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Screamer 4X4

Developer: Clever's Developer | Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 12/03/01 | Genre: Driving

Racing. Take a moment to savor the word. Roll it back and forth across your tongue, and let the images of tires blistering pavement or streetlights passing by in a blur run rampant through your mind's eye. Tack on a title like Screamer 4x4, and the pavement changes to dirt roads and moonlit trails. That part is right at least, but this is one game that focuses more on smooth driving than all out speed.

Screamer puts you behind the steering wheel of 10 different off-road warriors (Jeep CJ7 and Cherokee, Toyota Land Cruiser, and the Land Rover Defender to name a few), but instead of competing fender to fender with other drivers, you'll find yourself working through treacherous courses in search of the best time with the lowest penalty. Five point penalties are awarded for tagging a gatepost, while you can earn a hefty 20-pointer for missing a gate altogether. You have to pass through each gate in the proper order, but the exact path you take can vary. The shortest route up a steep bank might seem like the wisest choice, but an easier approach can often bag a better time. Speed is important, yet it is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways. If you blast through a gate at high speeds, the extra momentum can leave you out of position for the next gate or worse on your roof.

If you are familiar with 4-wheel drive vehicles, then you probably know about the high and low ranges of gears. The high range produces less torque but more speed, and low throws out more torque and power. Even in the first stage of the beginner's championship, you need to drop into the lower ranges for the ability to surmount certain challenges while keeping your ride under control, then shift back into the higher range to scat off to the finish line. Other courses will be completed almost entirely in low, while boulders, steep embankments, ridgelines, and other interesting terrains are traversed.

The vehicles handled with what seemed like too much realism at some points. Trying to fly across uneven terrain would give the 4x4's 4-point suspension a harsh workout, and even throw it out of control like in real life. If you hit a rock too fast while climbing the side of a mountain, your ride loses precious traction and momentum that could spell the difference between surmounting the top and sliding back down in shame-faced defeat. Rolling and flipping end-over-end aren't all that hard to accomplish, but fortunately the damage can be turned off.

Screamer also offers one of my favorite rewards for winning races: upgrades to your vehicle. You can upgrade your tires, front end and rear end, and engine, and winning some of the championship series will even reward you with unlocking a new 4x4. The new tires alone were the key to winning a number of the events. Keeping traction is good.

For the most part the game looked good, but some of the terrain seemed too jagged where it should have been smoothed out. The bystanders who are also obstacles at times look and act like life-size cutout dolls. If you happen to run over one ?Äì which will disqualify you, they bend over then snap back into place. Other than the gates, some buildings, boulders, cardboard people, and shrubby trees, the great outdoors seemed fairly devoid of life. While too much clutter would have made driving even harder, a bit more would have made the game seem a bit more alive.

The sound never really impressed me. I either listened to the high-pitch whining of the low range, or it was a bit quieter in the higher gears. There's a copilot who tries to help with advice about if the next part will be tough or easy, but I often disagreed with her thoughts ?Äì you can pick the gender of your team's driver and copilot when you begin. Most of the time, I was trying to hear when I was losing traction than pick up her opinions.

Screamer 4x4 is fairly challenging, especially until you discover your own style of driving and which lines of attack work best across different types of terrain. People looking for a high speed dose of adrenaline probably won't get their fix here, but 4x4 enthusiasts will probably enjoy every jaw-jarring moment. When you factor in that it is a part of Virgin Interactive's new "Anytime Anywhere 20 Bucks" line, it really is a great deal of off-road fun.

By Greg Meadors - 01/21/02
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