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An orange 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is shown off-roading after visiting an SUV dealer near you.

Digital Driver: The Long History of Jeep-Themed Video Games

Since the earliest days of Atari and arcades, racing games have been a mainstay in the world of video games. The digital domain gives players a chance to experience the high-speed automotive antics that would likely land them a steep ticket in the real world, providing the perfect outlet for those looking to test their reflexes in a format where their insurance rates won’t suffer. A brand that has stood out when it comes to the world of video games is one that you can find at pretty much any SUV dealer near you.

Given its iconic status, it comes as no surprise to find that Jeep has a well-established history in the world of video games. Whether it’s a nod to its military background or off-road prowess, Jeep vehicles are no stranger to the digital realm. Various Jeep models have been included in a number of the industry’s best-selling games, from the Gran Turismo and Forza to the Need for Speed series, and the advent of mobile gaming has seen no shortage of Jeep-themed titles for smartphones, tablets, and the like. Jeep has even collaborated with some of the industry’s most popular games to produce one-off promotional models, like a recent project that saw the introduction of a special edition Jeep geared toward fans of the Modern Warfare series.

While it’s little surprise to see Jeep models grace the vehicle selection screen of some of today’s hottest games, those aren’t what we’re going to focus on today. Instead, we’ll concentrate on officially licensed games where the Jeep brand name actually appears in the title. These are some of the more obscure games in the video game archives. In fact, some were one-off titles that never saw the light of day outside of limited promotional runs and industry events. Still, it’s fun to look back on Jeep’s video game history and see how the beloved 4x4s have made their way into the digital realm. Join us as we reminisce on some of the best Jeep-themed video game titles from years gone by.

Jeep Jamboree: Off-Road Adventure (1992)

Jeep made its official video game debut in 1992 with the release of Jeep Jamboree: Off-Road Adventure for the original Game Boy handheld console. To be fair, this wasn’t the first appearance of a jeep-type vehicle in a video game, with rugged 4x4s making regular appearances in war and military-themed games like 1986’s Jackal for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), but it was the first to feature an officially licensed Jeep with the big “J.”

Produced by Virgin Games––an offshoot of the British conglomerate that owns Virgins Records, Virgin Mobile, and Virgin Atlantic airlines––Jeep Jamboree: Off-Road Adventure is an ambitious off-road racing simulator for the Game Boy. The game uses a unique first-person perspective that places players behind the steering wheel, with much of the screen occupied by the dashboard, route map, and various stats, including speed, laps, position, and time. It’s a limiting POV, to be sure, but we’ll mostly write that off to the limitations imposed by the Game Boy’s 8-bit CPU.

The game features over a dozen different tracks that allow players to compete in a field of 20 racers to take the checkered flag with Short, Intermediate, and Championship difficulties to choose from. Courses include Maine Mountains, a five-lap over 1.147 Km featuring “good dry roads with fast corners, few hills with no hazards” to Palo Duro Canyon, a six-lap, 1.188 Km circuit with “dry desert roads, sharp bends, and rocks in the road, no big hills.” Players start in the 20th position and need to reach the 10th spot to advance to the next race, which is easier said than done on some of the tracks. The controls are basic, to say the least, with little more than a gas and brake button to play with, but it’s about what we’d expect from this era of 8-bit games. The graphics are also definitely a relic of their time, with choppy animations that don’t go a long way in imparting a sense of reality, but hey, it was 1992.

While competitors are mostly of the AI variety, Jeep Jamboree: Off-Road Adventure does allow users to play against other human players using the Game Boy link cable. The Jeep racing game probably won’t hold the attention of those who have been spoiled by the comparatively lifelike gameplay of next-gen video game consoles, but it’s an entertaining throwback that’s well worth a look for dedicated Jeep fans.

Can’t figure out what your mom did with your old Game Boy from the 90s? Good news: like many games of the era, Jeep Jamboree: Off-Road Adventure can be played on any web browser for free, allowing modern gamers to enjoy the original Jeep video game in all its 8-bit glory.

