Spearheaded by Swedish developer DICE, RalliSport Challenge was originally an arcade racing game in a rally setting with more in common with Sega's GT Rally than all the other rally racers in the field. It is a happy medium between the two featuring rally road races, closed circuits and other challenging environments.
No doubt, the original was lauded for its technical excellence. The sequel, RalliSport Challenge 2, takes everything that was found in its predecessor and refines it. The tracks are longer. The career mode has more depth. There are more vehicles, more competitors on-screen and of course, there is multiplayer support via Xbox Live.
In fact, RalliSport Challenge 2 is branded under XSN. This allows you to set up a profile and view it online through their website XSNsports.com. DICE is no stranger to multiplayer, having developed the wildly successful Battlefield franchise for Electronic Arts. Here, they offer up to sixteen human competitors online. But you can also duke it out in the classic four car mode. On broadband, there is hardly any lag because RalliSport Challenge 2 takes away collision detection with more than four cars and turns all vehicles into ghosts (wireframes) when it passes that number. The game does keep performance in mind as well. If you are competing split screen, expect to see quality traded for speed.
That's probably because RalliSport Challenge 2 features even more interaction between the vehicles and the environment. Damage to the vehicle is very satisfying with individual pieces of the car, like mirrors and bumpers, falling off piece by piece. It almost gives the illusion that the entire vehicle is dynamic. I stress almost because after hours of playing the game, you'll notice certain patterns. Like before, the vehicles kick up dirt, slide across ice and generally exhibit the realistic nitty gritty feel of a car traveling on dirt road.
Thrown into the mix is a new windshield view. Rain effects, for example, are done nicely. But unless you know the tracks off by heart or you trust the co-driver 100% (don't!), you'll more than likely appreciate the out of car views so you get a heads up on what's coming up on the track. Still, it's a nice feature for those masochistic purists who want to feel like they are really driving in a rally.
RalliSport Challenge 2 continues its tradition of having career and single race modes. Career modes allow you to unlock items, new paint jobs and tracks. There is a mix of different race types you can participate in: rally, rally cross, ice racing, hill climb and a crossover duel. All revolve around getting from point a to point b in the quickest time. But each venue challenges you to race differently. For example, ice racing is more about handling and poses different obstacles than a hill climb.
The tracks are set in a wide variety of environments but many players of the original game will recognize them. They just look sharper this time around. The closed circuit races have more laps to them and the rallies are typically a bit longer. But they aren't so long that you can't fit in a 5-10 minute quick race from time to time.
There are over forty vehicles in RalliSport Challenge 2. Most are modified vehicles from stock cars that you can get off the street. Rally racing, after all, is not about racing your Maserati or BMW. The vehicle you choose to drive will depend pretty much on how you drive. There isn't a best car for everything. Every vehicle has a chance to win when driven by a competent driver. If you're on a track that requires more handling, you'll tailor your choice or make modifications to the vehicle to suit that task. If there is a lot of stop and go, good acceleration is probably a desirable factor. If it is a race where you'll expect contact with obstacles or fellow drivers, you'll want something that can take some damage.
The addition of multiplayer mode is nice. The bulk of the game still remains in the career mode. The neat thing is you can carry your accomplishments between the single and multiplayer worlds. However, I still thought the game was too restrictive. It would have been nice for DICE to include a feature to unlock all the items. I would imagine sometimes, some people would rather have everything than to work for everything. After all, we all paid the full price of admission to get the game. Some of the venues have frightfully few tracks available if you don't work through the career mode to unlock them.
That minor quibble aside, RalliSport Challenge 2 is superior to its predecessor in almost every department. It is able to increase the complexity and flesh out every facet yet it is able to maintain the accessibility that made RalliSport Challenge such a great seller. You can literally just pick up the controller and start playing without really knowing much about racing at all. Some of the extreme environments, like snow or hills, may sound tough. But RalliSport Challenge 2 makes it easy to approach them and there is plenty of difficulty, vis-à-vis artificial intelligence, to pose a test when you become an expert.
Purists will chastise RalliSport Challenge 2 for being a little too liberal with the physics and having too little depth in terms of customizing vehicles. For ninety percent of the gaming population, however, RalliSport Challenge 2 is a fine racing game. It sounds amazing. It looks great. It plays well. If you're looking to add one to your library, you can't go wrong with this one.