Fasten your seatbelt - we're goin' off roadin'!
I took my brand new SUV down to the construction yard for a quick spin, only to find three other vehicles there - a baja jeep, an off-roading car, and a pick up truck. Everyone seemed congenial enough until we lined up at the starting line. But once those lights turned from red to yellow to green, things got ugly.
The pounding Offspring-like music got everyone's heart pumping and ready for action. My SUV skidded as I tried to get going, and before I knew what was happening I got sideswiped by the pickup and flipped upside down. The car and the jeep raced off down the road as I fumbled around my room looking for the instruction booklet. I needed to figure out how to right myself and get back into the race.
And so begins another racing adventure on the PlayStation, Rally Cross 2, courtesy of 989 studios. This game has a very realistic feel to it. Basically, you need to keep your car on the road - trying to cut corners usually results in flipping over. It's one of those rarely-if-ever-use-the-brake type of games, which sounds a bit simplistic, but really isn't. Subtle movements count for a lot in these races, so even though you don't need the brake much it can be hard to stay on the track.
The game's most impressive feature is the quality of opponents you race. Unlike most racing games, there is not a lot of passing in Rally Cross 2. In each race, you face three opponents, and jockeying for position is the key strategy. When you're trying to catch someone, they do everything possible to keep you from passing, and when you're trying to defend your position you can actually fend off your opponents with the right strategies. Sure, there are probably about 5-10 lead changes in each 5 lap race, but that is much less (and more realistic) than most racing games out there.
The game's graphics are exceptional, especially the cars. The vehicles are very detailed, and you can even change your paint job. As you advance through each race, you accumulate damage and dirt (although you can wash off mud by driving through water), which adds to the game's realism. Before each race, you can adjust your settings (gear ratios, tires, etc. - nothing impressive, just the basics).
There is really only one major graphical glitch and that is with the tracks. There is a very strange 'pop-up' effect with some of the track textures. Certain tiles will change with alarming suddenness as you get closer to them.
The track designs, however, are all very cool; ranging from construction yards to airports to alpine roads. At first, you have access to three vehicles and three tracks, but you can open up more (10 total vehicles and 8 tracks) by winning seasons. You can run tracks forward or reverse, and there's also a cool "suicide" feature, where you race the track one way and your opponents race the opposite way. Makes for some interesting collisions.
Some tracks do have short cuts, which are usually hard to master, but for the most part the key to winning races is staying on the main track. The early tracks are pretty easy master, but the second tier of tracks gets very difficult, and the computer drivers only get better as you advance. Well, practice makes perfect!
When you crash, your vehicle usually flips over, and you need to use the R2 and L2 buttons to "rock" yourself back into a driving position. Crashing often takes you right out of a race, unless you cause your opponents to crash with you. Once you master a track, you need to focus on learning to make your opponents crash without crashing yourself. This is truly a fine art that only the best will master...
The two player mode is pretty generic for a racing game - a split screen that makes it hard to see the road ahead. The game's strength is in the one player mode, but an occasional head to head battle can be fun.
Rally Cross 2 also features a track editor mode, where you can design your own tracks. I usually find this feature gets boring after about 5 minutes, but if you're into to sitting around designing a track for an hour, you can.
All in all, a solid fun driving game. It's got great replay value, although it can prove frustrating when your opponents keep screwing you over. Either way, it's a hell of a lot better than Test Drive Off Road 2. If you're looking for a down to earth driving game, Rally Cross 2 is the better off-road choice this season.