final version of 4x4 Evolution. Although we've only played three of these - the junkyard, the short airbase, and Arizona - it's already clear what driving on each course will entail. The levels in 4x4 Evolution are littered with objects that can be used either to your advantage or disadvantage. For instance, the junkyard map has a handful of tractors and bulldozers going about their business during each race. At times, their paths will intersect yours, which often results in lost time. But with some deft maneuvers you can knock one of your opponents into these moving obstacles and give yourself the upper hand. In addition, every map has a number of secrets and shortcuts. These secrets, such as ghost towns in the middle of the desert, won't help you in the racing events; in fact, finding them will require so much time and effort that your opponents will have crossed the finish line long before you've uncovered one of these areas. On the other hand, the shortcuts are designed specifically to shave a few valuable seconds off each lap time. But because they're harder to navigate than the actual course, the shortcuts could end up costing you time if you're not careful.

4x4 Evolution will require a Pentium 166MHz MMX processor and a 3D accelerator with at least 4MB of memory. However, these are the minimum requirements, so you'll want to play it on a significantly more powerful system for an optimal experience. The PC version of the game will ship at the same time as Mac and Dreamcast versions of 4x4 Evolution. This is more than just a happy coincidence - all three versions will be completely compatible with each other for online play, which means console, Mac, and Windows gamers can finally go toe-to-toe (to toe) with one another and see which platform breeds the best players.

From playing the version we received, it's clear that 4x4 Evolution is Terminal Reality's most ambitious racing game to date, and it'll be sure to please Monster Truck Madness fans and off-road car enthusiasts alike when it's released in September.

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