Publisher: DSI Games
Developer: Game Sauce
Release Date: August 5, 2008
For the nine years the system has been in existence, the PlayStation 2 has been one of the most dependable systems for racing game fans. Just about anyone who is looking for a game that charges people with going faster than others in various contraptions will find a game tailor-made for them. Car simulation fans can cozy up to Pro Race Driver and Gran Turismo 4. Motorcycle fans can race with both the MotoGP series and Tourist Trophy. Those looking for a more arcade experience have Burnout, Flatout and Midnight Club as their games of choice. Even extreme sports fans have the MX and ATV Offroad Fury titles to call their own.
In the early days of the PS2, fans of sport utility vehicles had an open-world racing game called 4x4 Evo. Featuring all sorts of sport utility vehicles from manufacturers like Ford and Land Rover, the game was actually pretty decent. Many years after the release of that game, DSI Games has released a title that hopes to capture the interests of sport utility vehicle fans once again. Unfortunately for them, Jeep Thrills turns away fans from the store shelves.
The game features two intertwined main modes. Group Race mode has you choose a car to use in four different groups that vary based on difficulty level. Finishing any race in any position except dead last will progress you to the next race in the group. Finishing a group will not only unlock the next group of races but more Jeep vehicles as well.
Once you complete any of the groups in Group Race mode, you can start playing Tournament mode. Here, users race the same tracks present in Group Race mode, except now they are mirrored tracks. Depending on your placement in each race, you are assigned a point value. By the time the tournament is finished, the total point value you have earned will determine your placement in the overall tournament. Winning each tournament gives you access to more tournaments, tracks and Jeep models.
The other game modes include multiplayer and Custom Race. In Multiplayer, you and a friend can race each other in any of the unlocked tracks (both regular and mirrored) with any of the unlocked Jeep vehicles; there won't be any AI opponents on the track. Custom Race brings everything back to single-player but allows you to pick a car and unlocked track as well as custom race parameters, such as the number of laps for the race.
Jeep Thrills isn't any fun, thanks in part to some of the pitfalls that occur when a budget developer makes a simple racing game. To put it bluntly, the track designs are quite boring, and most don't feature anything tricky like sharp turns or S-curves. Almost all of them are populated with jumps, but they become so prevalent that the excitement quickly evaporates. Worse yet, the tracks barely feature any shortcuts, although the use of off-road vehicles would usually compel racers to find routes off the beaten path. As for the AI, it seems to suffer a bad case of catch-up code. The opponents have no problem letting you pass them early on in the race, but once you make a mistake or collide into an object, the enemy will come roaring back and be relentless in its quest to pass you. Sadly, it's quite typical to see a crash at the end of a track causing the player to go from first to sixth place, despite having more than a commanding lead for the whole race.
The controls are good, thanks to the simplicity of it all. The left analog stick steers the vehicle while the X button accelerates and the Square button brakes. Double-tapping on the X or R1 button activates the turbo boost. That's it. There are no handbrakes, camera changes or other trappings of most racing games. Arcade racing fans will appreciate the move to control simplicity, while other players will hate the fact that manual driving isn't even an option here.
The graphics definitely cannot be considered thrilling in any sense of the word. The tracks are varied, going from jungles to deserts to icy mountains. While this is a nice touch, each level is populated with washed-out colors and objects with very blurry textures. This results in all tracks looking a bit too similar, unless the environments completely change in a tournament or group race. The vehicles don't suffer from this identity crisis, though; you can definitely tell which Jeep vehicles you're facing on the track, given the different details present in each body shape. Unfortunately, the detail stops there, and it seems like the vehicle simply glides on the ground, thanks to the lack of moving tires. The particle effects, such as dust and snow kicking up, are minimal and barely pass for what they are supposed to represent. The worst offender to this is the turbo boosting, since one can hardly tell that it's happening at all. The screen barely shifts when this occurs and since no additional effects appear, the only way to tell that turbo is being used is to see that the turbo meter depletes when the button is pressed.
The sound is a little less than generic. The sound effects are exactly what one expects from a racing game. Tires skidding on the dirt sound fine, and the engine roars are fine as well. There are really no other engine sounds playing, though. Using turbo produces a low whooshing sound that sounds more like a loud fan than a shot of nitrous to the engine. Despite the different cars present, each engine sounds the same, which will bother Jeep enthusiasts to no end. As for the music, the generic rock is there but it plays at such a low volume that you actually have to strain to hear it. Most people will think that there is no music at all unless you come to a dead stop in the middle of a track or go to a menu.
Jeep Thrills fails to live up to the premise of its own title, which is to give players a thrilling ride on Jeep vehicles. The bland graphics and lackluster sound fail to inspire the player to race. While the controls are easy to pick up, the track designs are too simple and fail to match the AI in giving the player any type of challenge. If this title were released early on the PS2 life cycle, it would have been considered a pretty lackluster game. Now, the game can't even reach that level considering the breadth of racing titles already on the system. No matter how tempting it might be, leave Jeep Thrills on the shelves and go back to some of the older, better racing titles on the system.