Traditional racing games are great. Blazing around street courses in souped-up muscle cars, swerving in and out of traffic and tearing up real world cities is just about as big an adrenaline rush you can get from a videogame. But there always seems to be that nagging urge to take that nice, shiny sports car and send it barreling down a craggy mountain pass or plunging through forest streams and mud-caked back roads. Thankfully, Microsoft recognized this popular craving and signed up Digital Illusions CE (DICE) to develop Rallisport Challenge, the very first rally racing game for the Xbox system. So did DICE’s racing effort turn out to be entertaining and polished enough to differentiate itself from traditional racers like Project Gotham Racing and Apex? Most definitely.
First and foremost, it should be noted that Rallisport is more of an arcade racer then a simulation. Don’t expect to be spending a significant amount of time tinkering with your car’s part settings or tuning the engine; this game is all about going extraordinarily fast and having some crazy fun in the process. I can already hear the diehard WRC fans muttering under their breath, but trust me – this game is a serous kick in the pants. The first time you recklessly fly around a hairpin turn, two wheels sliding to the edge of massive cliff as you fishtail crazily while trying to regain the road, you’ll know Rallisport is something truly special. Anyway, who has time to worry about car tweaking and settings when you’re careening around barely visible roads that are constantly surrounded by cliffs, boulders, trees and numerous other hazards? Not me, that’s for sure.
There are four main modes in the game, including Single Race, Time Attack, Multiplayer and Career. The first two are self-explanatory; they allow you to spend quality time practicing each available track or attempt to best your fastest times. The multiplayer mode allows you go head to head against up to three of your buddies in split screen and the Career mode allows you to unlock new tracks and cars. Not attempting to simulate a real rally season, the career is fairly basic in its implementation. You simply attempt races, earn points depending on how well you do (ie – how fast your time is minus car damage) and unlock successive circuits. Previous races can be replayed, so if you have trouble unlocking something in particular you can always go back and attempt to earn more points. Though basic, the Career mode is still quite engaging, mostly because the actual gameplay in Rallisport is so dang fun.
One of the best features of the game is the great variety of race types offered. These include: Traditional Rally, Rally Cross, Ice Racing and Hill Climb. The Traditional Rally is a race from point A to point B that is done solely against the clock. Rally Cross pits you against three opponents in a lapped race, while Ice Racing is the same except completely on ice (and some seriously hectic fun I might add). It’s great that DICE chose to include lap races in the game, as they are oddly left out of many rally simulations. My personal favorite, the Hill Climb, is a brutal scramble to the top of a mountain, completed in a series of checkpoint-to-checkpoint stretches. As you get nearer to the top of the mountain, the drop-offs become more and more precipitous, making the later sections of the race extremely nerve-racking as you barrel around corners like a madman. Each one of these different race types provide a significantly different gameplay experience, so you’ll really have to spend a good deal of time mastering each one to become a proficient Rallisport player.
The car lineup in the game is fairly solid, with numerous real life vehicles making the cut. Rally fans will be happy to see models like the Ford Escort, Volkswagen Beetle, Nissan Skyline, Audi Quattro, Ford Focus, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza and many more recreated quite faithfully in the game. The actual speed, acceleration and handling of each of the cars are nice and varied, so you’ll likely pick one that suits your style and stick with it. Some of the later vehicles that can be unlocked are prototype cars that can go ridiculously fast, so prepare for some hair-raising experiences and wicked looking crashes when you first unleash them on the mountainside.
Unfortunately, there is a minor problem that I must mention regarding Rallisport’s gameplay. Whenever you go too far off the main road, the game automatically resets you back. This is to prevent shortcut taking that would allow drivers to cheat their way to faster times. That’s all fine and good, but the problem is that the game seems to arbitrarily decide when to reset your car. Sometimes you’ll be crashing through the underbrush with the road nowhere to be seen, yet you are not reset. Other times you’ll stray half a car’s width from the path and the game will reset you. It seems that DICE could have dealt with this frustrating problem by simply eliminating the auto resets and informing you that your race his been forfeited due to shortcut taking, but still allowing you to drive around as you please. This issue doesn’t take anything significant away from Rallisport’s great gameplay, but it is a nit-pick worth noting.
Visually, Rallisport is absolutely stunning. Not since Halo has a game provided such amazingly realistic and detailed textures. No matter if you are looking from a distance or up close, the objects in the game’s environments look remarkably lifelike and do wonders in immersing the player. Oodles of little details overwhelm your senses, such as grass swaying gently in the breeze, ice that scuffs and cracks when driven over, trees that drop leaves when crashed into and course barriers that can be knocked down. On top of all this, the framerate stay rock solid throughout and the draw distance is immense. These locations that DICE have created are so impressive that I often yearn to leave the course and go exploring, but, alas, the game’s auto reset dashes my hopes of doing this.
The rally cars in the game are exquisitely modeled and look nearly identical to their real world counterparts. In a nice touch of realism, when a race is first started your vehicle is covered with a healthy sheen like it was just waxed and buffed, but as you progress through the race it becomes covered with a layer of dirt and grime. If you become too reckless in your driving and go smashing into numerous obstacles, your car will take a good deal of damage in real time. Headlights will shatter, doors will buckle, bumpers will twist and windows will even blow out. Staying consistent to the game’s arcade-like gameplay style, the physical damage your ride takes barely effects performance, so you’ll still be ripping tightly into turns and flying along at top speed even though your car looks like it’s headed straight for the junk heap after the race. Another nice detail in the game is you can actually see the driver of your car turn the steering wheel based entirely on how far you have the analog stick depressed. It is amazing how many little details DICE managed to fit in the game and, overall, Rallisport stands as on of the best looking games on the Xbox system.
The audio in Rallisport is impressive and complements the visuals superbly. The cars all zip around with that odd, souped up vacuum cleaner engine noise that is typical of rally vehicles, and the ambient rumble of the road flying underneath your tires is realistically portrayed. When headlights and windshields are smashed, it sounds exactly like breaking glass and the other crash sound effects are all equally well done. It is hard not to cringe at the vicious crunching, twisting and grinding that results from a nasty end over end crash at over 100 miles per hour. The voice of your copilot as he announces the layout of the road ahead is spot on and never annoying (though you can turn him off and use on-screen indicators if you are so inclined). The tunes in Rallisport are done by a few semi popular techno groups, such as Fear Factory, but after extensive replaying you are bound to get tired of them. Thankfully, custom soundtrack support has been included, so you can spice things up with some classic rock, hip-hop or whatever else your heart desires.
Rallisport Challenge is truly a fantastic game. The intuitive arcade gameplay style, breathtaking visuals and impressive array of race types propel this game into the elite of Xbox racers. The traditional on-road racing featured in games like Project Gotham, Apex and Midnight Club II is incredibly fun, but sooner or later you are going to get that nagging urge to get off the pavement and into the rugged wilderness. When this happens, be sure to make Rallisport the first Xbox rally racer you check out; I promise you won’t be disappointed.