Wanna go for a drive?
Over the years Simulation games have become extremely popular, and with great popularity comes great variants. From the renowned Microsoft Flight Simulator to Farming Simulator all the way down to Goat Simulator, there is a simulation for everyone.
Ultimate Games are on publishing duty for IceTorch Interactive’s offering of off-road simulation set around the Alaska ranges. Let’s take a look at what’s on offer.
Ultra Off-Road Simulator 2019: Alaska (say that five times fast) is a single-player driving sim where you must navigate the harsh landscapes of outback Alaska. To do so you must drive across eight stages in point to point challenges while trying not to run out of fuel, damage your truck too badly or allow your driver to starve. On the face of things, this seems like a decent premise with survival elements added to keep things interesting.
Setting out across the landscapes you will have a hud heavy screen with hunger, fuel and damage meter on the top right-hand side along with a compass across the top and on the bottom left, presumably for those who like to double-check they are heading in the right direction. These gauges are integral to your success in reaching the set destination.
In order to keep your fuel and hunger under control, you must pick up fuel cans and snacks that float magnificently throughout the Alaskan landscape. Granted I have never been to Alaska but I’m sure a large pepperoni with extra cheese does not grow on trees and if it does, I’m moving there. If you notice your hunger or fuel getting low you can access your collected items via a handy menu and top yourself up.
Obviously, the terrain of the outback is not easily navigated, along the way you may find yourself hitting rocks or misjudging the decline of a hill causing your vehicle to tumble and flip. Have no fear, there are also floating toolboxes for you to gather which can fix up your truck with the greatest of ease if you do decide to take a little tumble off a cliff.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with simulation?
Well, the honest answer is, not a lot. Although the terrains are varied and you will at time struggle to keep your truck from rolling the only real challenge if this game comes from the resource collection. Gathering food, fuel and toolboxes are absolutely essential if you wish to complete a course and going off the beaten track will sometimes yield a surprise supply. This doesn’t do anything to make Ultra Off-Road feel like a sim, quite the opposite in fact, with the emphasis on collecting floating items while bouncing across rocky terrain the whole experience feels more like an arcade title, so much so that if it had been called Ultra Off-Road Arcade I might have enjoyed the experience a bit more knowing what experience I would truly be getting. This becomes even more apparent when driving through various weather conditions with the handling hardly being affected by moving from rain-soaked rocks to snowdrifts.
Once I settled into the notion that this was going to be a fairly straight forward affair I did start to mildly enjoy the experience albeit a short-lived one. With Eight stages to complete it won’t take you long to see all Ultra Off-Road has to offer. There are two core modes, the main mode which I have mentioned that will rely on collecting resources to make it through each stage and a “Free Ride” mode, which is the same eight stages without the needed for item management. There is also a tutorial to get you familiar with the controls and the item management but with nothing in the way of true progression or a host of unlockables the whole experience feels very bare-bones with a small selection of vehicles to use and the ability to change the colour of some of them.
Presentation for Ultra Off-Road is pretty decent
I played mainly in hand-held on the Switch and the car designs were basic but detailed enough to stand apart from each other. The terrain is the true highlight of the piece, as the nights set in the lighting from the headlights did a good job of illuminating just enough distance in front of the truck to make edging my way across narrow tracks a fun experience. Sadly with only one camera angle option the opportunity to make this truly immersive by using a cockpit or first-person view was out of the question. Sticking with the third person (or third vehicle if you prefer) camera angle becomes an issue in itself as navigating bumpy terrain would often see the camera getting stuck behind trees and rocks or too close to the vehicle despite trying to pan around with the right analogue stick.
Although I can appreciate the experience a good simulator can provide I can’t recommend Ultra Off-Road to anyone looking for a hardcore Sim experience. With such a short lifespan, arcade design without the fun and annoying camera issues this feels like the halves of two very different games were spliced together with bad results. The title could have been saved with some multi-vehicle events or by just embracing the pick up and play style of a good arcade racer. For the Nintendo Switch, there are better options out there.
Review code provided
Platform: Nintendo, PC
Release Date: 25/10/2019
No. of Players: 1
Category: Simulation, Driving
Developer: IceTorch Interactive
Publisher: Ultimate Games
Download link: eShop