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Rallisport Challenge Review
developer: Digital Illusions
PII-300, 32MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 3D accelerator
|ESRB rating: E
release date: Nov 06, 02 (released)
|» All About Rallisport Challenge on ActionTrip|
Swedish based developers Digital Illusions are churning out one hit title after another. I reckon this must have something to do with cold weather and all those hot Swedish chicks... Seriously, how many companies can boast the fact that their last two games got published by two of the world's top publishers? EA snatched the rights to Battlefield 1942, and MS published Rallisport Challenge - a game that shined on the Xbox and is now looking to garner the same positive appraisal from the PC crowds? And from the looks of it, it seems that Dice is on track to achieving this goal.
Hey you smashed my stop-light, now you shall pay the price!
Not a very big turn up today... Must be some sorta Swedish holiday.
The development of a rally racing game can generally go in two directions. Designers can try to make a fun and arcadish racer that places emphasis on speed and spectacular stunts, or they can try to simulate real-world physics, therefore creating a bona-fide racing simulation that will challenge any desktop driver that attempts to master it. But there are those that try to make a realistic simulation, yet end up making something slightly different. And there are examples of games that have an arcadish feel to them while boasting a very advanced physics engine. The borders are often blurry when it comes to developing good rally games, and Rallisport Challenge and Colin McRae 3.0 (Xbox) are prime example of this phenomenon.
I fully realize that I'm about to compare an Xbox and a PC rally game but bear with me for a sec. Apart from some small visual disparities I'd wager that the physics code and the actual gameplay of both of these games is much the same, regardless of the platform that's being used. So with this in mind, let me just say that Codemasters attempted the simulation approach in Colin McRae 3.0. Everything from the excellent damage model, to the numerous car settings and options seems to indicate this fact. And in a way, they've failed in their attempt. Anyone who's ever driven a car fast through a bunch of narrow streets, or some rough terrain should in a way know how it feels to drive a rally race. OK, you can pretty much multiply the speed that you were going by two when it comes to pro rally races, but still, using the hand brake properly in combination with the foot brakes and just the right gears for the right curves should give the driver a feel for the car's steerability, as well as for the natural forces at work. Quick reflexes and excellent coordination, coupled with a good feel for the car's abilities (and some courage) is what separates a good driver from an average one. So, my guess is that every aspiring desktop driver should look for a relatively accurate simulation of such real-life physics in a computer game.
To a degree Colin McRae 3.0 doesn't deliver the goods in those regards ... but Rallisport Challenge sure does! It supports a more instinctive physics model, and even though the game may seem more arcadish to someone who has never driven a car at breakneck speeds before, those who know will immediately realize its full potential. Simply put, driving in Rallisport Challenge feels good. The car model reacts perfectly to curves, bends and different surfaces. As far as playing intense and fun rally games goes, Rallisport Challenge takes first place. The important thing is that Dice, through some extensive play testing, managed to find just the right mix of speed, arcadish elements, and physics algorithms to make the game seem "natural" to anyone who has ever put the pedal to the metal, and at the same time, fun and exciting for gamers who have yet to earn their driving license. The only way Dice could've achieved this is by having great understanding for both the finer points of game design, and for the sport of rally racing itself, so congratulations on a job well-done!
Once you get accustomed to the easy and intuitive controls and interface, pick your best camera angle, as well as get a feel for the available cars and tracks, you'll be ready to plunge deeper in this excellent game and try your skill at some of the many different game modes. RalliSport Challenge combines four different types of Rally competition: Hill Climb, traditional Rally, RallyCross, and Ice Racing. Each of these modes has its own set of vehicles (Hill Climb for example will unlock various terrain vehicles). This variety of race types allows for gamers to experience traditional rally racing, as well as racing against other opponents. With 29 licensed cars (and several 'bonus' vehicles), 48 tracks, and some really competitive AI, Rallisport Challenge should provide for plenty of hours of fun. (Hell, I got hooked on it!) As usual, the game gives you the option to adjust your car settings by fiddling with suspension, gear ratio, power ratio, brake balance, and steering. Surprisingly, this isn't as tough as it seems, so I'd recommend this option to both the intermediate and advanced virtual rally drivers. The tracks are not too long (I consider this an upside), and are much diversified, so driving through deserts, the Mediterranean countryside, or the Pacific coast will rarely get boring.
Hey, you behind the fence, stick 'em up!
Just take several unsuccessful turns and this is what you're car will look like.
In terms of game design, Rallisport Challenge got two of the most important segments right. The game is feature-rich, and it has great playability.
Regretfully, every silver lining has a cloud (get it? - ed), and the same goes for the gameplay in Rallisport Challenge. Even though Dice got most of the important elements right, they still did manage to overlook a couple of significant details that could've made the game that much better. For one, the damage model is sub par, especially if we compare it to that of Colin McRae 3.0. Or maybe the one in Colin McRae 3.0 is so good that it simply overshadows any other virtual car wrecking model out there. Still, the denting and deformation of the car chassis in Rallisport is not nearly as severe as it should have been, especially when a car hits a tree at breathtaking speeds. The glass on the windshield, stoplights and headlights will (theoretically) shatter, but this is represented by a mere switching between two different textures, which looks really lame. You should definitely check out how the glass shatters in Colin McRae 3.0 to get a good sense of how a good damage model should look like.
As far as some other rather "cosmetic" downsides to this game are concerned, I should mention the complete lack of a cockpit camera view, which might piss off some gamers. In addition, the weather effects (rain drops and snowflakes) look rather weak and their bland appearance somewhat thwarts the in-game atmosphere.
Nonetheless, this is not to say that graphically Rallisport Challenge doesn't have any qualities - on the contrary! The game engine renders some of the best looking rally racing environments, and in full 3D, easily outshining the pixilated backgrounds in Colin McRae 3.0. Trees, bushes and dirt look spectacular, and you'll even drive by a panicked flock of birds every now and then. The Mediterranean coastline looks especially beautiful with its seemingly rich vegetation and vivid small villages. The car models are rich with polys and the dynamic reflections on the tarmac and on the car chassis add plenty of flare to the game's overall appearance.
Beautiful visuals are accompanied by an amazingly atmospheric soundtrack, which perfectly blends with the furious style of rally racing. Hard and heavy sounds are well-arranged and they are crucial to setting the right mood in the game. Special effects and engine sounds vary depending on the car you're driving. They aren't spectacular, but they're good enough to pass. The only real gripe I had with the sound in Rallisport Challenge has to do with a rather nasty bug - turning on hardware sound will make the frame rate drop substantially, and it'll make the camera extremely jerky. But if you turn the hardware sound off, the in-game sounds will from time to time develop into this terrible shrieking noise that'll make you mute the sound almost immediately. Usually, I wouldn't care about this, but bearing in mind how crucial it is to listen to your co-pilot's instructions in a rally race, I must say that this bug does more than just annoy the shit out of ya - it actually hinders the gameplay somewhat.
In a nutshell, it is my belief that every self-respecting PC rally driver should make it his priority to own this game. Dice might've gotten a few things wrong, but they sure as hell got most of them right.
8.5 Very Good
Excellent balance between realistic physics and fun arcade elements makes for some enticing gameplay moments. Fantastic soundtrack, in-game environments, etc;
The damage model is weak. Weather effects could've been made nicer. No cockpit view, weird sound bugs.
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