Microsoft knows that rally games are a dime a dozen nowadays, which is why this March release will feature two racing styles very uncommon to the genre: hill climbing and ice racing. We got to play a bit of RalliSport recently, and these two new modes are definitely cool. Overall, the game's running really fast and looking great. Unfortunately, MS has no plans for network support for head-to-head racing.
Download RalliSport Challenge
Considering how unpopular rally racing is in North America, Im surprised Microsoft is releasing RalliSport here at all. Of course, rally games arent entirely alien to this part of the world, but most of them tend to be fairly easy, arcadey titles. Not RalliSport. While it starts out all user-friendly by letting you win a lot, it quickly becomes a hardcore driving simulation which had me screaming words that Shoe says Im not allowed to write in the magazine. So if youre not one who likes to work for his wins, I suggest you play something like Project Gotham Racing instead, you little girly man. Those of you who live for a serious racing game that sucks you in, challenges you to better your time by fractions of a second, and generally forces you to learn every bump and curve in the road, youve come to the right place. I guess that explains the word challenge in the title. Luckily the game controls tike a dream. You always need to be aware of the weight transfer and drive-train of your car, so learning to feather the gas when making a turn is a must. You also need to pay attention to whether youre driving on sand, tarmac or ice, and change your driving style accordingly. But once you get into the right mindset for this baby, youre sure to see those times drop rapidly. And I have to say this: The Xbox controller is perfect for racing games. The analog triggers make acceleration and braking easy and intuitive.
After hitting the dirt with the Rally mode in Gran Turismo 3,1 didnt think anything could even come close well, at least not until GT4. So imagine my surprise when RC, a racer that handles like no rally game Ive ever played, delivered the same harrowing realism of the GT series. RCs controls are quick and responsive, yet subtle and unforgiving. This is an unapologetic, balls-out sim that requires a serious time investment from the player. Let your guard down for even a second and yoult fishtail off the track, into ditches, up embankments or flip off the side of mountains. This freedom of chaos is ultimately what elevates RC to greatness.
Rally racing is to America what Euro Disney is to Europe. To most folks on this side of the pond, its about as popular as a French-speaking duck in a sailor suit. But if youre looking to broaden your racing horizons, start with RalliSport. Its one of the first games that really uses the Xbox's graphical power take a screenshot of certain tracks and you might convince friends youve recently been to Europe. Its almost too clean and tight for my tastes, actually; I wanted more flying dirt and a visibly looser suspension on the cars. But if you can suspend your disbelief and handle the difficulty curve, its much more fun than any theme park.
A while back, I reviewed this title for the Xbox, and I was incredibly happy with what I'd found there. Now, Microsoft has released Rallisport Challenge for the PC, and while I've found that it's much the same title I played before, it's changed, and a little for the worse.
First, the game looks and sounds much the same, which is to say, fabulous. I love watching the scenery go by during a race, and thanks to the realistic detail, all of the terrain is very natural looking. Most of the graphics and audio are replicated from the previous versions of the title, including the excellent track commentary. In rally racing, having a navigator with relevant track details is a must, and that hasn't changed for this game.
Controls for PC racing titles, in my opinion, have always lacked a bit. Console titles can be tweaked and tweaked and tweaked until they perform perfectly, but with a PC, you've got so much leeway for graphics options that it's easy to reduce your performance by the small amount necessary to totally blow the experience. I found, even when I reduced the graphics options to a minimal amount, that the game didn't seem to handle quite the same way, whether I was using a wheel, joystick, or gamepad. For some reason, it just didn't seem to control in quite the smooth way, but was very, very close to the console versions.
For the PC racing game connoisseur, although I'd say you could do better with the console version of Rallisport Challenge, the PC version isn't but a hair off from that. This title is definitely worth the price.
