"With an impressive level of detail, the varied background elements and assorted weather conditions have come together to form an intoxicating rush of eye candy that evenly matches the speed at which players are experiencing it. Whether its the dusty red sands of the Australian Outback, complete with small shanty towns and the occasional windmill, or the lush Autumn colors of a backwoods English lane, players are sure to find themselves constantly lost in the moment."
If Formula One is to be considered the gentleman's motor-sport and Nascar the redneck's, Rally Cross must indubitably belong to the most manly of men. That's right guys, there's something almost primal about throwing a car sideways around a dusty corner that speaks to us like no other high velocity experience can. The rear end sliding out in a quick fish tail before finding traction again, biting into the ground and throwing the car onwards into the next hill climb or near-fatal bend in the trail. All the while of course, you're being subjected to a heady blast of adrenaline as a series of picturesque vistas flow by in a 120 km/h blur. Canyons, cliffs, sand dunes and causeways. From the Australian Outback to the paved, cobblestone roads of Monte Carlo and the icey paths of Sweden's remote trails, a Rally Cross World Tour proves to be one picture perfect rush after the next. Seriously now, what's not to enjoy?
OK so pardon the loaded question, Rallisport Challenge 2 may not be everyone's cup of tea. Those of us brought up on a strict diet of Colin McRae-style sim driving are guaranteed to lament its almost, arcade-like physics... that however would be a mistake. Likewise the Sega Rally enthusiasts could conceivably be put off by the wealth of customizable car options and other assorted, gameplay tweaks... and once more they'd be missing out. You see, this is a game that neatly fills the gap, taking up residence between what the hardcore sim crowd demand and how the quick thrill, adrenaline junkies like to have it. It's a finely balanced racer that's perfectly suited to those looking for something with a little extra under the hood without all the hassles present in real, true-to-life racing. And believe me, there's always an audience for that!
But first things first, unlike its ill fated predecessor, Rallisport Challenge 2 has all the hallmarks of a contender. The controls that once plagued players have received a much needed overhaul, effectively ridding the series of its biggest thorn. Whereby judging exactly how your vehicle was going to react to any given surface use to be problematic, the physics engine now seems utterly plausible, if not downright intuitive. Sure things still feel a little loose around the edges, but in such freedom we now find precision, and the sensations generated when blasting around the many treacherous environments are second to none. Dirt carries just the right amount of grip while mud pulls the car in and slows things down, then there's the slippery sadistic pleasures of rubber on ice and the occasional touch of tarmac as well. All of which as previously stated, feels exactly right.
And that as they say is important as Rallisport 2 is all about giving players a richly enjoyable experience, minus any and all unnecessary baggage. Witness the varied play modes that stick to the rules only when they serve the action, the traditional Rally ethos of a single player driving hard against the clock eventually being replaced by 8 mad bastards all on the track at the same time. Be it rain, shine, sleet or snow, you'll always hunger for that elusive first place position on the Xbox Live leader boards like nothing else. So push it hard and fast for as long as possible, we'll worry about unwrapping your car from that tree later. And while it's hardly Colin McRae authentic, there's a certain charm to had in vying for first place through such hazardous conditions. Who cares if the sim nuts don't approve? Hill climb, ice racing, and a series of cross over events add the much needed variety, proving once more that developers DICE were listening when the original game was lambasted for not getting it right.
Even still, if we we're to put the brakes on I'd be forced to concede that perhaps such good intentions got in the way of Rallisport 2's expanded career modes. For it's here that the biggest chagrin can be found, not in the freshly balanced learning curve but in the amount of time it takes for the game to truly present a challenge. Overly simplistic, most players will walk through the opening classes breaking little more than a mild sweat in the process. That you're going to tire of the constant babying and opt to jump straight into the Championship rounds could be seen as a sign, that you'll inevitably be forced to play the previous classes in order to unlock everything the game has to offer then seems a little bizarre. There's a ton of great stuff waiting for the right kind of player to unearth, fully licensed cars, extra tracks and the like, the only problem will be finding the patience with which to do so.
But then again, maybe I'm just being fickle and you can never have too much of a good thing... who knows?
At any rate it's having put this most minor of pot holes behind them that players are free to take in the beauty of the incredibly vivid, high resolution textures. With an impressive level of detail, the varied background elements and assorted weather conditions have come together to form an intoxicating rush of eye candy that evenly matches the speed at which players are experiencing it. Whether its the dusty red sands of the Australian Outback, complete with small shanty towns and the occasional windmill, or the lush Autumn colors of a backwoods English lane, players are sure to find themselves constantly lost in the moment. Mounting a crest in the road presents you with a panoramic view of the terrain ahead as birds take flight and a series of small, orange leaves flutter to the ground. Meanwhile your co-driver announces the next bend in the track as a hard 90 degree left pulls your attention back to the road and the ever ticking clock by your side. Watch it fella, exposed hairpin ahead...
It's here at the end of the day though that I'm left to deliver a single, solitary sentiment: Rally driving has never felt this good. As I've said before, every gully, every turn, every single bump in the road feels utterly fantastic, doubly so however once players have grown accustomed to Rallisport 2's arcade-style, braking system. You'll hammer the accelerator like a bat out of hell, violently squeezing the brakes on and off as the car begins to slide. Believe me guys, there's no room for grace under pressure, manly men won't allow it. So go on now, throw whatever you can at the road, drive it rough and hard like a pro might do... just don't consider it a sim and you'll be fine. There's excitement here the likes of which Colin McRae simply wouldn't understand, blowing through the curves in nothing but style with a cloud of dust following hot on its heels. You'll do well to check out Rallisport Challenge 2, if only to prepare yourself for its inevitable sequel...
* An awesomely realized physics engine gives you all the grunt you'll ever need
* The re-tuned controls now feel right
* With a larger variety of event types you'll have even more to do
* Realistic car damage
* Load times have been neatly managed
* Rallisport Challenge 2 features some drop dead gorgeous good looks
* Outstanding Xbox Live support
* There's literally a ton of stuff to unlock
* Rallisport Challenge 2 neatly fills a gap
* The soundtrack isn't all that it should be
* An expanded career mode seems too easy for too long
Staff review by Michael Scott (May 11, 2005)
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