STAFF REVIEW of RalliSport Challenge 2 (Xbox)

Friday, June 11, 2004.
by KmanX

RalliSport Challenge 2 Box art Movies and video games have a lot in common but they also have some glaring differences. One such difference is sequels. With a movie, rarely, if at all, do you ever see a sequel that is vastly superior to the original. But with games, its usually the rule. Such is the case with RalliSport Challenge 2 which comes to us from developer Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and of course, the publisher Microsoft Game Studios. DICE are the terrific minds and artists who not only gave us the first RalliSport but also Battlefield 1942 (coming soon to Xbox) and Midtown Madness 3 to name a few. RalliSport Challenge 2 follows the mould of its driving its predecessors as its a fun driving game that features great visuals, spectacular crashes and is the first racing title in the XSN Sports series.

RalliSport Challenge 2 takes place in the world of rally racing which may not fancy everyone. Instead of doing laps in the streets of Edinburgh or Chicago you will find yourself sliding on ice tracks in Sweden or Canada, racing across the Australian outback or climbing magnificent hills in United States, and what a climb it is.

The visuals in this game are stunning to say the least. Each of the tracks are richly decorated with highly detailed features that really standout. I was most impressed with the hill climbing tracks. There are several different hill climbing courses featuring everything from chiselled rock cut-outs, to majestic pine trees, a hydroelectric dam and even a roaring waterfall that looks awesome. Whats really great about waterfall and the dam is you will be competing in a race on one track and you will see these unique landmarks for off in a distance. Later on in a different race you will not only drive right past them but in the case of the dam, you drive right over top of it. I was a little disappointed that when you drove passed the waterfall your car didnt have any droplets of water on it from a mist. Even the desert and ice course featured neat little details that were impressive. The rock cutouts in the desert were arguably some of the best in the game. On the ice courses, the reflections of the sun off the ice are spectacular.

These stunning environments are also destructible to a certain extent. Each course is littered with signs, pylons and markings you can disregard and run over. While you cant flatten the pylons or sponsors signs, and there are a lot of those ranging from companies like Fram and Honeywell, you can certainly send them flying. For the course that features trees or shrubbery, you can run down small bushes or tress. However cutting a corner trying to save some precious seconds doesnt always work. The non-destructible environments in the first RalliSport drove me nuts. Nothing was more maddening than coming to sudden halt because of some stupid little bush.

Running over trees is not the most impressive bit of destruction in the game. That distinction is easily handed to the cars and the awesome crashes you can pull off. These crashes are so intense that the camera angle will change to give you the full effect. And when your car finishes rolling, your windows will be shattered, doors opened if not torn completely off and your hood will be opened and flipped up to blind you. No problem though, just hit the gas, drive fast and straight and it will blow right off and flip in mid-air behind you, AWESOME STUFF! Just about everything on your car can be broken off: the doors, hood, bumpers, spoilers, windshield, windows, etc.

There are also some nice environmental effects that add to the visuals. My favourite are the raindrops on the screen. You will race in many different weather conditions throughout the game and rain is the coolest. Water droplets land on the screen and stream down. This effect was used in a Quantum Redshift. Other cool effects include splashing and cars getting dirty. On the mud tracks, if you take a corner hard and fast you will see the mud flying as your tires spin. You can also kick up sand on the desert tracks. When you kick up sand you car will get noticeably dirtier very quickly.

The lighting effects are equally impressive. Night racing really shows this off, whether its the soft light emitting from the odd streetlight you could encounter or your headlights bouncing off of trees. Night racing is tough, especially when you manage to smash you headlights like I did. Daytime racing can also yield some impressive visuals. The sun glistening off your car as you crave a corner is something to be seen.

So the game looks great but how does it sound? This is where I was really disappointed. The sounds of the cars, well lets just say its the sound of the car. Every car sounds identical. One of the many things that were impressive about Project Gotham Racing 2 was even though there were a lot of cars; each one had its own unique sound. Not the case here though. If you happen to be in one of the races were you actually see your opponents and all four cars are lined up at the start line you may think the cars sound like a bee hive as its one dull roar.

And speaking of dull, the soundtrack, yikes! Thankfully Xbox has the hard drive and this game supports the custom soundtracks. The custom soundtracks are a feature I love as they allow you not to be subjected to horrible in-game soundtracks like this one. My only complaint with the customizable soundtrack was there isnt a button to change songs mid-game like you can in PGR2 or even in Links 2004. The one button song change option might make for a nice addition to the inevitable RalliSport Challenge 3 though. I am also pleased to say that you can turn of your co-driver so you dont have to listen to his annoying/distracting cues.

So the game looks great, sounds bad but how does it play? Very well I am pleased to say, the controls are very simple and PGR2-esqe. Right trigger is gas, left trigger is break/reverse and the A button is your emergency break. It doesnt take long at all to figure out how to use the different breaks and when. The controls are pretty tight, I found them a lot better than the first RalliSport offering.

You can also adjust your controls by changing the cars tires, shifting, gear ratio, suspense and breaks. Whats cool about this is you can do so while the course is loading instead of having to do it before the course loads. Nice touch as this really helps the load times pass quickly. The load times are decent but seem to go quick with this customization option. This is also where you can change your music each race and there are a lot of races you can participate in.

There are four divisions/skill classes to race in: Amatuer, Pro, Champion and SuperRally. These divisions each feature many races to participate in and will often result in a some form of an unlockable, where its a car or a track. The paint skins are unlocked by the number of miles you drive with a particular model of car. If you are one of those gamers who have to unlock everything then this game has a tonne of replay value.

Nowadays you cant talk about replay value unless you mention Xbox Live. The Live experience is unique to say the least. When racing others you dont see their cars and they dont see yours. Instead, what you see is the wire frame of the car. Each one is colour coated for each racer. Its very interesting to say the last when a wire-framed car has rolled right in front of you. Its hard to describe but worth checking out. The one bit of Live support that I was disappointed to see missing was that great feature in PGR2 that allowed you to post your time and compare it to others.

Bottom line though is RalliSport Challenge 2 is yet another fun online racing game from Microsoft Game Studios.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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