Watch out for that tree!
It's high noon in Indonesia, and you're thinking to yourself, what am I doing in this hot, sweaty, tiny, French car. Then you remember you're fulfilling your life long dream - competing in the Need For Speed V-Rally championship. You take off from the starting line...accelerate frantically...approach the first turn...and amaze the spectators with an ESPN play of the week quality crash. (Yahtzee!)
The fact that EA's Need For Speed V-Rally is a very realistic driving game serves as both its best and worst quality. Best, because you feel like you're in control of a real, albeit French, car. Worst, because you quickly realize that driving a real race car isn't as easy as it looks. Your car handles like a real car - if you take a turn too fast, you crash. If you bump another car the wrong way, you spin out. If you hit a bump in the road at the wrong speed, you'll end up doing a bad impression of the Dukes of Hazard. Due to the realism, the game can be very frustrating the first few times you play. But once you understand that you actually need to use your brakes and concentrate on the race, the realism proves to be a great asset.
Unlike other Need For Speed games I've played, V-Rally provides a smooth, challenging drive. The graphics are amazing, especially the scenery. The detail in the trees, buildings, mountains, and everything else you whiz by makes you feel like you're actually there. My only regret is that you can't run over the occasional spectators you see on the side of the road. Also, after each race you get to see a replay from the TV camera's view. Again, the graphics are spectacular.
The varied road surfaces add yet another aspect to the game's realism. I began looking forward to the courses that had asphalt, because I was tired of slipping and sliding on the mud, gravel and snow. The only negative aspect of the varied road surfaces is that sometimes it is hard to tell the mud and gravel roadways from the shoulder, which causes many frustrating setbacks. Weather conditions also play a role, as you find yourself plowing through a rain or snow storm, fighting limited vision at night, or gazing at a beautiful sunset as you cruise down the highway.
The game offers three different modes of play: time trial, arcade, and championship. In the time trial mode, you choose one of the available arcade tracks and practice against a ghost car. Unfortunately, you can only choose courses that you've already reached in the arcade mode, which can prove very trying if you don't own a memory card to save your progress. In arcade mode, you race against three other cars, but your primary concern always turns out to be the clock, as you have only limited amounts of time to reach each checkpoint. There are a total of 18 tracks in the arcade mode - 4 on the easy level, 6 on the medium level, and 8 on the hard level. Playing arcade mode is basically like you popped a few quarters into real arcade game - once you use up your three credits, you have to start over. Finally, championship mode allows you to compete for the V-Rally championship. Again, you race against three other cars, but this time it's your position in the race, not the checkpoints, that matter. You travel to eight cities and race three courses in each. Championship mode gives you the most course selection freedom, as you choose the order in which you visit the cities.
The game has a total of 11 cars with which to drive its 42 courses. Unfortunately, it's difficult to tell one car from another until you take them on the road. (Warning: some cars are French). During the race, you choose from two different views - looking from inside the car, or looking from behind and slightly above the car. Personally, I find it nearly impossible to accomplish anything while using the first view, but to each his own. In addition, you can play a split screen two player game in all three modes. You can split the screen either vertically or horizontally. Its a lot harder to drive on the split screen, but the added excitement of racing against your friend (and talking trash the whole way through) more than makes up for it.
While racing, in addition to seeing your car, you can check your speedometer (set to mph or kph), tachometer, current position, current lap, best lap time, and most intriguing, the gap time between you and the next car ahead of you. I think this leaves a lot missing. For openers, you don't get to see a map of the track, so you never know what's coming until you get there. Also, you never know where the rest of the cars are on the track. My biggest disappointment, however, is the game's poor excuse for a rear view mirror. In order to see behind you, you press the L1 button, which gives a view of from the front of your car. Great! I can see what's behind me, but I can't see what's in front of me. As you can imagine, this inevitably causes a spectacular crash.
One of the coolest features of this game is the fighting. The computer drivers are very aggressive, and always try to drive you off the road. Once you discover the right strategy, you too can be one of those jerk drivers that you're always flipping off in real life.
Overall, the game is definitely fun - once you get the hang of it. So if you're willing to invest a little time and patience, and you love racing games, Need For Speed V-Rally is the game for you.