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Mobil 1 Rally Championship (PC) Review


Back when I was in high school, there were two kinds of car enthusiasts. The first were the drag racers who would ply their trade from city stop lights and whose races would be over in a matter of a block or so and in just a few seconds. My group preferred longer races which took place over country roads with curves and hills.

The favorite race was the "Graveyard Run." Starting on the edge of town, it ran 12 miles or so over both paved and gravel roads, between fields and through woods, ending up at an abandoned cemetery where we would stop to brag and sit on the headstones drinking beer until the headlights in the distance warned that the police were on their way to end the evening's festivities.

In that spirit, I've found a game that I really love -- Mobil 1 Rally Championship by Electronic Arts. After all, rallying is all about driving like a madman over public roads, only this time there's no threat of losing your license in the process. And I sure wish I'd had some of these cars back then.

Stay around to the end of this review to learn the inglorious end of my real-world road racing career.

Presentation/Graphics : 100
Mobil 1 Rally Championship has the best graphics of any racing game I've played. The terrain for the game is endlessly variable and wonderfully rendered. Everything looks simply REAL from the sunbeams shining through the trees to the glare on your windshield as you drive toward the sunrise. On the snowy stages, roads vary from totally snow-covered to having tracks visible to glare ice. Gravel roads vary from ordinary stone to loose dirt to primitive tracks through the forest.

But best of all, this is the first game I've seen which accurately depicts different weather conditions and times of day. There are stages in dry and sunny conditions, and some run in fog so thick you can barely see ahead of you. There is rain and snow, dawn and dusk and darkness with working headlights which realistically light the road ahead -- all of this would be wonderful in SCGT, hint, hint. Even the little stuff is right -- pass spectators at night and there is flashing to simulate them taking pictures.

And despite the magnificent quality of the graphics, the frame rate is smooth and steady throughout on my P2/400 with Voodoo II.

Presentation/Audio : 92
The sound quality is right up there with the visuals. You can hear the snow crunch under your wheels and wet pavement makes a distinctive hiss. Music is available in both the menus and the game, but it would only be a distraction while you are playing.

Interface/Options : 90
Type in your name, nationality and a few details such as whether you want the automatic or manual shift and set up the controller. Then choose your vehicle from a large assortment of cars running from A5 econoboxes to A7 pocket rockets. As you gain skill, you will become eligible to drive a 4-wheel-drive, turbocharged A8-class World Rally Championship car. I suggest you start out with an A7 car such as the Volkswagen Golf or the Renault Megane. The lesser cars don't have the power to properly demonstrate the game physics and you'll grow frustrated with the poor results you achieve.

Then choose whether to run in arcade or simulation mode. I do not recommend the arcade -- it reminds me too much of an early Test Drive with a few AI cars tooling around at very slow speeds which serve mainly to impede your progress. This is the only way that you will encounter other vehicles in the game, but you won't miss them -- driving the course is plenty challenging enough without other cars.

The options in simulation mode are single race, time trial and championship. Single race is for practice and time trial is the chance to get your name on the screen for setting the fastest time in a stage. But the true focus of the game is the British Rally Championship.

My TSW wheel set up and calibrated correctly the first time, the game recognizing all the buttons and shift paddles and pedals and retained the settings properly.

The game overlay can be adjusted to suit the needs of the player. Information available on screen includes a progress bar, pace notes, rear view mirror, driver information (basically a small picture of the car), position and time, tachometer, gear selection, speed and even a local map. Obviously this is information overload, and the only features I use are pace notes (the direction arrows), position and time, gear selection and speed.

The player can also choose from several views -- bumper, bonnet (that's "hood" in American), in-car, and three different chase views. I would suggest the bumper view as it's the one that provides the best sensation of speed and the broadest view of the lovely scenery.

One gripe here -- at every break, there is a long delay spinning the hard drive. It takes place at the start of the game, before loading the stage information, before and after the service area and before and after each stage itself. defeat) off to the memory card, which requires a paltry one or two blocks.

