The third title in the ever disappointing Test Drive Off-Road line is a massive improvement over its two unfortunate predecessor. That doesn't, however, make it worth so much as a second glance. Though the somehow-venerable series continues to strive toward competing against Microsoft's infinitely superior Monster Truck Madness line, Test Drive Off-Road 3 doesn't give the giant anything to worry about.
That said, TDOR3 is a tall step up over the first two TDOR games. The most obvious improvement lies in the graphics engine, which is brand new and doesn't look half-bad -- compared to games that came out a year before (1998). The officially licensed, testosterone-injected vehicles look fine, even if they are a little light on the polygon count. Tracks and locales are visually pleasing except for some sprite-based obstacles that stand out on the otherwise-3D landscape and call to mind the horrors of TDOR titles past. Worse, the game trudges along at a jarringly choppy frame rate even on a powerful PC, and it doesn't offer sufficient graphic options to compensate.
In fact, the game is short of options all around. The bare bones menu interface feels like a placeholder awaiting the final treatment. Audio and graphics menus are limited to three and two options each and the only modes of play available are single-race and career mode. That's right, multi-player is notably absent. More on that later.
The list of vehicles is certainly impressive, including 4x4 monsters ranging from such common workhorses as Ford, Nissan, Chevy, Subaru and Dodge pickups and SUVs to more exciting and exotic off-roadsters like the Chenworth, DV1-V buggy and, yes, the mighty Hummer.
The tracks themselves are the high point of the game. They're etched into the rugged mountainsides and sloppy swamps that pickup truck-advertisers dream about. Races ensue over mountains, along the sides of rocky cliffs, through dense forests and snow covered hills and other places unreceptive to anything but the most determined four-wheel-drive vehicles.
So what's wrong with this title? Besides the smarmy graphics engine, Test Drive Off-Road 3 can be defined by all the things it lacks. The developers chose to ignore important technologies and omit de-facto features that have come to be expected in every title.
There's no sign of 3D audio support, for example. Force feedback is totally ignored, which is shocking considering the rough and tumble nature of the gameplay. Totally unforgivable is the mysterious omission of multi-player support that no racing game should ever be without. TDOR3 won't acknowledge LANs, modems or even the Internet, so the only opponents players will ever face are AI driven. Even a split-screen mode, available on the Playstation version and advertised on the official web site, is absent.
Beyond all that, the worst thing about TDOR3 is the muted feel of the game. Despite the excellent terrain and the muscular vehicles, it just doesn't capture the ambiance of off-road racing. Collisions with obstacles and vehicles don't have any punch. The trucks never show any sign of damage whether it be depreciated performance or crumpled fenders; they don't even get muddy.
Other, less notable creature comforts are also lacking. For example, the cockpit view doesn't have a dashboard or even a rear view mirror. Turning on the headlights illuminates everything around the vehicle; there aren't any discernable beams (you can't even see any headlight effect in the cockpit view). The dust kicked up by rear tires is clump-like and unrealistic. And so on. If God is in the details, this is one unholy game.
Everything about this title smacks of greed and laziness. Nevertheless, Test Drive Off-Road 3 shows the barest hint of promise for the series. If the developers choose to put a little time and thought into the inevitable follow-up, rather than try to get it out the door as quickly as possible, there may be life in the series yet.
Graphics: Though the 3D engine is vast improved compared to the first two TDOR titles, it's anything but state of the art.
Sound: Droning engine noise and dull alterna-pop tracks shouldn't take the place of solid, 3D audio.
Enjoyment: How can off-road racing be this dull?
Replay Value: There are secret tracks and vehicles to unlock, if you have the patience.
People who downloaded Test Drive: Off-Road 3 have also downloaded:
Test Drive 6, Test Drive 4, Test Drive 5, Test Drive, Test Drive: Off-Road 2, Test Drive: Off-Road, Test Drive 3: The Passion, Le Mans 24 Hours (a.k.a. Test Drive Le Mans)
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