Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Ubi Soft
Release Date: December 11, 2003
4x4: Masters of Metal delivers exactly the type of game you would expect, given it's title: you drive around in a huge monster truck. Masters of Metal's gameplay is most definitely centered around that, indeed. With real monster trucks with names like Wild Hair and Gravedigger, a healthy selection of environments to drive in (some of which would be illegal to drive a go-kart in - never mind a pickup truck with tires larger than most full-grown people), a monster truck fan could have had great time with this game. Note: the operative part of that sentence was the words could have. 4x4 does almost nothing right in terms of presenting a fun gameplay experience. Actually, that was too sensitive. This game does absolutely nothing right in terms of presenting a product worth putting on store shelves for people to spend their money on! It is worth a rental, though - but not for the usual reasons one would recommend that you pick up a game at your local Blockbuster.
The single player mode is a horrific romp through what feels like divine punishment from a god, though some people may discover the hidden "beauty" of 4x4: Masters of Metal. I had the pleasure of showing this horrendous game to a few friends during the time I spent reviewing it, and we had a blast. Why? The game was so bad, it was funny. It inspired a volley of Mystery Science Theater-style commentary, which had us rolling on the floor with laughter.
Selecting your truck is the first annoying part. Having licensed trucks is great, but this game doesn't take advantage of the license. The player is not informed as to what each truck features - a make and model is listed, and nothing more. Selecting the truck that is right for you is a matter of trial and error. That might not even matter, though, because the controls are extremely frustrating to use. The way the analog stick and shoulder buttons are programmed to respond gives players one of two options: not enough of a change in your vehicle's action, or way too much. The feeling I had while playing this game was distinctly reminescient of wrestling with the temperature knob in a seedy motel shower. At first this was extremely annoying (if I wasn't reviewing the game, I would have taken it out of my Gamecube within moments), but I stuck with the "pain" for so long that it began to be a humorous experience. The same joy of watching terrible monster movies with names like "Shark Attack XI: The Final Bite" is communicated through the actual gameplay of this game - not many games have committed such a crime on the mainstream console game industry, but this one has.
The campaign mode is a mix between official arena monster truck races and stunt shows, and illegal romps through public properties. I guess the developers were trying to go for a "true to life feel" in this mode, because you cannot retry any stages after completing them, whether you've won or lost. That's fine and dandy, but when nothing else about the game is anywhere near realistic, with the small exception of the licensed vehicles, there is no reason to have a feature like this. All it really does is make you sit through extra load screens so you can retry a race or stunt session.
Players are given the "honor" of playing as Rookie, our homely, oddly proportioned, badly groomed hero. The first thing that came to my mind upon seeing this guy was that the developers designed him to look like the people they expected to play the game. Honestly, I don't know how anybody could identify with such a weird looking fellow, but that's part of the charm of 4x4: Masters of Metal: the question, "who the hell thought this was a good idea?", will pop up in your head more than once, I can guarantee that. The rest of the cast of Rookie's mind-bendingly bad ilk. Among them is a mean fat woman, and an "evil" masked trucker. None of them belong in this kind of game. I guess that's why I love them so much.
One of the best parts of Masters of Metal is the graphics. When you can see the drivers walking about in FMV scenes, they are proportionally sub-human in appearance, and a blast from 1995 in terms of their animation. Classic bad FMV. During gameplay, the trucks and environments are boxy, jagged, badly textured messes. The draw distance is my personal favorite - it's so close to the screen that when the camera pans around, say, a park filled with a few ugly trees, the trees are ungracefully transforming, their polygon counts increasing in large increments. No, the trees don't look any better, they just have more polys. The resulting effect is that the environment is visibly morphing as you draw closer or pull away from objects. I haven't seen a game handle draw distances this badly since the 32-bit era, and it was somewhat forgivable back then!
Some players may find the voiceovers to be the best feature of UBI Soft's "masterpiece". It's very obvious that each and every line was written in great haste and read with even less care for detail. The announcer only speaks when it has something to do with the player's actions. "Looks like the Rookie is in the lead," "The Rookie is not doing very well," etc. Nobody has anything to say that is worth saying, yet they say it anyways. Why bother? If it wasn't so maliciously entertaining, I would have wished the voices were left out altogether.
4x4: Masters of Metal is one of the worst games I have ever played, yet it is also a wonderful piece of entertainment. Sadly, I am here to review it for what it should have been, not what I think it is. It should have been a videogame, meant for quality entertainment through gameplay, graphics, and sound. As a videogame, 4x4 fails completely. But as a piece of entertainment? If you are even slightly sardonic on a regular basis, you'll enjoy this game. If you're looking for a laugh, give 4x4 a rent. If you're looking for a videogame, take your dollars elsewhere.
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