Because sport utility vehicles are becoming more popular on the streets, it makes sense that Infogrames is trying to capitalize on its popularity with a game that lets you drive some of the coolest SUVs out there on real off-road tracks. Most SUV owners haven't even driven on bumpy roads; it'd be nice to see how their cars might actually react in extreme road conditions, such as those in this game. Unfortunately, Test Drive: Off-Road 3 demanded a lot more attention to detail than its developers actually invested.
The gameplay itself is as simple as any other arcade-style driving game: Choose between manual and automatic transmission and drive your car as fast as you can around a variety of courses. There are two modes of play: a world-circuit mode that lets you advance through sets of tracks and an arcade mode that lets you race on a single track at a time. Test Drive: Off-Road 3 has ten courses, from a wild race up and down the Canadian Rockies, to a trek through the lush landscapes of the Yucatan, to a sprint through the snowed-in streets of New York City. The concepts for the tracks are great, and some of them are a lot of fun, including the aforementioned Rockies and the course around the top of Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, there are several glitches in the gameplay that weaken the experience. These include races where you start behind an obstacle, tracks with an incredibly annoying design that makes them no fun at all, and the computer racers' artificial intelligence, or lack thereof.
While the graphics are generally acceptable, they break up in a lot of places, and there is considerable distance fill-in on some of the more complex tracks. The polygon count is also pretty low, and the software-rendered mode of the game doesn't look drastically different from the accelerated version. In addition, during the countdown to some races, the camera will clip through an obstacle, and you'll see all of the underlying polygons that exist behind that object, which is a pretty ugly mess. At least the cars themselves are modeled well, although they cannot be damaged at all. Even a 200-foot drop won't make the slightest bit of a difference to your vehicle, which is disappointing.
Test Drive: Off-Road 3's sound doesn't really add a lot to the game. Typical engine rumblings, skidding sounds, and other basic noises are present, but when you're driving through mud or snow, you'll only hear an odd sloshing noise that sounds nothing like you'd expect. Some of the other sound effects are just as mysterious or nonexistent. Bands like Blink 182 and Incubus provide the soundtrack, and while their songs occasionally mesh with the gameplay, you'll likely wish you could listen to your own choice of music.
However, all this is not to say that the game itself isn't fun. The majority of its flaws are minor, so if you can get past them, you won't mind playing. The world-circuit mode progresses as you complete each group of tracks; you earn money to buy new cars and modifications, and you also get access to new courses and new vehicles. Some of the more advanced cars like the Hummer have impressive handling and can really scream down the tracks, so the game can get even more enjoyable as you progress through it. There are also a few hidden cars that are only accessible in the arcade mode, such as an ambulance and some military vehicles.
Unfortunately, there are also some annoying issues in the way various cars perform. Each vehicle's statistics screen shows its handling, top speed, acceleration, and other characteristics. However, this screen neglects to mention the weight of that particular vehicle, which can make a massive difference in the way it handles. A light car is likely to careen out of control over a jump, even if it has a good handling rating. Facts like these should be indicated somewhere in the game, but don't ever seem to be addressed.
Test Drive: Off-Road 3 is a fun game that has some high points. However, most of the fun is overshadowed by the game's many minor problems. Such problems won't dissuade you from playing the game if you already own it but should dissuade you from owning it if you do not.