Despite endless slander from naysayers and the vilification of Bill "Super
Geek" Gates, the Xbox is slowly but surely carving an indelible niche for itself
in the console wars.
Challenge is the latest offering for Xbox owners who crave speed and excitement
and never miss the chance to consume eye-candy like a Porterhouse steak. Though
it's not without its shortcomings, this racer is another well-constructed feather
in the Xbox's technically rich chapeau.
The game offers four different Rally types that encompass 12 environments,
spanning 41 tracks total (you may want to read that last sentence again). The
different Rally types include Rally races, which are point-to-point races pitting
you against times rather than actual competitors. Rallycross is a series of
circuit races against three other opponents. Ice Racing is essentially the same
as Rallycross, but on cold, frictionless terrain. And then there's Hill Climbing,
which is definitely a unique race mode. It demands that you maintain control
over your vehicle while racing other competitors up a steep cliff. Very challenging!
Though the number of modes is impressive, only a few actually pit you against other racers, and when they do it's only three other competitors. What Rally race only has three competitors in it? None I've seen.
The bulk of the game takes place in Career mode. When you begin a Career,
a profile for your racer must be made to retain your name and all the points
you've accumulated. Points are earned for meeting various goals, like winning,
simply finishing a race, achieving a high top speed, avoiding damage, excellent
lap time times, etc. Your points are added to your overall total, and the racer
with the highest point total at the end of each race wins. So being first isn't
everything. This is great incentive to learn the cars and the terrain so driving
proficiency will come a bit easier.
The learning curve for driving these powerful machines is nearly as steep as some of the hills you climb. However, this is more due to the nature of Rally driving, topography and terrain than flawed control. The best of us still have to learn how to power slide through an icy hard-left to long medium-right.
But thanks to the intuitive control, your studies will be short-lived. Pressure
sensitive buttons win the day again, accompanied by a plethora of options to
tweak, like gear ratios, suspension resistance, steering, a few tire treads
and a number of camera perspectives to help survey the oncoming track.
Too bad you don't get to buy parts. A decent shop for purchasing more integral
upgrades and enhancements would have added some life. Here's hope for the sequel.
Challenge features 25 real-world cars from well-known manufactures like
Subaru, Mitsubishi, Audi and more. Each sounds and handles differently.
But all of these babies look damn good, with just enough bump-mapping to show
off the cuts and grooves. Reflective surfaces react appropriately to varying
intensities of light. Windows crack and break, doors get dented and taillights
are lost. The damage modeling isn't as intricate as Wreckless,
but it's enough.
The vehicles aren't the only things basking in graphical splendor. The entire
game amazes. The environments are very realistic, with bushes swaying as your
car brushes past them. Yet again the Xbox turns mundane foliage such as grass
into really cool grass. The different terrain types look great, most
notably ice. My eyes have seen the glory!
The opponent vehicle AI does its job to keep you behind the pack without it seeming infallible, which I greatly appreciate. It's well balanced and the races feel real.
A multiplayer option supporting four players completes this game's healthy list of offerings. Finish races in Career mode to unlock new tracks that will available in the Career and Multiplayer modes.
Though the game impresses technically, I did notice that the load times are a little hefty for a system with a hard drive. It's forgivable once the action starts, but be prepared to wait a bit.
Where Wreckless merely turned heads, Rallisport Challenge turns
them and retains their attention with great gameplay and a sizable amount of
extras to unlock. Rally and general racing fans alike will get an industrial-sized
army boot kick out Rallisport Challenge. Easily one of the best Xbox
racers thus far.