I guess most will have two questions that are probably racing through their minds as they read the title of this review. One, who the hell is Jeremy McGrath and two, what has he got to do with off road racing?
So let’s just put those to bed before we begin. Jeremy McGrath is a former super/motocross world champion who had his heyday in the 90’s riding for Honda. Think of him as the Tony Hawk of off-road motor bike racing and you can’t go far wrong.
But surprisingly there isn’t a motorbike in sight; rally cars, buggies and trucks, but no bikes. Not a one. So why is ‘The King of Supercross’ endorsing a racing game that has nothing to do with the sport that made him famous? After a little digging, (thank you Wikipedia) I found out that McGrath has started racing off road trucks as part of the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series.
Within the game itself McGrath’s presence is minimal and a little weird, acting simultaneously as both your navigator and your biggest rival. During the games loading screens he’ll also provide you with useful ‘advice’. If you call stating bloody obvious, advice; providing such pearls as wisdom as “stay on the track” and “use the brake to get around tight bends.”
Hearing him tell you what bends are coming up would make a lot more sense if he also wasn’t driving in the race as well. It makes even less sense when you realise that you passed McGrath several miles ago. In fact the AI of the other drivers can best be described using a box and some rocks. Whizzing around completely oblivious of the other cars on the track, leaving you free to pass them at your leisure, or if you are feeling particularly mean, slam the buggers into a ditch.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t also rob the game of any real sense of challenge or tension. You don’t feel like you are vying for pole position, it’s all but guaranteed from the off. It’s still fun in the same kind of way bumper cars are but at the same time there’s no real sense of accomplishment to winning a race.
This is compounded by the fact that the developers also saw fit to add an experience system to the game, rewarding you with experience points which can be placed into four different areas of your cars performance; acceleration, handling, breaking and top speed by performing in game actions as well as winning races. Although a great idea on paper, sadly this turns a fairly easy game into an absolute cake walk.
This complete lack of challenge could be forgiven if the game’s main career mode were longer. However I managed to complete the games 23 races in less than two hours. You could potentially go back and level up all of the variants of the games five vehicle types but I have absolutely no desire to do so.
It’s a shame because the actual racing itself is a lot of fun. Dunderheaded AI aside, the arcade style handling although a little too floaty at times, is generally very responsive and controlling your vehicle never feels like a chore. This makes the fact there is practically no difference in the handling of each of the game’s vehicle types all the more annoying. Any difference in weight or responsiveness is miniscule, making the use of multiple vehicle types pointless.
For example, a pro buggy is not going to have the same kind of heft on the track as a truck, which should have a larger turning circle and not lift off the ground as much. The problem is that they all feel like the same vehicle with a different shell. Although this doesn’t detract from the experience a great deal, it robs the game of any sense of variety during play, coupled with a lack of track variation and only two styles of race; Circuit and Checkpoint it doesn’t take long for a play to feel repetitive.
However, despite its numerous problems actually racing in JMO is still a lot of fun. The design of the tracks themselves is pretty solid and there are plenty of twists, turns and jumps to fling your vehicle of choice around. The environments are relatively lush and vibrant, the vehicles are well designed and there are plenty of swanky paint jobs to choose from for each car. However they do seem to be made out of diamond coated Teflon as they never get dented, boulders just bounce off them and mud slides right off. Nethertheless, the game has solid presentation and for all its foibles it still has a certain charm to it.
With this in mind I hoped that most of JMO’s aforementioned problems could be remedied by playing a little multiplayer. Human opponents are always infinitely more challenging and the game’s length is basically as long as you want it to be.
In theory the fundamentals are all there for a solid, arcade style multiplayer racer. I say in theory because I never managed to get past the lobby screen. After leaving it for at least half an hour no one joined. Having been out less than a week you would expect to find at least a couple of people to race against, especially if you consider that the Single player experience is tiny.
Since the game’s multiplayer component is basically unplayable unless you can rope other people into buying the game, which is highly unlikely. The only thing I have to base my recommendation on is the single player, which although fun for a couple hours, only lasts two hours. As such, I cannot in good conscience recommend you buy this game. There just isn’t enough content or enjoyment to be had here to justify even its meagre price tag.