By Mike Armstead |
Thanks to games such as the Monster Truck Madness series and 4x4 Evolution, driving games focusing on powerful 4x4 vehicles are steadily gaining popularity. However, these games haven't yet managed to deliver a complete off-road racing experience, because they tend to confine you into fairly restrictive environments. That's not the case with Codemasters' 1nsane. Along with good graphics, a wide array of gameplay modes, and realistic control, Codemasters' 1nsane is the only 4x4 racing game to date that truly offers a sense of the freedom--and the chaos--found in real-life off-road racing.1nsane gives you the option to select from numerous single-player and multiplayer modes right from the start. In addition to standard quick-race options against the computer, the single-player mode features lots of unusual racing modes, such as jamboree, return-the-flag, gate hunt, pathfinder, capture-the-flag, and destruction zone. There's also a championship mode that lets you unlock additional vehicles and tracks based on your performance. In the jamboree mode, you must drive through a series of checkpoints scattered around each track, so it's possible to take any route that you want; however, you have to keep an eye on the topographic map at the bottom of the screen so that your vehicle doesn't encounter any impassable obstacles. Capture-the-flag is similar to jamboree, except you must be carrying the flag when you go through each checkpoint. And the only way to secure the flag is to crash into the opposing vehicle that's carrying it. Instead of using checkpoints, the return-the-flag mode places flags at random points on each track so that you must race toward the flag, capture it, and then race back to your base before any opposing vehicles steal it away from you. These modes are all equally fun, but the most entertaining is probably destruction zone. Like the old king-of-the-hill game, in destruction zone you must race to a series of designated points found on top of hills and mountains on the map. Once you're in the correct area, you have to stay there to gain as many points as possible while other cars attempt to knock you off your perch--it's not easy, and when your vehicle is knocked off, it's often difficult to get back because of the damage you've sustained. The championship mode is set up in a manner that prevents you from moving on to new tracks or events if you can't perform well in the initial events. For example, the first event starts off easily enough: A jamboree in Ireland takes place during the daytime, so all you have to do is follow an arrow pointer to new checkpoints and make sure that you don't make any huge mistakes, like tumbling down a hillside. After the race is over, you receive a point total based on how many checkpoints you crossed first--but if your score's too low, you can't advance. It's a little annoying, especially considering that the game has a rather steep learning curve to begin with. The controls in 1nsane can be extremely frustrating at first, and that's not because they're sluggish or unresponsive--it's because you need to learn how to compensate for the many bumps and jolts that your car receives from driving over rough terrain and colliding with other vehicles. The rough terrain means it can be very easy to flip over if you're not careful. In addition, you must also experiment with your vehicles--for instance, the baja bug tends to perform well in flat areas that don't have substantial drops. Likewise, the massive trucks in the later levels are perfect for navigating up hills and steep terrain, but their loose handling tends to make them less suitable for racing against other vehicles in open areas. 1nsane doesn't have any real-world licensed vehicles as in 4x4 Evolution or even Monster Truck Madness, but the game offers much more variety in terms of the types of 4x4 vehicles you can choose from. There are sport utility vehicles, as well as dune buggies and even big rigs. All of your car's spinouts and tumbles aren't completely gratuitous--they give you an opportunity to see 1nsane's great-looking car models and massive environments. The game's vehicle models are detailed right down to the treads on the tires, and each vehicle has a driver that bounces around inside whenever you run over or into an object on the landscape. Each vehicle also shows realistic damage depending on how it's hit--if you crash into a tree head-on, then the dashboard gets pushed up into the driver's seat. If you roll over, the roof of your car caves in. The game does suffer from some slowdown on lower-end and mid-range machines (particularly when there are more than a few cars on the screen). There's also some draw-in on the horizon as objects spontaneously pop into view, but it never becomes so bad that it affects gameplay. Otherwise, the sound effects in 1nsane aren't spectacular, but everything from rumbling engine noises--which can actually get annoying after a while--to the crushing of metal during a crash are clearly audible. 1nsane's music is very good, and complements the fast pacing of the game well. Overall, though it has a few problems and takes some getting used to, 1nsane can be a very enjoyable off-road racing experience. Because of its expansive environments, 1nsane is the first off-road racing game to actually give you a real sense of being off the beaten path. It also has plenty of entertaining modes of play, which keep it from getting repetitive too quickly. Unfortunately, while 1nsane does support multiplayer play, there are very few players currently using Codemasters' gaming service, so finding more than one opponent to race against at a time can be difficult. Still, 1nsane's single-player modes provide more than enough entertainment by themselves.