Rallisport Challenge 2
Let’s start by answering the question that hangs on the lips of every Xbox owning racer fan: Yes, RalliSport Challenge 2 is better than Colin McRae 04. The only question left unanswered now is how RalliSport 2 stacks up against the meatier Project Gotham Racing 2 or Burnout 2 in terms of sheer racing excellence. This may seem like heavy praise for the sequel to a game that was largely forgotten upon the release of the Xbox, and anyway, how can a rally title live up to the cool and style of Bizarre Creations’ Ferrari-crammed road racer? The simple answer is that Digital Illusions has learnt from the mistakes of its original title and combined the finer points of the Xbox racing elite to produce a rally game that is second to none. It starts with the wow factor of the graphics, continues with the lightning quick speed at which the game plays and ends with over two hundred unlockable features and 16-player Live support. Much more than just a single player romp: RalliSport Challenge 2 is the complete package. The most striking aspect of the game is the visual style, which more often than not outstrips Project Gotham 2 with its flagrant flaunting of intense and vibrant colours. As such, racing round the circuits is a real pleasure, even if most of the smaller details are missed as you hurtle through the track at a terrifying speed. However, the real bonus here is that even with such vast amounts of detail on both the tracks and the cars there is absolutely no slowdown or any frame rate issues, making RalliSport 2 one of the smoothest rides on the Xbox. Sure, the collision detection isn’t always 100 per cent and players may find themselves getting jarred against sections of fence or parts of trees that shouldn’t really be stopping several hundred kilos of metal and fibreglass travelling at 140mph, but these incidents are few and far between. To balance out such problems most of the scenery reacts intelligently to the cars, as smaller trees will bend and snap if the player cruises over them whereas concrete barriers will bounce the car back onto the track. In fact the scenery is very much geared towards the game’s arcade style, which is more fast and furious than considered and factual. Whereas players could spend hours sifting through the technical ins and outs of Colin McRae 04, Microsoft’s rally sim is all about driving the world’s quickest roughterrain cars over great-looking landscapes at pant-papping speeds. As a result, RalliSport 2 is a much closer relation to Burnout 2 than Colin McRae 04, even if the content is different, this game is all about the pace and savage driving aspects of what is, after all, a very exhilarating sport. To accommodate this the handling is simple yet responsive; the anal driving realism that rears its ugly head in so many of today’s racing games, is banished in favour of sheer enjoyment of gameplay. That’s not to say that RalliSport 2 isn’t a challenge, as the various surfaces and weather conditions affect the handling of your vehicle in the way you’d expect them to, even down to the way your car will aquaplane slightly over the puddles that collect in the road. However, no matter how skilful a driver anyone is, accidents will happen, causing your lovely shiny cars to buckle and bend into some truly sorry-looking states. The developers have clearly spent many a night studying the finer points of Criterion’s crash-heavy street racer, as the damage animations in the game are very reminiscent of those found all over the Burnout series. Watch as pieces fall off your car, windows shatter, wheels start to come loose and wobble, and bodywork bends – all in a totally realistic way. Indeed, watching through games in the post-race replay mode (which ingeniously plays multiplayer games in full screen with a dynamic camera switching between the players) is a real pleasure as the cinematic visuals simply beg to be seen again and again. However, if the Xbox has one Achilles heel it’s the way that so many follow up titles feature enhanced graphics and very little else. This could so easily have been the case here, as the first RalliSport game was extremely playable. Thankfully the developer has taken the criticisms of the first game on board, using them to craft its rally title into a state that comes as close to perfection as humanly possible on this generation of hardware. It’s a sequel in every sense.
In what seems like a crowning touch the game itself is all about epic proportions, as it seems Digital Illusions is incapable of producing things by halfmeasures. There are five types of rallying on offer, each requiring a different set of skills to master. Aside from the usual point-to-point rallying – which includes some tracks that are over fifteen kilometres long – there are Hill Climb, Ice Racing, Cross Over and Rally Cross circuits for players to sink their teeth into, making it the best value racer on the market. Make no mistake, RalliSport 2 has a comprehensive single player mode, but the game really shines in multiplayer. It’s been over a year since Xbox Live launched, but it’s taken a while for Microsoft to perfect the formula for its online titles. Project Gotham Racing 2 managed to revolutionise Live over Christmas 2003, and now RalliSport Challenge 2 is taking the next step up – a mere handful of months later. Offline the game supports four players via split screen, but online 16 racers can take part on any given track, making it the most ambitious Live project to date. In order to make this work, any races over four players will feature non-solid cars on the track, as overtaking on narrow a circuit would be impossible without this feature. As the game is such a complete package, it’s almost impossible to find reasons not to beat down your local retailer’s door demanding a copy. Sure, the tracks can take some time to load, but believe us, the cliché ‘the best things come to those who wait’ has never been more appropriate. In fact, the game lends itself to a whole bunch of clichés that will undoubtedly make gaming cynics cringe. With such great first-party support, it really is a fantastic time to own an Xbox, especially when a minor launch title can return with what can only be described as a killer sequel. RalliSport Challenge 2 is bigger and better than any other rally game, leaving one simple equation – play this game or miss out on what could be the finest racer of 2004.