The bad news: having plowed through of all of the content in Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad, I still don’t know who Jeremy McGrath is. In fact, if I hadn’t been presented the opportunity to review the game, I would’ve glossed right over the whole thing. From the game alone, I can only guess he’s a popular rally racer sponsored by Monster who barks out obvious tool tips in real life like ‘stay on the road, it’s faster’ and ‘if you lose control, throttle down until you gain control again’, even after you’ve turned the tool tips off. Maybe he’s a draw in Europe I suppose, which reminds me of why Codemasters dropped the late Colin McRae’s name from their DIRT rally series to make the game palatable to Americans.
The good news? They made a pretty good rally game with Jeremy McGrath’s name on it.
Available for $10 on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, JMO (or J-Mo, as I call it), provides plenty of quick rally thrill without all the overhead of a game like DIRT. The handling is humble here: despite some hints to use your clutch boost and e-brake, I was able to fully control with the angling of my thumbstick and the accelerator trigger alone. You race in trucks, buggies, and cars, but the mass of your vehicle never feels very different between them; just enough to be enjoyable but not enough to be punished by the many twists of each of the game’s half-dozen courses. Those courses, in turn, feel more arcade-y and synthetic than those in games like Motorstorm or DIRT, but they never overstay their welcome like some other games. Knocking opponents off course is easy and stupid fun. Should you manage to find yourself in the weeds, the tracks are twisty enough that the next turn is probably right below you.
The game’s twenty-three events are split between staggered point-to-point stretches and straight up circuit races while the entire no-thrills single-player campaign can be mastered in a two hour session. (The game is so lax in notifying of you of your progress, that I thought the game had accidentally wiped out all of my upgrade points when it switched between vehicle classes.) The game’s difficulty never felt right as I played it at Semi-Pro, which allowed me to walk away from the competition easily, while the Pro-level opponents were yanked away from me like heavy knots on an invisible string. The game boasts a “deep” “RPG-like” vehicle upgrade system in which you gain points Kudos-style, level up, and acquire upgrade blocks (or maybe “upgrade nuggets”?) that can be spent to make your vehicles faster and more responsive. (As a result of the game’s easy handling, I found I never had to dump any points into braking.)
To compensate for its lack of diminutive length, J-Mo is a really fun racer with technical chops. The graphics aren’t Motorstorm or DIRT-quality, but they’re well done and always silky-smooth. The aforementioned floaty vehicles seems like a distraction at first, but endear as you can focus more on passing and admiring the scenery than memorizing trigger pressure around specific turns. Almost two weeks after its release, it was nearly impossible to find games online and I feel that with the campaign complete and a lack of track variations or reversals, replayability is going to be extremely limited. In downloading this game, be sure to take it in small doses, rather than marathoning.
If you’re up for a solid new rally experience and don’t want to hobble off to the store, Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad is the ride for you. Just don’t consume it too fast.