Review: Jeep Thrills (PS2)

Jeep Thrills
Genre: Racing
Developer: Game Sauce
Publisher: Zoo Digital Publishing
Release Date: 08/05/08


I’m just going to get this out of the way, right up front: Jeep Thrills, even as a thirteen dollar (at present) budget title, is not even remotely a good game. This isn’t a hard conclusion to reach, mind you; it’s a budget-priced licensed racing game featuring cars that aren’t commonly known for their racing capabilities, but it certainly COULD have been entertaining, especially since Jeeps are good, solid off-road vehicles, and off-road racing games can certainly be fun. Jeep Thrills doesn’t really manage to do anything to pay off the promise of potential fun, however; everything that could potentially be wrong with the game just about is, leaving it as little more than an exercise in pure, absolute depression.

Your game modes are relatively basic: you can play through Group Races, which are groups of races that unlock various things in the game, like other Jeeps and tracks; Tournaments, which are MORE groups of races that unlock vehicles; Custom races, which allow you to make your own races with your own settings; and Multiplayer races, which allow you to play with a friend. You can also poke around in the Records to see your best times and whatnot. And… that’s it. There’s no options to, say, customize your Jeeps (save for changing color schemes), no race options beyond the simple “race in a circle and whoever finishes first wins”, and no option to play with any more than one other player. Now, okay, fine, “It’s a racing game”, so you can’t really expect a whole lot besides RACING, but most games, at this point, have come up with things to do to make the experience more engaging and worth playing; Jeep Thrills does not do this. A particularly good racing game would be able to overcome this problem, but, well, this does not happen either.

On the visual front, the ONLY thing that looks good in Jeep Thrills are the Jeeps themselves. Each vehicle looks how it should, and deforms (very slightly) when it takes damage, and for the most part, this all looks okay. The race environments, on the other hand, do not; at best, they look bland and ugly, while at worst, they look like something you would expect to see in a PS1 title. There’s draw-in constantly, slowdown and frame rate drops when more than two cars are on screen at once, and in general, the game just looks very weak, even as a budget product. Aurally, the game isn’t much better. The music consists of inoffensive rock-sounding tracks that aren’t bad, but aren’t great either, while the game noises consists mostly of dull crash sounds when you hit things, motor noises that sound like they belong more to remote controlled cars, and a noise meant to signify turbo usage that sounds vaguely like someone is firing canned air out of the back of your Jeep. Again, if a game plays particularly well, it can overcome these sorts of hindrances, though it’s difficult.

That said, it should probably be noted that Jeep Thrills doesn’t really play well, either.

The controls work exactly as you would expect: the left stick steers your car, and you have a gas, brake, and Boost (turbo) button mapped somewhere to the buttons on the controller, and you use these things to navigate your way around the tracks. In most cases, you will be racing against a number of other Jeeps of various types, and the goal will generally be to take first place, as one would expect. The tracks vary in location and design, though most tracks are off-road (since Jeeps are generally considered off-road vehicles), and take place in canyons, near waterfalls, in jungles, and around army bases, among other locations. As noted above, you can take on the various different Group Races and Tournaments to unlock new courses and Jeeps to use in single and multiplayer races, or you can take on a friend or the CPU in races tailored to your specifications.

Unfortunately, you’re most likely not going to want to do this thing, as Jeep Thrills does not play particularly well. Driving isn’t particularly fun, realistic, or enjoyable; the Jeeps don’t respond particularly well when turning, driving on asphalt feels no different from driving on off-road terrain, and the actual driving amounts to holding down the gas button until you take a turn while occasionally pressing the Boost button. There’s no hand brake for drifting, there’s no option for manual or automatic transmission play, and Boost doesn’t feel particularly powerful, nor does it really increase your speed in any significant way. There’s also a Super Boost, which DOES noticeably increase your speed, at the cost of steering, making it almost useless in tracks that are mostly twisty… even though it isn’t particularly useful in normal races, anyway. The CPU racers are quite obviously following a predetermined race line, as they almost never screw up unless you force them to do so, meaning that if YOU screw up, more often than not, you’ll have to fight your way back into position.

