Rally Championship Xtreme
With the carrion cry for decent AI reaching fever pitch, it's always refreshing to take a break and settle back with the latest rally release. Seeing as you're the only car in the whole game, AI is a non-factor, your opponents reduced to an onscreen time plucked out of thin air by the programmers. Did the leader actually post that amazing time, the one that you can't beat no matter how many times you play the game or how much you spend on a souped-up car? You'll never know. Ha! Non-believers might not see the point in this, but the addictive quality of a decent rally game comes from the fact that without computer-controlled dodgems, the game is reduced to pure driving. You against the road, where you live and die by your mistakes, not because you've been taken off the road by a computer-controlled driver who won't budge off the racing line even if it means ploughing straight through you.
Up until now, Colin McRae has been the game of choice, but the Rally Championship series (of which this is the sixth) has always been right up its exhaust pipe. The new Xtreme release comes sandwiched between CM2 (now out as an essential budget release) and CM3 (see our news piece last issue), and it's this that gives it the chance to shine without having to go head-to-head with the dour Scot.
Graphically it takes the top of the podium. The visuals are breathtaking - pure and simple. I've sat through dozens of demos of bog standard rally games, and I haven't seen anything like this before, with amazing attention to detail, right down to the moving driver inside each beautifully recreated car. As with Colin McRae, each different surface looks and feels absolutely spot on, and the photo-realistic backdrops work well with the rendered courses, although it has to be said that this is because your eyes are usually fixed firmly on a spot in the road ten metres ahead of your car. Crash, give up a particular race and take in the overall effect and it looks slightly weird.
The physics model is also sublime, and small touches such as the fact that you can feel every bump you go over, and that each of these can send you off course makes the going pretty tough. As with Colin McRae, these almost-invisible obstacles can send you into a spin or a head-on encounter with a wall even when you're travelling along a seemingly straight road.
In an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible, Xtreme features four different game modes. Championship is the full-on sim-rally experience, with you up against computer times in a bid to qualify for progressive races. Arcade is more of a console game, where you have a limited amount of time to make it to the next checkpoint, and Challenge lets you unlock new cars and new courses by completing tasks. You can also play multiplayer on a LAN or the Internet, although at the time of reviewing we couldn't check the latter out, due to the lack of any servers, and LAN racing is as exciting and frustrating as anything we've played before. The only thing missing from this is the chance to battle out in arcade mode against computer-controlled drivers, as you can with Colin McRae 2. OK, it's not strictly rallying, but it's a missing bonus that counts against this new challenger.
Bottom Of The Class
Taking the Championship mode as the meat ot the dish, and the place most of you are going to start, I should point out that if you haven't played a rally game before, and mastered the intricacies of the drive you're going to find the start of your life in Xtreme particularly dispiriting, because it's bloody hard.
Learning curve? Actualise obviously hasn't grasped the concept because this is unforgiving from the off. Don't time your start right? Expect to come in the first checkpoint 5-10 seconds off the leaders, especially if you're penalised for a jump-start. Misjudge one comer, or lose concentration for a split second when your codriver laconically spouts about a sudden hairpin and your stage is as good as over. Admittedly you can practise each stage before tackling it, and this helps, but you still need a memory that can take in the three or four problem points and regurgitate them at a moment's notice. However, like all games that are deemed worthy of an Award of Excellence, Xtreme comes good. I spent the first day coming fairly near the bottom of each rally, aided by a stinking hangover and a wish that I was in bed rather than in front of the PC. But, after putting in the groundwork I came back the next day refreshed and started crawling up, even winning my first stage. And the satisfaction I felt was immense, far more than being able to win the first six or seven races in Colin McRae 2 easily.
Anyway, I don't suppose you're particularly interested in how I spend my weekends. What you really want to know is whether this, at $34.99, is better than Colin McRae 2 at $12.99. It's a toughie. If the dour Scot was still charging top whack for his services I'd probably point you towards Xtreme. If you have a top-end graphics card and you want to see results, again I'd err on the side of this new release. If you're just after an excellent rally game for your PC then there's hardly anything between the two. Except for the cash.
