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