4×4 Jam Review – Almost as Sweet as Jelly
The PSP has no shortage of racing games, but they are rare among the ranks of the Minis line. Probably because they would be competing against all those full fledged games. Jumping into the fray is 4×4 Jam from Invictus Games, a port from the iPhone. It might not be able to outlast those full fledged racing titles, but it does a respectable job of hanging in there, though at the expense of having a high price tag (for a Mini).
As can be surmised by the first part of the name, 4×4 Jam is about off-road racing. You’ll be in for quite a rough ride, bouncing and spinning all over the place on eight different terrains. It takes some effort to simply even drive in a straight line. If you want to give yourself a case of motion sickness, try using the hood or cockpit view. Still, after some practice, it’s easy enough to get a hang of, especially after trying the different assist levels.
There are basically two modes you can race in, Quick Race and Career Mode. Quick race lets you pick a map, race type, car, your opponents, and so forth. The catch is that when you first start the game, you only have one map, one race type (free roam, which just lets you drive around the map, actually, not a race) and one car. The rest have to be unlocked in career mode.
Career mode is mostly simple, there are 32 races. You win or come in second in the first race, then it unlocks the next race. And so forth. At various stops along the way, you unlock items (maps, race types, cars) for the Quick Race mode.
Mostly simple. There is an added complication – money. You earn money winning races, but you have to pay money to enter races (besides the first). So if you don’t win a race, you end up losing money. But more importantly, money is used to buy different cars. There are eight different ones, all of which drive rather differently.
Some are cars converted to 4-wheel drives, these tend to be a bit harder to drive, but don’t tip over as much. And then there are some dedicated trucks, which are quite maneuverable, but turn too much and over you go. The cheaper cars also tend to be slower. There’s really no hard and fast rule about which car is best though.
What really sets it apart is that you can drive forever in any direction – the map wraps around. This gives the game two fairly unique race types in addition to the two traditional types of races (where you race around in laps as defined by glowing gates).
The “Jam” race, for which the game is named, is the one I had the most fun with. Like the other modes, you race through gates. But it’s tricker, instead of racing to finish first, you race to get the most score. Only the first car to reach a gate gets credit for it, increasing their score. The gate then disappears and reappears someplace else randomly. If you are lucky, it will be in front of you. But more likely it’s either to the side, or back in the opposite direction. So you have to suddenly turn, while avoiding the terrain and your opponents. It’s quite chaotic and a lot of fun.
The “Collector” race is very similar, except instead of racing through gates, you race to gather items. The difference here is they are randomly placed all over the course, there isn’t just one to race to. Because of this, luck is really the main factor and I really didn’t enjoy them much.
Graphically it’s good for a Mini. The terrain pops in a lot on the more hilly courses, as do trees, more than you would find in a typical full fledged PSP racing game. But not so badly that it’s a distraction, and on the desert courses you don’t see it much at all. You also have a variety of views to choose from: external, helicopter, hood, bumper, and in car. What is also very interesting is that they give you the option to pick the view distance and if it should render grass or not. I guess to boost the frame rate, but it seemed quite solid with everything on.
The soundtrack is a fairly generic instrumental metal-tinged rock and the sound effects are solid, if unremarkable. I found myself starting to say “Checkpoint” and “Gate Won” along with the announcer every time I went through one, his voice is strangely compelling.
I did come across one glitch, I managed to somehow wreck my car, so I could only go around in circles. Not a big deal, but a little annoying as I had to quit the race (which cost me money).
I had a lot of fun with it, career mode took me about five hours to finish, someone more skilled could finish it in less. They might also find it a bit easy, the AI isn’t bad, but I had no trouble beating it most of the time. Does it stack up with full fledged racing titles? No, but it comes close to standing up to the various budget racing titles the PSP has received, so I think even at its higher price, it’s a solid value and a fun racer.