E3 2001 Hands-onTest Drive Off-Road Wide Open

Infogrames brings its Smuggler's Run-reminiscent racer, Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open, to E3.

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Infogrames' Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open for the PS2 is shaping up wonderfully, but game players looking for a realistic off-roading experience may be disappointed. The game, developed by Angel Studios, may bear the Test Drive name, but in reality, it's more of an evolution of Rockstar/Angel's previous PS2 racing title, Smuggler's Run.

Smuggler's Run fans and lovers of bouncy off-roading games are going to love Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open. After playing the game here at E3, it's clear that the emphasis is definitely on ease of use. After choosing from a selection of monster trucks, Jeeps, and dune buggies, we took a huge monster truck out onto a hilly jungle course for some human vs. CPU racing. The goal of the game is to reach a series of checkpoints before your opponents--in any order you like. Other than picking a vehicle, all you must do is jam the accelerator button and tear off into the race.

The handling is bouncy, a fact that Smuggler's Run owners may enjoy. When plowing into palm trees and buildings, the monster truck we were driving would usually ricochet backward, roll over, or climb up the impeding structure. Sometimes a combination of all three would occur. The real fun, though, came about when, in a pack of vehicles, the monster truck would climb over or toss aside smaller vehicles like they were chord wood. About the only drawback to the monster truck is that it turns poorly, which highlights another feature of the game: differing vehicular abilities. Smaller vehicles are faster and jump higher, while larger vehicles stick to the road and don't roll over as easily. In many ways, the game feels like a goal-based Crazy Taxi, a description that applies even more in this case than it did with Smuggler's Run.

Wide Open also bears a striking visual similarity to Smuggler's Run. The mountain and jungle environments are excessively hilly and contain a thick smattering of huts, shanties, cabins, trees, bushes, and other natural obstacles. In motion, the game seemed a bit blurry at times, mostly due to the texture limitations of the system itself, but the frame rate was as smooth as glass. The two major enhancements Wide Open seems to have over similar titles on the PS2 are its complex vehicle models and specific environmental objects. The game's 15 buggies, trucks, and Jeeps really look as metallic and dirty as they would in real life. Peering through the mud-stained back window, you can actually see your driver bouncing around in the cab. On the course itself, gigantic crashing waterfalls and swaying trees can really distract a person with their lifelike movements--a fact that became clear to me when we became mesmerized by a waterfall, and then suddenly found ourselves plummeting down a hillside.

Thankfully, while the game is based on checkpoint-style racing, the course itself is nonlinear and free-roaming. Thus, although we drove a 10-ton monster truck down a hill, we eventually recovered and drove back into the checkpoint area. As an added bonus, we avoided being stuck with last place by driving right over an unsuspecting Jeep en route.

Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open for the PS2 is scheduled for release at the end of August 2001.

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