The cannonball that missed the run.
Oh, how I've longed for a gaming experience that would personify a true rally event. Think of it...just you, your suped-up four-wheel drive full suspension dream machine, and a series of unforgiving courses. Your main concern is not passing the vehicle in front of you, but the road itself. The conflict is between you and the asphalt, the dirt, the mud or whatever else happens to be in your way. Your success depends upon your own skills and a properly outfitted vehicle.
No game has come close to filling this void, but Electronic Arts makes an attempt with Mobil 1 Rally Championship. Unfortunately, it's more of a half-assed attempt than anything else.
The game starts out with four modes of play and two more which are unlockable. Of the original four (Time Trial, Arcade, Championship, and Two Player Split-Screen), Championship has the most playability. In Championship mode there are 36 point-to-point courses of varied terrain divided across six locales. That's quite a bit for a Playstation racer and is a fine example of quantity over quality.
Mobil 1 has the look we've come to expect from the Playstation as we all count down to the domestic release of the PS2. There are plenty of dust, smoke, exhaust, and water effects. The cars are high-res (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) with glossy metallic surfaces and moderately reflective shadow effects, but the game as a whole only manages to achieve a ragged and unfinished appearance.
The cars fare better than the environments, which are cluttered with huge, pixelated surface detail. The painfully obvious seams between polygon slabs are particularly ugly. Cars get splattered with mud (on sides and back only, while the front retains its lovely showroom sparkle) but show no damage no matter how many barrel rolls you do in the gravel. I'll give them credit for attempting to create lush and realistic scenery, but sadly, the result is more a blueprint for an environment than an environment itself.
As for capturing the thrilling sounds of rally racing, once again game programmers have shunned the option of recording real engine and vehicle noises in favor of creating their own surreal variety of effects with other machinery. The result is cars that sound like other machines - blenders, for example, or that old Norelco you got for Christmas. The sound your car makes as it travels down any given road is not unlike that of a snowsled on gravel (Get up, programmers! Get out from behind the warm glow of your computer screens! Breathe some fresh air and RECORD SOME AUTHENTIC SOUNDS!!! It's possible, trust me.)
The game offers several perspectives: first-person, chase, and in-car, as well as an option to adjust the camera height, angle, and distance from the car. This allows players to customize the camera to best suit their needs, making it more player-friendly than most racer cameras.
The control in Mobil 1 is difficult to get a handle on. Left and right turning sensitivity can be adjusted, though this provides little help. Basic car setup options are available, which includes different gear types, toggles for acceleration, suspension, brakes and transmission. But even after a bit of tweaking, I could only gain a substandard level of control no matter which vehicle I chose. To Mobil 1's credit, the in-car perspective does offer a slight edge for more control, and the addition of windshield wipers to clean off the blinding mud and grime is a nice touch.
Navigation is always an issue in real rally racing. Most rally games opt for arrows to point out the route. In a shot at authenticity, Mobil 1 uses (in addition to god awful view-hindering arrows) a co-pilot. However, he just happens to mutter directions in electronic Gaelic. Not very helpful. More like annoying. If I had actually been in the car with him, he'd have been sitting in a puddle on the side of the road within the first mile. I'll get lost on my own, thank you.
Overall, Mobil 1 Rally Championship is unbelievably average. It's hard to think of a reason to play it again after you've finished it. In fact, it was hard for me to think of a reason to finish it other than to give you, the faithful reader, the complete low-down on this less than stellar outing by Electronic Arts. More entertaining than Need 4 Speed V-Rally 1 or 2, but not as fun as Rally Cross or Colin McRae Rally.