Gameplay : 95
Rallies consist of stages, each from about 10 to 25 miles in length and taking from 7 to 20 minutes to complete. Best time to the finish wins the stage, and the total of the times from all the stages determines the overall winner.

At the start of the rally, and at intervals during the event, the player can set up various aspects of the car's characteristics and repair the damage that inevitably occurs as you fly over ravines and bounce off trees. Tire choices are available from tarmac to gravel to snow, and it pays to study the description of the stage in the introduction so that you'll know whether to gear for acceleration or top speed and how high to set your ground clearance. But unlike Sierra's NASCAR series, Rally Championship is more about driving than mechanics.

If you watch the introductory movie for the game, you'll see cars broad sliding through mud and sand, kicking up great rooster tails as they make their way. Rallying is not a very subtle form of driving -- you get completely off the gas going into a corner to get the rear end of the car loose then mash on the gas pedal again to straighten out exiting the curve. And you'll be busy all the time in Rally Championship since the road is seldom straight for more than just a few feet at a time.

Since no one could memorize all the roads -- over 400 miles' worth in the game -- a co-driver is provided who speaks instructions for what's coming up. For example, you may hear, "200 left 5 to right 3." That means that two hundred metres ahead, you'll have a very sharp left curve followed immediately by a moderate right turn. In addition to the voice, there are also arrows which appear at the top of the screen to provide this information. Sometimes, however, you're so busy just trying to keep the car on the road that it all fades into the mental background and then you might miss a turn at an intersection -- which earns you a sarcastic "You're going the wrong way!" from the co-driver -- or possibly even a plummet into a creek or headlong into a tree as you crest a hill to a blind curve.

The game is rendered well in all three dimensions. Roads constantly change camber as well as going up and down. The car will take flight over a high-speed crest or crunch and bounce through a ditch. And you can turn the car over if you get too delirious in your driving. Fortunately, the game sends "virtual spectators" to your aid if this happens and the car is put back on its wheels to return to the chase. If you leave the road, you might be slowed by deep snow or slide across ice. There are also many obstacles along with way from piles of logs to rocks to bulldozers to bridges. For the sake of keeping the game playable, these can be clobbered at a ridiculous speed and the car will remain drivable though a time penalty is incurred as you get going again.

Replay Value: 90
With twenty cars to choose from, all with different power and handling characteristics, and about 400 miles of roads to drive in both day and night and all types of weather, this is not a game that you will tire of quickly. If anything, the opposite is true -- you want to keep trying to improve your times and eliminate your mistakes. For example, there's one location in the Pirelli rally where I've raced three time and three times I've rolled the car when I messed up a turn. All it's done is make me more determined to get it right next time.

I'd like to suggest that the company offer modules for the game with different rallies from around the world. I'd love to try my hand at the snow-covered mountain passes of Monte Carlo or the jungles of Malaysia. Maybe there could even be a "Rally Championships Legends" with Mini Coopers and Renault Alpine A110s. With new events and cars, the lifespan of interest is just about unlimited.

Overall : 98
I don't know how much appeal a game about rallying will have in the United States. It's not a motor sport which has caught on here since our preferences seem to run more toward the roundy-round NASCAR events. But if you've ever gone out on a lonely road late at night and tested your courage and driving skills, this is a game you will enjoy. It's not an easy game by any means, but getting a hairpin curve just right, or using a berm to ricochet through a turn is a very satisfying experience and makes this game well worth having.

Oh, about the end of my racing career on the public roads. One night, I was trying to take what this game would call a "left 3 loose gravel" just a little bit too fast. My Nova slid sideways off the outside of the curve, through a barbed wire fence and ended up sinking to the axles in a muddy field.

But that wasn't the worst part -- that came later when I had to knock on a farmer's door at midnight and have him call my dad and then try to explain to him why my car was sunk in a cornfield in the middle of the night. I think he intentionally waited an hour to call the tow truck.

If only real life had a reset button...

By: Paul Hamilton 3/29/00

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