We’ve covered three driving games now, and seen three different approaches. Out Run centred showed the car, driver and passenger and all, and focused on the experience of getting away through a beautiful landscape. Stunt Car Racer took things inside the car, and concentrated on the technical experience of driving. Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road zooms right out to show four tiny trucks in a top-down view of a rugged single screen track. It’s about the experience of racing, of trying to wrangle your way ahead of your competitors.
That’s where it’s at its best. I have fond memories of three player games, enjoying the chaos that trying to fit four cars through tiny spaces provokes. The erratic handling makes it feel like you’re wrestling something barely controllable, and the ability to use a limited number of nitro boosts gives an extra tactical element. There’s a rich-get-richer aspect to the power-up drops that generally go ahead of the leader, but it can make it all the more satisfying to successfully catch up.
Even when not totally glitching out, the collision detection between trucks is politely described as unpredictable, but the number of tracks with figure of eight arrangements and the high chances of getting flipped round by a wall to face backwards still gives you a chance to screw up someone else’s race even if yours is beyond rescue. Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road can be fun, if clearly not much like actual truck racing. A better and more inspired game would later realise that flinging vehicles around in this way was more like playing with toys and run with it. Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road is not that game.
Until I just looked at his wikipedia page, I had no idea who Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart was. I suspect the same went for a lot of British people playing his Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road, in arcades or at home. Off-road truck racing doesn’t get a lot of coverage in this country. Maybe the principle of an endorsement doesn’t need a known figure to work, though. He’s called, as the game puts it, IRONMAN Ivan Stewart, after all. His words must count for something given the excellent feats he must have achieved to earn this nickname. Same goes for his in-game rivals JAMMIN’ John Morgan and HURRICANE Earl Stratton, each of whom I am about 50-50 on whether they actually exist and unwilling to confirm either way.
And however far off the gameplay is, with Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart apparently comes some attempt to recreate the world of off-road truck racing. Not by using real tracks, or trying to create real handling, or a real range of vehicles rather than four brightly coloured ones. No, the apparent verisimilitude is provided by being able to upgrade various bits of your truck in between races, and by going to the trouble of creating art for podium ceremonies. Again, a sizeable part of its audience playing this didn’t know or care how those work, but here we are — three white guys in sunglasses wearing different coloured overalls, each with one hand holding a trophy and the other around a white woman in a bikini, differentiated from each other only by colour of hair and bikini. The women appear, with trophies, on the extra player holding spots on menus, too. The subtext of women as trophies, their bodies as a man’s reward, couldn’t be clearer if it appeared on the screen in flashing red capitals. Maybe that’s how things were in reality in off-road racing — we’re still not far off it in some sporting events a quarter century later — and no slight meant to women doing their jobs. Still, someone had to make the choice for that to be how things were in Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road too.
The same thing goes for the player’s assumed identity. Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road lets you enter your birthday for some reason, and lets you pick where you come from (from a short list of countries) so you can have the correct flag shown on the podium. I don’t know if Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart ever raced against anyone British, if there was a TEASIPPIN’ Viscount Grey or somesuch, but the creators decided to take care of my representation in game nonetheless. Players who aren’t white and male didn’t get the same courtesy. A game which bears a stamp of reality right in its name, but plays in such an unreal way, makes choices of who reality gets stretched for, and who it doesn’t, all the clearer.