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Imagine you are walking through your favorite software store and you come upon a HUGE box that not only has the word "BOSS" blazed across the front, but also has the slogan "Fast Paced 3D Arcade Racing!" smeared across the bottom. You might think, like me, that this could be the Rally game you’ve been waiting for. To heck with Sega Rally or International Rally Championship... after all, THIS is "Fast Paced 3D Arcade Racing!" The sad thing is that you’ll probably have more fun watching the sales clerk find the phone number on your check than you will if you actually play this game.
Boss Rally is the PC port of the Top Gear Rally game for the Nintendo 64. While I have never played Top Gear Rally, it seems that enough people liked it for Boss Games Studio to release the same game on the PC.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
If you stack up Boss Rally’s feature list with other similar games out there, it would seem that you might be in for a treat here. After all you get six tracks, 16 cars, various weather modifiers and the chance to tweak your car's setup before a race. If you add in "hidden shortcuts," 19 opponents, and three separate competitions in which to challenge the Rally racer in all of us... we must have a winner. Right?... not really...
Let’s start with the tracks -- they are actually not too bad if you ignore the graphics and anything beyond the road on which you are driving. The inclusion of the hidden shortcuts is nice, except for the fact that they don’t seem very hidden at all, and players must use these EVERY time if they ever hope to win even the first race; plus you will only see the first two tracks (Jungle and Coastline) unless you place better than fourth in each race. Trust me when I say that most people will tire of the game before they even get close to mastering the first two tracks. Thank goodness for cheating or I wouldn’t have found the others.
The first cars you get to choose from are generic hatchbacks that seem not to mind that their tires aren’t entirely round. The further you get into the game, the more exotic your vehicle selection becomes. You actually start seeing some creativity creep into the design... too bad, though, that you will have to win a lot of races before you are awarded with anything but the generic hatchback. Again, cheating is handy here, if you can get past the guilt... yeah, right...
The cars seem to handle like those in other "Fast Paced 3D Arcade Racing!" games I have played in the past. You are allowed some freedom to modify these cars prior to a race. You can choose different tires (cutely named Grippy, Normal, and Slippy). Your suspension can be modified to make your car handle a little stiffer and you can modify the steering response to suit your taste. I couldn’t really see how any of these modifiers had any effect on how well I did in a race. In fact, unless you master the skill of power-braking your way around corners, you will never ever place better than 16th or 17th out of 20. Actually, if you don’t take advantage of the shortcuts scattered about, you won’t do much better than that either. Hey, wouldn’t that be considered cheating?
Give up trying to get any analog-based joysticks, steering wheels, or other such devices to give you any control in this game. I finally settled on either the keyboard or a digital gamepad before I could accurately navigate my way through a race. Force-feedback is present, but better left alone. There are far better force-feedback enhanced games than this. Heck, even the test applet in the Control Panel has more realistic road-feel than Boss Rally.
The computer-controlled opponents are where this game really loses it for me. My first test for any racing game is to flip around the track and drive it backwards. I like to see how the cars react to me being an unforeseen obstacle. In most games I’ve played, the computer-controlled cars will attempt to get out of the way. Some may hit you, but they quickly recover and attempt to regain their position. And in Boss Rally? Well, to me it seems that they are all on a mission to drive on a predetermined route, and nothing will stop them from achieving that goal. Not only do they plow into you, but also they will keep going until your car is pushed out of the way. Flip around the other way and you notice that these guys aren’t actually racing at all. They all do the same thing at the same time and couldn't care less about winning. It was almost like when I would play solo on my slot-racing game as a kid and would tape down the other controller so I could race against an opponent. The cars in Boss Rally seem to exhibit about the same initiative and desire to win as an electrical-taped-down slot car.
The three modes of play don’t do much to rescue this game from being placed way in the back of my shelf. The Championship Mode is the standard fare of racing through a series of tracks in the hope of unlocking more tracks and additional vehicles. The Time Attack allows you to race against the best time on the track (basically against your own previous times, as you’ll probably have trouble convincing others to give it the ol’ college try). Then there’s the Quick Race for those who only want to race against one brain-dead AI opponent rather than trying to get past 19.
Luckily, Boss Game Studios thought to add multiplayer options to Boss Rally. Unluckily, I couldn’t even convince my wife to play this thing. I even told her that all she had to do was to tape down her joystick and she’d be as good as the computer. No such luck...
To sum up, the gameplay of Boss Rally boils down to one thing and no, it’s not "Fast Paced 3D Arcade Racing!" nor does it really involve the word "BOSS" -- you really end up settling into the same pattern as the computer-controlled cars. That’s right, you need to be as dumb as they and you’ll finally start winning. This involves the arduous task of figuring out when exactly to accelerate and when to power brake around corners. You must find and use all the shortcuts and you must ignore the other cars on the road. If they are in your way... hit them. You’ll spend the first few hours trying to master the first two tracks, often swearing and thinking about the store's return policy... but you will start winning. You will start to see the other tracks and other cars... too bad you won’t be having any fun.
Hey, at least you can smile when you uninstall the thing.
