Microsoft seems to be trying to tackle every game genre on the Xbox console as quickly as possible. The effort they are making, however, is not only through haste, but quality, too. So far, their efforts are not going unnoticed; we gamers appreciate every quality title they put out. And, with the arrival of Rallisport Challenge, Microsoft can confidently tack a great rally game onto their genre-scoreboard. If you’re a fan of racing games, it seems that right now the Xbox is where it’s at; whether your fetish is NASCAR, street-racing, off-roading, or whatever, Xbox has a considerable amount of great racing titles for you to choose from.
RalliSport Challenge is delivered to us by a European development studio called Digital Illusions CE (DICE). Digital Illusions have chosen to go with a less realistic form of gameplay in exchange for a greater sense of fun, which is right down my alley–or, in this case, African straightaway. Whether you’re a fan of this racing genre or not, you’ll definitely find enjoyment in this game. Digital Illusions have opted to go with a greater level of speed, and lightened physical gravity to in turn allow for more speed and to catch more air. These methods work quite well when developing a game that you want people to have fun with.
Rallisport Challenge takes rally racing to the next level without you having to worry about some of the more technical aspects of the sport. For instance, you don’t have to worry about car damage–although it is apparent–but it won’t really affect the way your car is running or handling. That’s generally a huge factor in real rally racing, yet here it’s merely a cosmetic attribute. This is certainly a good thing; if you want a super-realistic racer then go get a racing-sim…this game is all about fun. Though the graphics appear reminiscent of a racing-simulation, the gameplay screams excitement, which, generally speaking, ?realistic’ games do not (no offense GT3). The more and more I play this game, the more I’m beginning to like the developers, and they know completely how to make a game exciting.
The most evident thing in RSC is the balance between a realistic form of play, and simple gaming fun. The game looks real–car models, environmental textures and all; it also drives real (meaning you still need to use advanced driving techniques the further you progress), but the game is fast paced and exciting. Almost a perfect balance between the two worlds, there aren’t any fantasy physics like in Ridge Racer, or any super-strict car physics like in GT3–this is truly quality stuff.
RSC has four main gameplay modes that consist of: Career, Single Race, Time Attack, and a Multiplayer option. As in most racing titles, each successive mode decreases in importance. Career mode is obviously the heart of the game, it allows you to create a character profile and then jump into a string of 17 competitive events. Through each successive race/event you gain points, which contribute to your overall score. Within each race there is a bonus score you need to beat in order to unlock a batch of cars. Though this system is, to say the least, somewhat boring and shallow, the actual races are amazing. You travel internationally and visit some of the most exotic places on Earth, while having a blast driving through off-roads, snows, jumps, etc. Rallisport Challenge draws heavily from real rallies in terms of race events and course design, they vary from: Point-To-Point, Hill Climb, Ice Racing, and Rally Cross. PTP is basically a time attack where you race alone against the clock, and the best overall time around the track gets first place…though all you need is third in order to progress. Then there is Hill Climb, which basically places you at the bottom of a mountain in a PTP race, and says get to the top as quickly as possible (this is where you’ll see a lot of great scenery). Ice Racing basically pits you against three other opponents on a snow covered track, making for some of the most fun experiences in the game–boy are these guys fast! The last of the modes is Rally Cross, again one of the most fun events; again you are pitted against three other racers, but this time you compete on a variety of circuit-based races. RSC just about covers every major aspect of rallying, making it even more fun for fanatics of the sport.
While RSC is tons of fun, the gameplay modes tend to be rather on the shallow side. With the amount of depth most racing titles have today, Digital Illusions surely could have added more features to their career system, rather than just going through championship after championship. Take a gander at games like GT3, or Project Gotham Racing, and you can see the clear innovation. It looks like DI put so much more work into Rallisport Challenge; you’d think they could have emphasized some other aspects apart from straight racing. Even the car customization, where you can choose different tires and suspensions before each race, isn’t all that much of a factor. This is only one of the areas where RSC seems to faulter. Its depth is not sufficient, which kind of makes it tarnished gold in the quality department. There are no new car upgrades, modifications, or sponsors for winning races–Digital Illusions could have done SO much more with the possibilities. Sadly, this isn’t the only game mode that lacks depth, even the multiplayer mode is somewhat dull. Sure it’s nice every once in a while to pull your friends in for a 4-way race-off, but that’s just about all you can do. You can’t compete against your friends for their super-special cars (relating directly to previous statements), all you can do is race, which is fun, but for a good amount of replay value, upgrading your cars is certainly needed.
Aside from these factors the rest of RSC turns out to be really quite enjoyable. The graphics are, quite simply, the best I’ve seen on the Xbox since Halo (Wow! Ed). There are realistic weather effects, splashing water, swaying trees and foliage, foggy dust clouds, not to mention beautiful lighting and a smooth frame rate. Clearly, however, the most impressive element of the graphical features are the textures. Digital Illusions have done a magnificent job with the Xbox’s Mip-Mapping abilities. You can clearly see every road bump, tire track, piece of gravel, and speck of dirt. The textures are only further accented by Rallisport Challenge’s gorgeous lighting. There’s nothing grander than seeing the setting sun cast twilight beams of purple and orange off the crisp, white snow as it plunges beneath the horizon and curtains the world in darkness.
The car model representations are spot on, and they look amazing in all conditions; they’re always highly detailed and often extremely realistic. Rallisport Challenge is loaded with tons of available/unlockable cars; it’s an off-roader’s dream come true, everything from the Lancer Evos, to WRXs, to VW Beatles and Audi Quattros. The car list goes on and on–to a total of 25. And, just as with their life-like counterparts, they all perform well under the worst of conditions. In terms of looks, there’s truly not much more you can ask of Digital Illusions, this is one of the best looking Xbox games to date.
Like every available racing title, Rallisport Challenge would be nothing without sound, especially the quality we are used to from games like GT3. The engine sounds here are wonderfully authentic, almost as if you were actually in that WRX careening around corners at white-knuckle speeds; the only thing they’re missing are the shifting sounds of the driver throwing the stick as quickly as possible through the gears. Even the environmental sounds are reminiscent of the real world, from the crunching of the snow beneath your wheels, to the jarring of rocks striking the underside of your car on a gravel road. Ambient effects, though impressive, are often drowned out by the sheer roaring power of your engine. Just like most racing games, RSC has a decent selection of energetic techno tracks, the most notable of which are by Fear Factory. Though the soundtrack is solid–if you’re like me and prefer a variety of music–after the game’s tracks have worn your ears out, the customization playlist editor is a great addition. Just like Project Gotham Racing, you can select your own tunes, which is definitely a feature I’m loving about the Xbox. Microsoft is doing pretty well for itself, I can’t wait to see the next installment of this game, but until then I’ll be playing this one religiously.
As the Xbox gains more and more quality titles, yet more gamers are going to become devoted followers of Microsoft’s console. Rallisport Challenge is a great game from beginning to end, it’s a mixture of beautiful graphics, thumping soundtrack, and a load of memorable levels. If I come across any more fantastic racing games, It’s going to drive me nuts (yuck, yuck!).
Microsoft is doing a great job. We want more!