There must be a large segment of racing game fans out there who like to race dirty (as in "the dirt" dirty), because Pitbull Syndicate and Accolade are back with Test Drive Off-Road 2, the sequel to last year's mudslinging racer.
In Off-Road 2, you can choose from 20 rough-ridin' vehicles to mow your way through the Rockies with. You can select from the game-exclusive Humvee, a Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Ram, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and more. However, some of these trucks are only available after you've won certain races, so you've got to choose carefully from the outset which truck best suits your driving style, if you want to advance.
Spread out over six different real-world localities are 12 different tracks. The tracks contain all sorts of natural hazards like snowdrifts, sand, trees, mud pits, and boulders, all of which put your driving aptitude to the test at just about every turn.
While you are able to try a limited selection of single races, the real challenge lies in the world tour mode. The world tour mode is divided into five classes: Hummer, Safari, SUV, Truck, and Military. You are only able to use that specific type of vehicle in each class (makes sense, right?), essentially forcing you to learn the ins and outs of each vehicular category. By beating each of these classes in either first, second or third place, you'll earn points. After you've earned enough points, you'll unlock extra tracks. Ultimately, you'll unlock the Open class, which is the final level before you beat the game. Thankfully, with each successful victory you'll be able to use the credits you've earned towards purchasing better vehicles.
Surprisingly enough, Test Drive Off-Road 2 winds up being a better-playing racing game than Test Drive 5. The vehicles in Off-Road handle considerably better than you'd think, given the often dodgy characteristics of the tracks themselves. Control is bettered by using the Dual Shock analog pads, but you may want to turn off the rumble action, since it seems fairly indiscriminate, lacks subtlety, and gets annoying quickly. Graphically, the game holds up pretty well, with nice truck models and decent (if sprawling) track design. The frame rate stays at a nice clip and never gets too bogged down despite the presence of three to five other cars onscreen at the same time. The music is negligible, despite the inclusion of tracks by bands like Gravity Kills and Fear Factory, and the sound effects are OK but nothing great.
Basically, the game is pretty good, but the most surprising exclusion in the game is the lack of a two-player mode. You'd think that this sort of thing would be automatic at this point, but it's not in there. That means all you dirt devils out there will be riding solo, whether you like it or not. So, before you go and blow your hard-earned money on this decent little game, try renting it first.