Graphically, this game almost defines sub-standard when it comes to the bar that one must reach today when using 3D acceleration. To me, the textures seem to be repeated way too often and everything appears to have this "glossy sheen" smeared all over. Performance does not seem to be an issue, as this game chunks along at a pretty peppy frame-rate... probably because there seems to be only a dozen or so textures on the screen at one time.
The cars themselves look okay. Since they don’t model any real vehicles, Boss Game Studios can get away with some creativity here. The problem, though, is you don’t get to see this creativity unless you are 1) really good and don’t tire of the game, or 2) cheat. Some of the vehicles I found, once I got a cheat, were pretty nice. One odd thing is when your car experiences damage to the body. You will start to "see through" your car and find out that your car is actually hollow. Not only is it hollow, but it doesn’t appear to contain a driver of any kind. This might explain the atrocious AI and maybe I shouldn’t feel so perplexed as to why the cars always drive in a set path.
The inclusion of some really sparse "eye candy" tries to ease you away from the boredom of weaving in and out of robo-traffic, but it is too sparse to be really exciting. I saw a small plane buzz over the track once; there were some seagulls (or were they vultures?) circling above something on the beach. On the other tracks, similarly sparse objects pop up now and again, but it wasn’t anything that made me go: "Oh gee, I gotta play this track again to see that airplane." It was more like: "Oh gee, I wonder what died on the beach."
One thing that I really dug was when I chose to drive the Jungle track in the snow. Other than the fact that a snowstorm in a tropical jungle is the type of thing to throw Art Bell into a prophecy-inducing late-night-radio frenzy, Boss Game Studios actually modified the textures to show snow collecting on the palm trees and tropical foliage. Instead of just changing the road textures, they actually made it convincing (in a glossy sheen winter wonderland way).
Well, first let me mention that I enjoy finding new talent hidden away in even the lamest of games. While I don’t really want to call this the lamest game I’ve played, it is refreshing that since I don’t see myself playing this ever again, I can still enjoy the soundtrack in my own vehicle. The band featured is called Dragline. I’ve never heard of them, but then again I hadn’t heard of the Gone Jackals before playing LucasArts' Full Throttle. If you enjoy finding new bands like I do, this game is almost worth purchasing for the soundtrack alone... but that’s it. The game itself probably won’t sell you on the purchase.
The confusing factor concerning audio for this game is the inclusion of Extreme Audio Reality, Inc.'s Interactive Around-Sound. This is needed, I guess, to hear the CD audio within the game (unless you change the BossRally.ini file’s default settings). Now, I would be all excited about this if it really seemed to make a difference. For the life of me, I couldn’t tell what the heck this thing was supposed to do. Not only that, but it is installed unbeknownst to the user. Huh? Finding the IAS icon in the control panel was my only hint that something was up. I’m all for providing gamers with new technology, but hey, why don’t you let us know... and maybe give us the option to remove it without actually removing the game first?
The other audio aspects are pretty unremarkable. You get the generic engine sounds, generic road noise, and generic body-crunching sounds. They aren’t bad, but won’t blow you away either.
Minimum: Pentium 233mhz, 32 MB RAM, and a 16 bit high-color video card
I recommend: Going out and buying a Hot Wheels car and racing it up and down your pant leg. You’ll feel a whole lot better and a Hot Wheels car almost has better artificial intelligence when compared to the opponents you’d face in Boss Rally.
You get the standard CD-case-sized booklet that tries to get you in the mood for this "Fast Paced 3D Arcade Racing!" game. In fact, if it weren’t for this book, I might have never figured out the difference between GRIPPY and SLIPPY tires. Although I am still confused by the definition of SLIPPY that states these are the tires you want for snowy conditions. Huh?? Well, maybe it’s because I am not a Rally-racing expert... but I always thought you wanted tires that gripped (i.e. GRIPPY) when driving in slippery conditions. Regardless of that, it is a pretty good manual for a game that really doesn’t need one. One thing that really irked me, though, is the absence of anything about the above-mentioned EAR audio enhancements being installed. I did however find this in the included README.TXT.
The README actually covers some great troubleshooting tips, as well as information on how to custom-paint your car and modify the BossRally.INI file to help with CD-audio and steering issues.
There are a few reasons that I felt I HAD to rate this game so low. One is that there isn’t anything here that makes me want to keep playing it. The absent AI makes this an exercise of knowing when to accelerate and when to brake (ignore the other cars -- they’re only hollow). Two is the fact that it’s just not that much fun. There are plenty of games out there that would fall into the "Fast Paced 3D Arcade Racing!" camp. In fact there are some pretty darn good games that could license the slogan for their box... Boss Rally just doesn’t seem to live up to that billing.
Maybe if Boss Game Studios re-did the AI for the next version (or at least added some), and improved on the graphics a bit, they might move from sub-standard "Fast Paced 3D Arcade Racing!" to average "Fast Paced 3D Arcade Racing!" Too bad the competition isn’t driving hollow cars...
Hey, at least put some new Dragline tracks on the sequel and I’ll probably not mind pointing out "yet again" where the phone number is written on my check.