Download Rally Championship Xtreme
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Rally Championship Xtreme is the newest offering of rally games from Actualize. It represents the current state of rallying, the WRC class representing the pinnacle of the sport. Featured are twenty-eight licensed cars including the dominant Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus and other current era cars along with some historic racers like the venerable Lancia Stratos of the early 80’s. Multiple game formats are offered, all requiring realistic racing strategy to succeed. You even have a co-pilot barking directions at you while you navigate terrain of all types. Over twenty-eight tracks are offered including rallies in Britain, the Arctic, USA and a safari rally. As a result, a wide variety of track surfaces are mimicked in the game including gravel roads, frozen tundra, and safari desert racing.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Five modes of play are available: Championship, Quick Game, Arcade, Challenge and Multiplayer. Championship mode represents an entire season -- you simply try to score as many points as possible in six rallies. Quick Play is a good means of practice, it has the same format as Championship but you can simply pick and choose which rally or part of a rally you wish to run. Also available is a "Pace Car" showing good lines and technique. Arcade mode requires you to get to certain intervals within the allotted time to continue. Challenge is also similar to Championship mode but you start with a sum of money and must purchase you cars. The better your race results, the more you earn which in turn can be spent on better cars. While the other modes start off with nearly all cars locked, Challenge mode doesn’t limit you to certain cars though your funds may. Lastly is Multiplayer -- network or online, you can host or join a game.
At the start of a game, you can choose to create a profile, use an existing profile or drive as a guest. Next, you choose what car you’d like to drive. As with many racing games, most cars are locked and inaccessible until progress is made and success realized. After choosing your car, you are offered a choice of races to participate in, but as with the cars, you must gain access to all but the first track by racing to good results.
Prior to racing, you are allowed to adjust the setup of your car. As in real rallying, the limiting factor is time. A list of things you can adjust is displayed, each with the corresponding number of minutes to complete the task. For example, you may have fifteen minutes before the next stage and need to change setup. Raising ride height may take three minutes, changing to softer compound tires may take four minutes and so on. Prioritizing changes is paramount. Repairs are dealt with the same way; you have a finite amount of time to complete them. Accordingly, the less you damage your car, the more likely you’ll be able to make all the necessary repairs in the allotted time. Often race games allow seemingly infinite adjustments to everything from the driver’s underwear size to suspension camber; RCX goes the other way. You can still adjust most relevant components, but just to practical limits. Car height, low, medium or high; gears ratios, long, normal or short. You get my point. Admittedly, a little more latitude for fine-tuning may be preferable, but this seems more useable than most current games.
Rallying is a sport that, by its very nature, necessitates driving barely in control of low grip surfaces, around blind corners and over blind crests. It was like driving a Galaxie 500 with bald tires in the rain. I understand this game’s selling point is its realism but it has a fairly steep learning curve. Perhaps those who’ve played many rally games before won’t find RCX particularly challenging. Seemingly, one moderate mistake per race will render you an also ran. To have any success in racing games, you have to understand how your car reacts to various inputs. Playing _ RCX_, it seems the driving input is fairly divorced from what your car is doing. Often, it seemed my car was just making lazy parabolas for no reason, though I was counter steering correctly and applying throttle or brake appropriately. Occasionally, my car would have a wheel locked and just do doughnuts. Other times, it would just slide around even though I wasn’t going too fast or driving haphazardly. Sometimes it just seemed like it had a mind of its own. I realize this is a reality based rally game but at some points, it just wasn’t fun to play. This leads to another issue. As I mentioned, most cars and tracks are locked until you garner some good race results. Logical and perhaps motivating, but driving the same cars at the same races can become tiresome. At the very least, more cars and tracks should initially be playable to alleviate this; throw us a bone.
