The Switch has a solid collection of driving games at this point, but the off-roading sub-genre still isn’t all that big. Thus, I was intrigued when Ultra Off-Road Simulator 2019 popped up. The screenshots painted a pretty impressive-looking picture.
But alas, while a picture may say a thousand words, this is still a game. That means that its worth is only truly proven by playing it. And unfortunately, it turns out that Ultra Off-Road Simulator isn’t all that “ultra” after all.
Wii would like our game back
What stood out to me almost immediately about Ultra Off-Road Simulator is that the level of visual fidelity in its aforementioned promo screenshots did not line up with reality. The game looks pretty poor, almost like a Wii title. While visuals aren’t everything, this game’s graphical quality isn’t just simple, it’s eye-soaringly low.
Textures are muddy and dark, and there’s basically no true lighting system. That’s because they were just taken from the PC version. During my playthrough, the sky would just stay in a state of thick gray, with no real way of telling whether it was supposed to represent day or night.
The kicker, though, comes with the heavy use of Fogging – a technique that is a form of distance fog. It was mostly used during the early era of 3D games to obscure distant scenery and objects due to the limited graphical power of machines at the time. I haven’t seen it used this heavily in eons, but Ultra Off-Road Simulator seems to think this is the early 2000s. The Switch has a decent amount of power, so I’m assuming this cheap trick was implemented for the sake of avoiding proper optimization.
But, as if Ultra Off-Road Simulator 2019 didn’t look shoddy enough already, its gameplay is the real letdown.
What do you mean, “proper driving mechanics”?
For a game that claims to provide an “ultra” off-roading experience, one would expect it to control like butter. Well, it does — but it’s a stick of butter that’s sliding around the frying pan. Trying to keep my vehicle planted on the ground was a chore and a half. As a result, I often found myself toppling over. This issue is exacerbated by the physics, which are just as bad as the poor driving mechanics. Basically, the rules don’t seem to properly apply here. Your vehicle takes damage at the slightest impact, too, so the damage meter fills up very quickly.
Since my vehicle kept flopping over or performing a total roll-over, one would think a reset button would solve it. Nope. Instead, the vehicle just started automatically floundering around like a fish before flipping itself back on its wheels. Nifty… but why? This is supposed to be a simulator, isn’t it? Then, can someone please show me what Jeep or other SUV can erect itself after falling?
As it turns out, the only real “simulator” feature is the advanced vehicle settings, which you can tweak. However, this is just a huge list of complex options. Unless you really know what you’re looking for, it’s basically not worth fooling with.
And for the cherry on top of this mud pie, the open maps are terribly designed. Braving the rough terrain isn’t fun – it’s frustrating. That’s not only due to the bad controls and physics, either. The layout itself is just bad. The topography was often too extreme for my vehicle to properly cross, which added to the aforementioned falling. And since the vehicle lacked a winch, trying to climb most inclines proved next to impossible.
Find another path
I could only tolerate Ultra Off-Road Simulator 2019 – Alaska for so long before I decided to prematurely call it quits. I tried to give it a few more hours, but it really is just a mess. The only thing this managed to be was an ultra disappointment.
If you’re itching for a true off-roading simulator, then have a look at Spintires: MudRunner. It launched last year on Switch and still manages to provide a very high-quality experience with both gameplay and visuals. Ultra Off-Road Simulator basically looks and feels like someone saw MudRunner and wanted to copy it in the cheapest way possible. Thus, you’re better off just going straight to the source.