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Game Over Online ~ Rallisport Challenge

GameOver Game Reviews - Rallisport Challenge (c) Microsoft Game Studios, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Rallisport Challenge (c) Microsoft Game Studios
System Requirements Windows, Pentium 733MHz, 128MB RAM, 1.5GB HDD, 32MB 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 80%
Date Published Monday, January 13th, 2003 at 03:53 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Developed by Digital Illusions of recent Battlefield 1942 fame, RalliSport Challenge is a Microsoft published title that made the journey from the Xbox over to the PC. It's not a pure arcade racer since there's great attention to what type of terrain you're going over as well as a few options to tweak cars and that's on top of a whole cast of licensed paraphernalia. You can't simply win by stepping on the pedal. Then again, compared to auto enthusiast titles like Papyrus' highly acclaimed Nascar and Grand Prix titles, the realism just doesn't reach the bar set by racers on the PC. Nestled in between the two genres, though, it appears Digital Illusions has implemented a fun racing title not only for rally racing fans but all racing fans. This title comes closest to rekindling the sensation I got from playing the first Need for Speed many years ago.

Usually, racing fans are never journeymen in their tastes. Some people like street racing while others prefer Nascar. They never seem to fully migrate from one venue to another. RalliSport features an abundance of road tracks that take place in desert, pacific and mediterranean settings. It also has closed circuits, including some pretty exotic ones that take place on snow and ice. So there's enough material here to appeal to everyone from the virtual rally racer to someone who just wants to take a car out for a spin. There's also a wide assortment of cars here. You won't find Ferraris, Lamborghinis and such but there's a host of tricked out American, Japanese and European cars to start off.

Unfortunately, a good chunk of the game is locked up in the beginning. This is RalliSport migrating from an Xbox title. The console traditions are apparent and there's a lot of material you can unlock, although the initial set of cars and tracks given to you aren't too shabby. Thankfully, Digital Illusions doesn't fence you into using one or two cars on a single track. But some crucial features of the game like Rallycross and Hill Climb levels are completely shut out until you put time into the game. That's really a shame, considering fans on the PC tend to shun control-freak type progression mentalities from developers.

The developers, however, did an extraordinary job in rendering the different environs. On a top of the line machine, you're in for a real visual treat as the terrain is so detailed you can almost feel the texture of the road itself by looking at it. Ice and snow, for example, isn't composed of a field of white dotted with icy sheens. It looks pitted and potted like the real thing. The flora and fauna, particularly the low brushes in the desert setting are particularly impressive. They have the right balance between volume and space.

The attention spreads to the automobiles themselves. But often, I found they looked a little too shiny. The car models do exhibit damage. You can brush someone's bumper and see (and hear) their lights go out. Despite the muddy or sandy tracks and the cars kicking up dust, none of them seem to ever get dirty. And anyone who has ever had experience driving in inclement weather (yes, even snow) will know that the shiny wax you put on your car yesterday will be gone in five minutes time.

Luckily, that one detail doesn't detract from the overall performance of the title. RalliSport features some decent artificial intelligence for driving. Drivers know when to slow down and corner as well as speed up on the straightaway. They're also human though. I found myself hopelessly in last place during one race only to find someone missed a ninety-degree turn on a bridge, which fortunately meant I didn't have to finish last. Similarly, the co-driver next to you is sporadic in his instructions. Sometimes his warnings come too late. Sometimes his warnings come way too early and you'll overreact. You can compensate by putting on a mini-map and doing away with his instructions altogether but that's taking out some of the unpredictable fun. And if you have good road sense (which I don't, since I have trouble getting out of parking lots sometimes), you'll likely be able to navigate whole tracks without too much trouble. Some races take place on out of the way public roads but they aren't artificially constructed to be vicious.

Your driving opponents, however, have a tendency to be too soft. When coming around corners, I tend to squeeze in on the inside and bump the first place car out of the way to get an extra edge. In addition, during the first few hundred meters, I'm always kissing the bumper of the car in front of me; my gamble on causing some random chaos for the other driver. Unfortunately, I find the artificial intelligence is a little gentlemanly in his or her conduct. They seem to prefer to play it safe and rarely do they initiate contact with your vehicle to slow you down or try to drive you off the road. Damage modeling is in effect and excessive damage can actually disable your vehicle. However, it happens on such rare instances that brushing up against someone is a good tactic that is sorely underused by your opponents.

Still, they provide a good match up and if you aren't racing against them, you're probably racing against the elements and the terrain anyway. You won't be racing against other human players though. At least, you won't be racing very easily. There's LAN and Internet play via TCP/IP in the PC version of RalliSport. The Xbox is known for its multiplayer capabilities, whether through LAN, the new Live service or even just splitscreen. The PC is also known for its multiplayer capabilities, arguably inventing the thing by itself and Digital Illusions late last year completed a multiplayer only first person shooter (Battlefield 1942). Weighing in all of that, you have to ask what happened with the multiplayer here? Sure, there are only four cars on the field at one time but this is a prime opportunity for RalliSport to show off its strength on the PC.

Sadly, without a lobby, without a gaming service, without server listings or a master control server, you won't be racing with anyone except your diehard RalliSport friends. RalliSport lets you save your friend's IP address in a server address book but that's a copout more than anything else. No doubt, this is a missed opportunity for both developer and publisher. And a real shame too considering Digital Illusion's pedigree and the fact Microsoft already has MSN's Zone.com as a lobby/match up service. If the latter were used, it would have been easier to distribute ghost racers, share record race times and replays to drum up some communal support for RalliSport.

Three CDs and nearly two gigabytes of material should keep most people interested for a long time though - long enough time for you to find some RalliSport friends online hopefully. RalliSport is able to transcend from being a niche rally racer to something every racing fan can enjoy. Races tend to take less than five minutes to complete, so it's a game that you can pick up and definitely let go. But the racing itself is very addictive. It isn't all about power-sliding on every corner but RalliSport comes pretty close to simulating the actual feel of driving, when the human driver and the machine work as one. And that's exactly why its appeal is universal. If you even have an inkling of love for racing, arcade, sim or otherwise, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

 

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Rating
80%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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