I've got to say, realistic racing games suck. At least' usually. Last year, I picked up a hot little number from EA Games called F1 2001. A superb game, and amazingly well built, it was the first F1 title I'd tried out that I really enjoyed. From spectacular graphics to great physics, and a tutorial section that actually taught you how to play, I was amazed all around. Rallisport Challenge, with the exception of the a nowhere-to-be-seen tutorial mode, gives me the same satisfaction, only in a much smaller car that tends to loose traction like K-Mart loses customers
Which is to say, all the freakin' time. If you haven't seen one before, Rally racing is this wicked sub-section of racing sports that involves taking a supped up small sports car, and racing them around a curvy, weird little track. Emphasizing the ability to control your car even when all four wheels don't have any grip on the road, it's a common occurrence to take a corner at such speeds that you aren't really turning the corner; you're skidding around the corner. This game puts meaning to the term, 'See the world, sideways.'?
RalliSport lets you drive one of these mean machines through a variety of courses, ranging anywhere from a sandy desert track, to the icy and snow covered reaches of the Northern Thule. Not only do you have many different tracks to compete on, but there's also a host of different vehicles just waiting to be driven. Unlock them by racing in the tournament mode, and you'll open up new racing modes, and eventually earn your way to the most challenging and powerful cars.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The control scheme in RalliSport makes good use of the Xbox controller. Whipping around a corner is fun and easy, and thanks to a good physics model, you aren't going to put your car into a spin very often. I was expecting a lot of difficulty trying to learn the proper handling for a rally car, but the large nature of the Xbox controller gives you plenty to grip, and good leverage for using the trigger buttons to accelerate and brake.
Naturally, rally racing isn't the easiest thing in the world to learn. Most of the rally tracks are simple A to B courses, with plenty of curves and obstacles in-between. Rallicross lets you take a rally course against three other cars, in a lap-based loop race. Ice Racing puts you on some of the slickest terrain this side of the ice age, and then has you race wheel-to-wheel with other cars. Finally, the hill climb lets you take hills that are challenging not only for the twists and turns, but for the fact that you can drop off the side of a cliff with a missed turn. And these gameplay modes are just the ones that show up in the career mode.
There's also a single race mode, instant action, time attack, and everyone's favorite, multiplayer. With a fair variety of race types, you've got a lot to work with here, and given that you can also unlock new tracks and cars in the career mode, it can take a while to exhaust all the different choices. Even with all of that choice, though, the modes can be somewhat repetitive. However, I'm assuming you're here for the joy of driving, in and of itself.
Finally, driving these cars is both a challenge and a joy. The physics handle realistically enough that you won't be cursing every time you spin out. As well done as it is, that physics model still has problems, but at least they're subtle enough that you won't likely see them unless you do something really, really drastic. Skidding around corners, taking turns at high speed, and the short little jumps that are familiar to fans of rally racing are all modeled faithfully.
I've only seen the term photo-realism done justice in a few titles, and I'm happy to say that RalliSport Challenge is one of those few titles. Besides having an incredible amount of detail on each car, the environment that you race through is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. From the gentle snow-packed banks of an ice racing track to the sandy desert of a rally race, each of them looks absolutely beautiful, and mostly photo-realistic. The variety of car designs is good, but what impressed me most about them were the excellent damage effects which appropriately dented, scratched, and otherwise abused the car. The safety glass on the windows even spiderwebs in a convincing pattern.
Similarly, the audio in this game was also nigh perfect. You've got a navigator that can give you audio directions, all of which arrive spaced well enough to make handling the courses an ease, if you've got your driving skills up to spec. Mild background music plays during each course, and as is usual for a racing title, the sound effects are superb. I didn't get a chance to try it out on a Dolby Digital system, but even on my modest TV the sounds were great. Also, this is another game that lets you play your own music off of the Xbox hard drive.
In the end, I walked away a happy man. I'd found yet another good realistic racing game, that was easy to play and pretty entertaining just on its own. The interface was a tad primitive, but had such a little effect on the game that I hesitate to even mention it. With good racing, and a new respect for the challenge of rally racing, I've got to say, this one's a keeper, and definitely worth checking out even if you aren't a fan of this specific sub-genre.