No matter which side of the console fence you plant your soapbox, it’s hard to
question the slew of kick-ass racing games for the Xbox. Games like Project
Gotham Racing 2, Colin McRae ’04 and the
Challenge have done a nice job of alleviating Xbox owners’ pain of playing
in a Gran Turismo
And while Sony’s giant sleeps, the big black box’s wheels are spinning, kicking
up dust in a mean way in the form of Rallisport
Challenge 2, D.I.C.E.’s impressive sequel to their excellent first
a bit more arcadey than what you’ll find in the McRae series, Rallisport
Challenge 2 has fine-tuned nearly everything that was good about the
original, though they haven’t so much as lifted a socket wrench to tighten the
few loose screws gamers griped about the first time around. Still, this racer
is about as good as it gets while sitting on the sofa.
The game offers five different race types spanning 90 (!) total tracks. That’s
more than double the number of tracks offered in the original. The different
Rally types include Rally races (point-to-point racing against NPC times) and
Rallycross (a series of circuit races against three other opponents). Ice Racing
is essentially the same as Rallycross, but an unforgiving, frictionless course
metes out its own unique challenge. There are also Hill Climb races and the new
addition, Crossover, where players race against another car on a similar course
that crisscrosses in the middle.
Though the number of modes is impressive, only a few actually pit you against other racers, and you’ll never race against more than three others at once. True rally racing is a huge, epic event often spanning countries, so why do I only get to race a measly three other opponents? It’s lame, but is also the game’s only major pothole.
The meat of Rallisport Challenge 2 is served up in the Career
mode. Here you’ll find four difficulties – Amateur, Pro, Champion, and Super-Rally
– each of which offers a set number of rallies, which in turn are comprised of
a fixed number of races.
In this model, points are earned for meeting various goals, like winning,
simply finishing a race, achieving a high top speed, avoiding damage, excellent
lap 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 way to learn the cars and tracks without sacrificing
practice is essential, because despite its arcade feel, Rallisport
Challenge 2‘s gameplay is tough and serious. Each car handles differently
with varying weight and physics – even the clutch feels different from car to
car when using manual transmission. Luckily, the spot-on control will see you
through the tightest S-turns. The precise handling is assisted by an increased
number of tuning options to fiddle with like gear ratios, suspension resistance,
steering option and a few tire treads.
But with so much time spent under the hood, why not throw in a few purchasing options and after-market parts to buy? The omission of any sort of shop stands out as a sore spot.
The same cannot be said of the graphics, which are excellent. Rallisport
Challenge 2 shines like a brand new STi straight off the lot. The game features over
40 licensed cars including the popular Subaru WRX STi, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan
Skyline, Saab 9-3, and many, many others. Some races even call for the classic
rally cars of the late 70’s just to mix things up.
Each car is meticulously modeled and features the very latest bump-mapping tricks
to show off a glorious array of cuts and grooves. The paint jobs glisten
in the sun and give off a realistic glare effect, all of which complement the
staggering amount of damage modeling.
Despite the fact that the cars are licensed, the damage modeling in Rallisport
Challenge 2 is some of the best in any game, period. A wrong turn can lead
to dents, scratches and bumps alongside cracked, chipped and even lost windows.
Bumpers and doors hang before being ripped off entirely. This is the way damage
modeling should be.
However, the damage itself has little effect on how your car handles. Plus,
once you progress to the next race in a circuit, your car is magically restored
to mint condition. If the game offered a shop, you could theoretically buy
new parts and body work to fix your mangled ride between races. Maybe the devs
just couldn’t bear to see the beautiful models sullied for more than a
tracks and environments are beautiful. Grass and bushes sway in
the wake of your car’s jet stream. Your tires will kick up dirt, sand and
snow, making it increasingly difficult for those closing in on your rear bumper.
The various weather effects are rendered in great detail; the setting sun
looks amazing. Most importantly, the sense of speed is never in question thanks
to a solid framerate and nary a hiccup…
…even while playing online via Xbox Live. With several game options for hosts to tweak, races can get pretty interesting. The big difference is found in Collision or Non-Collision races. Collision races allow four players at once and function normally, but if you want more racers, you’ll have to opt for Non-collision races, which allow 16 players to go at it. However, you only see your specific car model while the other 15 opponents appear as car “outlines” that can crisscross each other unabated. The inability to hit one another makes this a much less enticing option than it could have been. Still, playing online is handled well enough, and with XSN’s stat-tracking and record-keeping, your bragging rights are available for all to loathe and curse.
A ton of tracks and licensed cars, tight control, amazing graphics, stunning
physics and a solid online component places Rallisport
Challenge 2 out in front of the competition. If you look hard enough
you’ll still find a few loose screws, but as it stands, this is a must have
for even the most critical couch-bound racer.