When Terminal Velocity's previous off-road racing game was first released at the launch of the Xbox, it offered many enhancements on the original 4x4 Evolution, including a deeper career mode and a good variety of environments and vehicles. But it was also rife with tiny problems, and in the end 4x4 EVO 2 was an unpolished game that didn't really convey the excitement of rugged off-road racing action. Now, Universal Interactive has brought 4x4 EVO 2 to the GameCube, and while this version does have a small number of new tracks and trucks, as well as a handful of sundry tweaks, it also has the same unimpressive graphics and inconsistent physics of its Xbox counterpart.
The foundation of 4x4 EVO 2 lies in its deep career mode. You'll start off the career mode with $100,000, which you can use to buy one of the dozens of licensed off-road vehicles from virtually every major car manufacturer around. If you've seen it on the road, chances are you'll be able to drive it here. Any cash left over from your initial purchase can be put toward aftermarket upgrades, some of which are simply cosmetic, but the majority of which will affect various aspects of your truck's performance. The amount of tuning you can do to your truck isn't quite on the same level as in the Gran Turismo series, but it's significant nonetheless.
Once you've adjusted your ride to your liking, you can participate in a variety of races against computer-controlled opponents for cash prizes, or you can participate in missions with objectives like delivering fresh supplies to a town cut off from the outside world by a devastating earthquake. These missions will require you to become intimately familiar with the game's sprawling environments in order to find a suitable route to your destination, and they represent some of the truest off-road action the game has to offer. Along with the career mode, 4x4 EVO 2 also has a quick race mode, a time trial mode, a free ride mode, and a head-to-head multiplayer mode. These are all decent distractions, but they seem more like byproducts of the career mode than anything else.
Despite the deep career mode and real-world vehicles, the actual gameplay in 4x4 EVO 2 is very straightforward and uncomplicated. Braking and acceleration are handled by the left and right shoulder buttons, while auxiliary functions like the emergency brake and the incredibly useful winch are assigned to various face buttons. In theory, this kind of control would be an excellent fit for the fast-and-loose style of gameplay usually associated with off-road racers. But in practice, the handling of the trucks is much too stiff, and though you'll drive on a variety of surfaces ranging from a granite mountainside to a sandy beach, the different types of turf unfortunately have little to no effect on how your truck drives. The game also suffers from some pretty questionable collision detection, which becomes apparent rather quickly, thanks to the game's pack-oriented computer AI. Trucks will bounce and stutter erratically when contact is made, and occasionally they will simply pass through each other altogether, as though they were made of thin air. It's also incredibly easy to get snagged on the corner of a rock or one of the other hazards that litter each course--a problem that the AI doesn't seem to have--which can make many of the races unnecessarily frustrating.
It's been almost a year since 4x4 EVO 2 first appeared on the Xbox, but it would appear that Terminal Velocity spent little of the time between these two releases polishing the graphics in the game. The dozens of different licensed trucks and SUVs in the game are all fair approximations of their real-world counterparts, but the textures applied to the models tend to look flat and dull, taking away from their otherwise authentic look. You can't see the effects of whatever damage your vehicles sustain, either. The game makes almost no use of any visual effects, with the exception of a subtle reflection effect on the trucks a remarkably bad rain effect. The most accomplished aspect of the visuals in 4x4 EVO 2 are its massive courses, which are still able to maintain a solid level of detail without abandoning a consistent frame rate or reasonable draw-in distance, though you'll occasionally encounter some pretty ugly environmental textures.
The sound in 4x4 EVO 2 is fairly minimal, but for what it's worth, it still does a decent job of conveying the off-road experience. The blaring sound of your engine tends to dominate the soundscape, but you'll also hear gravel being kicked up by your tires, and the sound of your truck tearing through thick brush is a nice touch as well. The music in 4x4 EVO 2 consists of nameless, disposable techno, but it's only really audible while on a menu screen.
It may be the first off-road racing game on the GameCube, but 4x4 EVO 2 is hardly representative of the best of what the genre has to offer, and it isn't nearly as good as the few other racing games available on the GameCube anyway. Fans of the original 4x4 Evolution will likely be disappointed by the game's plethora of problems, and gamers hoping for any real improvements on the Xbox version will be brutally rebuffed as well.