Jeep 4×4 EVO 2 (2002)

4×4 Evo 2 was the follow-up to 2001’s 4×4 Evo, a popular off-road racer that allowed gamers to navigate challenging terrains like deserts, canyons, and the like in a range of real-world vehicles. Developed by Terminal Reality, Take Two, and NVIDIA, the game hit shelves in stores in late 2002, but visitors to the 2022 Chicago Auto Show got a chance to experience a special edition of the title that put the Jeep brand front and center. Later released on a promotional demo disc and on Jeep’s website, Jeep 4×4 EVO 2 featured a full lineup of Jeep models from the newly debuted Liberty to the off-road-ready Wrangler Rubicon and even some archive models like the legendary Willys flat fender. Players could customize their Jeep with a full raft of upgrades from engines and suspensions to wheels, tires, aftermarket parts, and more.

Unlike some other promotional titles, which tend to be a little light on substance, Jeep 4×4 EVO 2 was a full-scale retail game rebranded for a Jeep-specific audience. This meant the game had well-developed physics engines that went a long way in upping the reality factor, giving drivers a real sense of what it might be like to traverse some of the world’s most famous off-road locales like the Rubicon Trail or Moab’s Lion’s Back. The game even included a feature found in a few other off-road games: rock crawling, allowing fans of some of the lower-speed off-road pursuits to finally have their moment in the sun.

The game starts off with a course called Jeep 101, where drivers learn the video game’s mechanics, as well as some basic off-road maneuvers and theory. After completing the intro course in a Jeep Wrangler SE, X, Sport, or Sahara, players can unlock new models like the Rubicon, Liberty, and Willys. The game is notable for its attention to detail, with developers taking the time to learn about the world of off-roading and introducing some very realistic features into the mix. For example, the Jeep behaves differently on various types of rock, with developers coding in differences that force players to tackle trails just like one would in the real world. The Jeep’s low-range gears and dual-lockers come in handy when trying to surmount steep inclines, and proper tire placement and momentum can make the difference between a first place finish and a last place finish.

The trails are both realistic and filled with hazards, forcing players to use a third-person view to take stock of their surroundings in order to overcome some of the hairier obstacles. The Moab course is a real highlight, featuring many of the famous locations––Lion’s Back, Cliff Hanger, Potato Salad Hill, and Dump Bump––that have made the Utah region such an off-roading Mecca. Beach trails also give players the opportunity to get into some dune-bashing and learn the difference between high and low gears in real-time.

In addition to its realistic gameplay, Jeep 4×4 EVO 2 had another alluring inclusion: the chance to win a 2003 Wrangler Rubicon. Players could upload their high scores to an online leaderboard, with the winner taking home a brand new Jeep of their very own and 150 runners-up making off with Jeep-branded snowboards and mountain bikes.

Jeep Trail Rated 4×4: The Unlimited Challenge and Jeep 4×4 Adventure (2004)

One of the rarest Jeep racing games around, Jeep Trail Rated 4×4: The Unlimited Challenge, was a promotional title that could only be played by those attending the 2004 North American International Auto Show. Developed in a partnership with Microsoft and Terminal Reality as part of a Chrysler marketing effort, the game was rolled out along with two other limited edition titles: Project Gotham Racing Two: Dodge Magnum Edition and Project Gotham Racing Two: Chrysler 300 Edition. The games allowed players to experience forthcoming models in a digital format, taking control of the 2004 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, 2005 Dodge Magnum, and 2005 Chrysler 300C.

The game was intended as half marketing effort, half digital test drive, allowing drivers to experience life behind the wheel of a Jeep without ever leaving the convention hall. “Visitors to the auto show will be able to see the vehicles on display and then have an opportunity to take them for a thrilling ride in a race against other game players,” said Julie Roehm, director of marketing communications at Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge.