This is further compounded by the fact that colliding with almost ANYTHING in the environment will bring your Jeep to a dead halt. Now, it’s perfectly understandable that the folks licensing out this product (in this case, DaimlerChrysler) didn’t want to see their vehicles burst into flames, but when your Jeep hits, say, a chicken-wire fence AND STOPS DEAD, that is not a glowing recommendation for the licensed product. “Jeep: stopped dead by mesh fences” does not sound like a good idea for a marketing campaign. This is, of course, less of a problem with this one item and more of a problem with EVERYTHING in the environment, which is honestly just bad design all around. This is further compounded by the fact that, in many cases, it’s entirely possible to become stuck in the environment, depending on how one crashes (especially after jumps), which often leaves the player to press the provided “Track Reset” button, and generally speaking, having a button that resets you onto the course is a sign that the development team knew there were areas where you COULD become stuck, and instead of fixing those issues, simply provided you a way of escaping them… which, no, is not a suitable solution.

Beyond the major gameplay issues, there are a whole host of smaller issues that are both baffling and annoying. Most courses offer you multiple pathways to choose from, but in many cases one will be significantly harder to get to, yet won’t be in any way beneficial to the player, leaving you to wonder what the point of the alternate path even was. The game offers you two control style options to play the game with, but doesn’t TELL you what the differences are, leaving you to consult the manual to figure that out. You can’t adjust your view, at all. There’s no on-screen speedometer, at all. There are no difficulty options for the single player games, at all. You can’t use the D-Pad to steer, only the left stick. There’s also a very weird glitch in the game when playing in two-player modes where one player must make all of their selections at a time before the other player does, because the game can’t recognize both players pressing the D-Pad at the same time (no, really) and ignores one, leading to all sorts of confusing moments until you figure this out.

The bottom line is this: unless you are a huge Jeep fan, Jeep Thrills will be anything but. The only positive things to say about the game are that the Jeeps themselves look decent, there are a decent amount of Jeeps to unlock and play with, and the game is quite inexpensive for those on a budget. That said, the negative far outweighs the positive: the race tracks are ugly and bland, there are frame rate and draw-in issues all over the place, the game lacks any sort of significant variety, doesn’t play well, isn’t well balanced, and is generally not functional in most basic respects. It lacks things that even the most basic of racing games offer and features problems that most racing games in this day and age actively avoid whenever possible. Simply put: there is really nothing to like about Jeep Thrills unless you really, REALLY love Jeeps, and frankly, even then you probably won’t find enough in this product to want to play it more than twice.

The Scores:
Game Modes: BAD
Graphics: BAD
Sound: BAD
Control/Gameplay: BAD
Replayability: WORTHLESS
Balance: BAD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: WORTHLESS
Appeal: DREADFUL
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS

Final Score: DREADFUL.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Jeep Thrills is, as the score above indicates, a dreadful experience; even taken as a bad game, there’s no joy to be had with the game unless you happen to enjoy bland, primitive racing games that aren’t particularly playable. The Jeeps in the game tend to look acceptable, and the game is just playable enough that you could fight your way through the game if you’re a Jeep enthusiast of some sort or another. Beyond that, however, the environments are visually poor, the sound effects are grating and ill-fitting, the game either lacks many things a normal racing game would offer or possesses issues that make the game not worth investing time into, and the only thing separating this game from any one of a billion other racing games is the Jeep name attached to it. If you’re a big, BIG fan of the Jeep brand, you might find a few minutes of fun in Jeep Thrills, but everyone else would be best served staying away from it; there is no joy to be had in anything the game does, not even in a mocking fashion. Jeep Thrills is, simply put, a dreadful, unenjoyable experience.

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