The crash details were realistic and amusing. On numerous occasions, I would find myself with a crushed hood bobbing in front of me like a buoy in a storm. I knocked off wheels with comical regularity and shed body parts like I was getting paid to. Initially, I just finished with three wheels -- then I realized there is a wheel change function to replace missing wheels and change flats. Hit a building or tree hard enough and your bumper may be dragging for the remainder of the race. Hit it again and it just may get left behind. With a missing hood, I could actually see a good the engine; a missing wheel showed an axle peeking out of the wheel well. Tail lights would get broken out and body damage was easy to spot. After a particularly heinous crash, during which I missed a checkpoint, I had to drive back through my own debris filed which could have easily be mistaken for a junk yard. At least there was an upside to having difficult to control cars.
Controls were standard fare. Unremarkable but good enough. Once thing that struck me is that all player input seems delayed. Perhaps it’s for realism sake but steering, shifting, braking, everything seemed to occur slightly after I’d actually done it. It’s something you can work around but if it’s to be realistic, it fails. It’s fairly disconcerting and surely takes away from the game.
RCX is mostly easy to navigate but two areas could use addressing. First, the menu graphics (in fact all graphics) are pretty attractive if not slightly overdone. They remind me of the new Windows XP look with their pudgy three dimensional concave buttons. One issue that annoyed me to no end was the way my pointer shot across the screen; it was like watching a drunk driver. All of my input looked over-reactive and clumsy and it was somewhat difficult to hover over a button just to click it. Secondly, the method of assigning functions to specific joystick buttons was somewhat challenging. It seemed like it should be easy, click a button and choose what it should do, but it wasn’t. At least you don’t have to do it often.
Like other aspects of this game, the graphics were a mixed bag. Great graphical detail was designed into RCX. The scenery, cars, car interiors, bystanders and environment in general, border on stunning. Rain falling on you looks like rain falling on you. Hang gliders fly above you and TV trucks are waiting at the finish line. Cars get dirty as you drive though dirt and dented body parts are easy to spot. The details are nothing short of remarkable. Several vantage points are offered which helps with the difficult driving required. Each car had its unique interior and exhaust. One curiosity of note, when driving a car with paddle shifters (behind the steering wheel), the driver still used a floor shifter. Not a big deal, just a small oversight. All this detail is the cause of the single biggest fault of this game. My computer exceeds (if only marginally) the recommended specs for RCX, but the animation was pretty bad. It looked like a cartoon drawn on a deck of cards at some points. It seemed that once that car’s speed was in the mid range, it looked reasonably smooth. Up to that point, it looked fairly bad. If I was using an interior view to drive (both of which include the driver’s arms and dashboard and such) it was at its worst; almost unplayable in fact. I would end up reacting to something that happened a half a second earlier which simply wreaks havoc with the game. I suspect with a real screamer of a video card and a processor much faster than recommended, this game would be truly world class.
Sounds also were impressive, slightly more so than the graphics. Different cars made different noises. The true-to-life WRC cars made very transmission like noises when driving from the cockpit vantage point. Also, a distinctive popping emanates from the rear (unburnt gasses igniting in the exhaust system) when the accelerator was released, just like real rally cars. Different road surfaces generate different sounds as did crashes into different structures. Pretty slick stuff.
Minimum: P2 450 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 3D Hardware Accelerator with 16MB, Windows 98/98SE/ME/2000, Direct X compatible Sound Card, Microsoft compatible mouse and driver, Microsoft compatible joystick / joypad or steering wheel.
Recommended: P3 500 Mhz, 128 MB RAM, 3D Hardware Accelerator with 32MB.
Like the pretty girl with bad breath, this game is soooo close to greatness. It has great looking graphics, though they seem to be generated by slow drawing elves. It has great sounds, though the best place to hear them from is from inside the car which in turn slows the graphics. It has great tracks and racing environments, though it’s really hard to get to most of them. It has great physics, though they may be just a bit too realistic to enjoy. I could live with its quirks and faults and goofy menu with its 100mph pointer if it just could render pictures smoothly. As mentioned above, if your machine exceeds the recommended specs by a good margin, this game will bring you hours of fun. Otherwise, it’ll end up accumulating dust until your next machine purchase, assuming you remember where you left it.