The games were followed by three similar online titles, also created by WildTangent, which hit the internet shortly after the 2004 North American International Auto Show. Accessible through Jeep’s website, Jeep 4×4 Adventure puts players in the driver’s seat of a Jeep Wrangler as they compete on three different tracks. “The online games are fun and present a sense of realism rarely found with an Internet experience,” said Alex St. John, CEO of WildTangent. “Exciting special effects coupled with scenic backgrounds help to create a deep connection between the player and the game.”

Though likely not up to the standard expected by modern gamers, the title was an impressive effort for its time, especially for a web-based game. Jeep 4×4 Adventure gave players the opportunity to experience how a Jeep might handle various types of terrain as they navigate courses that range from Coastline to Island Metro and Outback. Given its reputation for off-road performance, the Jeep Wrangler was the ideal pick for the Outback setting, where it was able to eagerly rip through the bumpy, hazardous environment with ease.

Jeep Thrills (2008)

While Jeep models would be featured in various racing and driving simulator games throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, the brand didn’t release another officially licensed retail game until 2008, when Jeep Thrills hit the shelves. Originally released for the PlayStation 2, Jeep Thrills would later be ported to the Nintendo Wii, making the game more accessible to a wider range of players. Another off-road racing game in the same spirit as Jeep Jamboree: Off-Road Adventure, the game can best be summed up by the text on the back of the box.

“Jeep, the undisputed King of off-road adventure, invites you to climb into the driver’s seat and experience racing like never before. 18 customizable Jeep vehicles (including futuristic concept cars!), 35 intense tracks, and one main objective: conquering the terrain and the elements and owning the planet.”

Video games had come a long way between 1992 and 2008, with next-gen consoles imparting a new sense of authenticity into the gaming experience. While Jeep’s foray into the Game Boy was limited to just 8 bits, the PlayStation 2 was 16 times more powerful than the handheld console with a 128-bit CPU that went a long way in improving the overall gaming experience. This improvement was especially noticeable when it came to racing games, which graduated from the pixelated, slideshow-like graphics of the ’90s to something almost approaching reality. Players can navigate across tundras, jungles, and mountains which, unlike the Game Boy release, actually present some unique, terrain-specific challenges. The courses are packed with secret shortcuts, though some reviewers found that since there’s virtually no speed or handling penalty when driving off the beaten path, there’s also little incentive to navigate a tight corner when going off-road works just as well.

The real highlight of Jeep Thrills comes down to the generous selection of Jeep models, each with its own handling, top speed, acceleration, and boost stats. Players can choose from 18 Jeep models, including some concept vehicles that never saw the light of day. The 2008 Jeep Patriot, Grand Cherokee, and Compass represent the latest-and-greatest for the 2008 game, but drivers can dive into the Jeep archives and get behind the wheel of iconic models like the 1945 Willys CJ-2 A, 1985 Jeep CJ Scrambler, and 1956 Jeep Forward Control 150. Concept models include the 2004 Jeep Rescue, 2004 Jeep Treo, and 2005 Jeep Hurricane. While the Jeep Gladiator didn’t hit the market until 2020, gamers got an early taste of the Jeep pickup back in 2008, as the 2005 concept version is included in the game.

Drive Ya Jeep Digitally or in Reality

Jeep fans have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to video games. While many of these titles can be challenging to find, re-releases, web-based ports, and streaming game archives are making some games more accessible than ever. For any drivers looking for a quick hit of nostalgia, a quick web search will turn up plenty of Jeep-related games that’ll make you wistful for long afternoon gaming marathons powered by junk food and soda. While some might be surprised at the number of Jeep-themed games on the market, the brand’s popularity in the video game industry shouldn’t be that surprising. The automaker has always offered something a little different than the competition, churning out unique, purpose-built models all their own. With an iconic, boxy design and unsurpassed off-road functionality, Jeep products are a must-have for any video game that’s looking to accurately capture the modern automotive landscape.

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