You wait years for a decent online racing game to come along, and then two turn up in the same month. However, where Insane has been designed as an all-out arcade driver, 4x4 Evolution is a curious mix of arcade and simulation.
There's no denying the fact that you can fire the game up and win races straight away. But if you want to get anywhere in Career mode, or take on the fat Americans and their custom trucks online, you'll need to win cash, upgrade, install new parts and generally get down and dirty under the bonnet.
Thankfully, there is a pay-off because like Insane, 4x4 plays superbly over a standard 56K modem. Vehicles occasionally tangle and shift positions in impossible ways, but overall you can't have any complaints about the way the game handles online multiplayer action. And it gets better. Although this is a moot point, you can play online with Mac and Dreamcast users as well. At the time of this review the console version hadn't been released and so I didn't get the pleasure of beating console kids at their own game, but I did have the satisfaction of beating the solitary Mac user that I found.
Getting online and finding an opponent is also extremely easy thanks to a built-in GameSpy browser, and although there weren't actually that many off-roaders online over the course of the week I spent reviewing this game, it's bound to pick up after the full release.
It's A Drag
But the real gripe I've got with the game counts in both online and offline mode. The simulation aspect and the accuracy of the physics model actually detract from the racing. Most of the vehicles you get to control are a pain to manoeuvre and the early inexpensive vehicles feel extremely sluggish. Go online and the winner of the race is going to be the person who's spent the most on his custom truck. Newbies are going to find it really hard to get anywhere at first.
There are other problems as well. Races consist of a number of different checkpoints - you have to go through all of these in order - and hundreds of immovable objects. Hit one of these and, by the time you've reversed and moved around, you're as good as out of the race. Also, the big selling point that you can race anywhere only actually works if you know the tracks off by heart. Although you can leave the track and off-road at any point, there are only a couple of points in each race where it's actually beneficial to do it. This also leads to scenarios where dumb Americans actually think it's funny to challenge you to an online race before careering off the track never to be seen again.
There's also no real sense of speed and oddly, for a game as rugged as 4x4, the racing experience looks, plays and sounds particularly muted. Rather like Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon, the game lacks the one important ingredient, atmosphere. A wheel helps to pull you in, but unresponsive vehicles and the simulation aspect hinder the performance of an otherwise competent drive.
Compare it to Insane, with its weight of different game types, the hysterical way your car takes physical damage and then falls apart, and 4x4 is left looking too po-faced for its own good.
Download 4x4 Evolution
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode