Test Drive: Off-Road is an acceptable entry in the suddenly crowded field of off-road racing games. While the actual racing can be quite fun, the game lacks the intensity that made games like Need for Speed and Wipeout XL thrilling. All the features of a great racing title are here in some form, but without edge-of-the-seat challenge, robbing the game of any long-term play value.
The vehicles in Test Drive: Off-Road are based on real 4x4s: the Jeep Wrangler, the Hummer, the Land Rover Defender 90, and a Chevy K1500 Z71 Truck. Six bonus vehicles grace the title: a monster truck, dune buggy, stock car, hot rod, mini cooper, and an off-road beetle. Whether or not the realistic details matter is a point of contention, but each vehicle has slight differences in handling and acceleration that you will notice. Gladly, there are no "suck" vehicles in the bunch - each plays well, and once each is mastered you'll be able to finish first with ease.
Three types of terrain make up the twelve courses in TDOR: dirt, sand, and snow. Although they all look different, you'll find that your truck handles roughly the same way from track to track. As you progress, the courses get more treacherous, pitting you against miles of rolling hills, jagged rocks, and even launch-pad jumps. You'll find your vehicle riding on two wheels, spinning out of control, or sliding on its roof more often than you'd probably like. If there's one major problem with the tracks, it's that it's far too easy to lose your way, miss a checkpoint, and fall right out of contention. Oddly enough, a good strategy for winning is to hang back and follow the leader (to keep you on course), then blow past him as the finish line comes into view. (Running second for most of the race beats getting lost in the trees).
Test Drive Off-Road's graphics are relatively strong. All the vehicles bear close resemblance to their real-life models and the textured terrain is quite detailed - even though its "drawn" as you progress. This "pop-up" dramatically reduces the game's speed (you won't feel like you're going as fast once you notice it). It would also be cool if the surroundings were interactive instead of stationary - for example, it would be nice if you could run down the wooden fences or trample some trees.
The game's soundtrack, by TVT Recording Artist Gravity Kills, is booming enough to shake your speakers. (Listening to the tune "Guilty" while racing has been a dream of mine for some time.) Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the sound effects - the truck engines sound like vacuum cleaners.
While the game seem to be appealing overall, the only real thrills are delivered the first time you play through the game. After completing the twelve courses (which takes a fairly short amount of time), you won't be hungry for more. Test Drive: Off-Road is a good first attempt, and hopefully Accolade will be able to improve on its basic concept and release an update next year.
(Editor's Note: The game also features a split-screen and linkable two-player mode. It's roughly what you would expect - head-to-head racing with no noticeable slowdown. While not a breakthrough, its nice to see the link cable feature utilized.)