No nonsense is probably the best way to describe Off Road's presentation. From its matter-of-fact title to its just the right side of dour menu screens, this is to the point, blunt even. But that's what we've come to expect from the team that brought us Ford Racing, the track-based racer that offered the thrill of getting behind the wheel of such licensed Ford vehicles as the Capri and the Focus and seemed like the antithesis to the pimped up Midnight Clubs and Juiceds of the virtual racing scene. No glitz, no glamour – just straightforward racing.
For Off Road, as name suggests, the asphalt gives way to unforgiving desert, arctic and river bed terrain and the sleek, high performance cars have been replace by Ford's 4x4 range and licensed Land Rover vehicles. The idea is to produce an intense hard driving, suspension rattling rally style game. Unfortunately, the results are somewhat less dynamic.
In the game you'll find a Career Mode to centre your play time around. This enables you to win money from performing in numerous types of races, that can then be spent in the showroom on new vehicles, which will in turn help you to win more races.
It's hardly revolutionary, but the ease of which you can whip through the early challenges and add to the size of your garage massages your driving ego in such a way that you're keen to keep pushing on to unlock more cars.
Flattery will only get you so far, though, and soon you need some intensity from a driving game to keep you interested. And intensity is what Off Road lacks.
Several key factors ensure the races are incredibly dull. First, there are the tracks. Rather than ferociously pot-holed and pitted surfaces capable of snapping axles, you get tame freeways of different textured mush. You can guess that the green stuff is grass, beige bits are mud and the blue strips water mainly because that's what you'd expect to be there, rather than by the way it affects the handling significantly. The TV adverts assure us Land Rover's range of 4x4s can cope with any terrain and we'd argue that to make an interesting game based on these vehicles, constantly changing road conditions should have an effect on how they perform. Alas, that's not the case here.
Then there's the AI of the rival drivers, which comes across as dumb and overly aggressive. Rather than spend time hugging the racing line and looking to out-manoeuvre opponents, drivers simply try to lock wing mirrors in order to drag you back into the mire, without any thought to their own position.
In addition, the whole thing feels immensely dated, with the lead cars unsubtly assisted to make races artificially close.
There's been some attempt to inject purpose and variety with the different race types on offer and alongside the straightforward races are challenges – 12 in total – that have you picking up money, avoiding damage and so on. Unfortunately these just create additional frustration. Take the Damage challenge, where the brutal rival car AI seems more intent in relentlessly testing the strength of your fenders rather than taking part in any sort of race.
Lastly, there's the issue of disappointing graphics that combine those unconvincing textures with seemingly crinkle-cut vehicles.
The reason it's hard to be positive about Off Road is that even when it works and there are no gripes as such, it's still a horribly average experience, almost as though there's been a concerted effort to produce mediocrity. Yes, at £19.99 it's a budget game but that shouldn't be an excuse to create something that's only memorable when it irritates, especially when there's numerous quality driving games out there that can be picked up for less these days.
As such, it's difficult to see what type of gamer Off Road will appeal to, as even those attracted by the Ford and Land Rover licences will be disappointed to discover a lowly 18 vehicles to choose from. Essentially, only someone willing to lower their expectations to match the lowly ambitions of the whole project will step out of this vehicle feeling in any way satisfied.