It's been way too long since the incredible Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off-Road was released. Since the game's debut in 1989, nothing has come remotely close to improving on the mix of sandy arcade vehicle jumping fun, so when we heard that a game with a similar feel - Rock 'N Racing Off-Road DX - was coming to Xbox One, we sat up and listened. Even if the game's title is a bizarre mashup of two superior products and the "DX" suffix is either a nod to Triple H and Shawn Michaels or a random holler back to the days of the Game Boy Color.
Indeed, the game takes a lot of queues from the Ironman's. A similar view of the action and an otherwise heavily-influenced look are the obvious pointers and the courses look pretty slick, even if they don't have the variation and style that was present in an arcade game that was released over a quarter of a century ago on hardware that didn't have a tenth of the power of modern-day consoles. That's the sort of theme of this review, sadly, given that Rock 'N Racing Off-Road DX doesn't compare favourably to most racing games, let alone a title as well-remembered and familiar as Super Off-Road.
The first thing you'll notice is how skimpy it all feels. On offer are five championships, each consisting of four races. Those races take place on courses that start to feel very familiar all too quickly, since you'll be racing on a figure-of-8 layout in the first tournament and then in a later tournament, racing on the same track with the starting line in a different place and minor additions such as an extra bump or two being thrown into the mix. When you win a championship – which you must do to progress - you unlock a new car and the next set of races. Outside of the championship mode, you can take on a series of five time trials, which see you racing alone around each set of four championship courses, with your times combined to form a final aggregate time. When you're done with that, there's single-race local multiplayer for up to eight players. And that's your lot.
Those options would probably feel a lot more generous was there any sort of customisation or upgrade system in place. Instead, you get five cars that can't be upgraded or modified in any way, shape, or form. Again, even the 26-year-old game that influenced this one so heavily allowed for modifications and power-ups.
However, we're not really sure that upgrades would have done anything for Rock 'N Racing Off-Road DX's confusing physics model that isn't just confusing to the player, but seemingly to the absolutely atrocious AI. In some races, you'll genuinely see four cars accelerate off the line normally, while for no reason at all, two will just not bother to move at all and the cars in seventh and eighth place will decide to just…reverse. If they do manage to cross that starting line, hitting a bump too hard seems to result in them deciding to just stop dead in the middle of the track quite often. Sometimes, they'll be reset and replaced on the track when this happens and there's a 50/50 shot that after the reset, they'll start randomly doing donuts in the middle of the course. If they hit a wall at too sharp an angle, there's also a good chance that they'll just carry on driving at it, rather than engaging the molasses-slow reverse gear and righting themselves. If there's a coming together on a corner, neither car will give up and they'll just drive each other off the course and just sit there accelerating at each other until the race is over.
Fortunately enough, this means that you'll be able to complete the game relatively easily. The reason for this is that once the winner crosses the line, the rest of the pack have about 20 seconds or so to finish the race. If they don't manage to do that, they get zero points in the championship standings. On our first run-through, we won three of the five championships simply because there was at least one occurrence in each tournament where none of the other runners managed to complete one of the races, meaning that we jumped to the top of the table after picking up points where nobody else did.
You'll be thankful that's the case, given that there are times when – providing they've decided that they're not going to crash this lap - you can clearly see specific AI cars being able to do things that you can't, such as accelerate around wide bends at full speed whilst sticking to the racing line. When you try it, you end up running off the track since every vehicle you control has the turning circle of an 18-wheeler, but the AI seems to be able to turn on a dime.
When you unlock faster vehicles, the game becomes even more of an exercise in frustration. Navigating around stricken opponents aside, your rivals that have somehow managed to get around a couple of turns seem to have one goal in mind, and that is to ram you off the track. This would be just fine was it not for the fact that the game's physics seem to be based on cars racing on sheet ice, in zero gravity. The slightest touch is enough to make your car suddenly spin, with even the most minor of corrections causing you to fishtail all over the place. This also causes issues when your vehicle grabs some air, given that corrections to your path either just before or just after you take off mean that one way or another, you'll end up facing entirely the wrong way. That's if the particular ramp that you've hit doesn't have the bizarre effect of making you accelerate as it flings you up into the air, of course, which half of them seem to randomly do, causing you to overshoot the landing area and pitch your nose into the ground or throw you into a wall.
Still, at least you get to listen to the game's announcer bellow "Incredible! Super! Amazing! Boom! This race is on fire! Incredible! Amazing! Super! This race is on fire! This race is on fire! This race is on fire! Amazing! Incredible!" in every single race. It's as if the Ridge Racer commentator managed to get his hands on a massive pile of amphetamines and just downed them with eight cans of Red Bull. You can't turn his annoying voice down either, since Rock 'N Racing Off-Road DX doesn't even contain anything as basic as a simple settings menu.
Achievement hunters will be somewhat annoyed by the way things are laid out, too. If you manage to finish the final championship, the 150 point achievement for doing just that isn't actually awarded. To add insult to injury, a fifth of the game's available Gamerscore is reserved for taking part in a 6-player offline multiplayer event, meaning that you'll need five buddies and six controllers around in order for you to unlock it. Truth be told, the scorn you'll endure for making them sit through a race is probably not worth the points.
Rock 'N Racing Off-Road DX is not a game that you'll be coming back to if you bother to put in the hour or so it'll take to complete it. There are very occasional second-long moments where the game is almost fun, but the shockingly bad AI, physics that seem to be both too floaty and too heavy at the same time somehow and an amateurish bare-bones feel mean that you should definitely be looking elsewhere for your arcade racing fix.