Rallisport Challenge on the Xbox was a surprise hit. Rally games arenít typically the first choice for gamers when it comes to racing, yet Rallisport broke the mold. It didnít hurt that the gameís absolutely stunning graphics enticed casual gamers. Also, the arcade racing it offered was a nice diversion from the typical rally sim. So now comes Rallisport Challenge 2 with over 90 tracks, a bevy of game modes, online play, and over 40 rally cars past and present.
Presentation/Graphics : 100
Holy smokes. That pretty much describes the graphics in Rallisport Challenge 2. This game has the best graphics of any racing game on the Xbox, PGR2 included. The background detail is almost lifelike. The game really provides a visual treat for natural backgrounds such as trees, weeds, rock formations, cliffs, mud, and more. Even manmade artifacts are spectacular. Once weather effects enter into the equation, the bar is raised even more. On some tracks the sun glare is so bad you have trouble seeing the bends in the road. The sun is situated at just the right inclination to cause the glare. In other parts, the fog, rain, or snow blurs your vision and requires you to depend on the notes of your co-driver. On one particular course in England you have to endure over 10 miles of Scooby Doo style fog. In the rain, water hits the windshield a flows up just like on a real car. Wipers wipe away the water and leave streaks along the way.
The car detail is just as good. While I spend almost all my time racing from the first person view, when you snap back to the third person you see a detailed car. A few third person views accompany some good first person views, including a hood camera and in-car camera. By the end of a stage or race, your car will get dirty and possibly incur damage. Graphical damage modeling is done well. Dents show up in unique locations, side view mirrors tangle, and quarter panels flop. The original Rallisport was hailed for its graphics. The sequel betters it significantly.
Presentation/Audio : 80
The audio in RSC2 is average for a racing title. It may come down to personal preference regarding pace notes but I find the pace note reading in the Colin McRae series to be exceptional. In RSC2, pace notes can be set to either basic or advanced. The basic pace notes are pathetic as they provide almost no intricate detail on the course. The advanced pace notes are much better. Corners are called out as left or right and with a numerical degree of difficulty. The higher the number is the tighter the turn. This is opposite of McRae, where the pace notes are called out in terms of an appropriate gear to be in. Your co-driver will call out how the corner ends, such as if it opens or tightens. Bumps and jumps are barked out as well as some obstacles. Car sounds are the typical whine of smaller displacement engines under high revs. A nice feature in the stadium events (rallycross or cross-over) is that the announcer (slightly audible in the background) is speaking in the language of the country where the race is. If you prefer to listen to music while driving, the game supports custom soundtracks of your own music.
Interface/Options : 85
RSC2 comes with an exhaustive offline mode as well as online play. The offline components include a lengthy career mode, single race, time attack, and multiplayer. The career mode is comprised of hill climbs, rally stages, ice racing, rallycross, and crossover events. The same types of racing is available online. Car setups are available and address a variety of tuning options, such as tires, gear ratios, suspension settings, and even wheel toe. Regarding suspension settings, you can adjust stiffness values independently for the four wheels.
Gameplay : 86
RCS2 plays much better than the original. Going back and playing the original showed just how far the physics and handling have come. The cars in the original seem heavy and unresponsive while the sequel is more responsive. The four wheel physics model requires you to carefully navigate the courses. Ruts, curbs, and snow banks on the roadsides all present obstacles which affect stability if just one wheel hits. Driving carelessly is rewarded with spin-outs, off course diversions, and collisions with fences, trees, and curbs. The handling could be described as PGR2-like; itís not a full simulation but it provides a nice blend between realistic handling and tighter arcade control for the perfect blend of racing action. Grip is appropriate for the various road surfaces. On asphalt cars grip like crazy, on snow or ice traction is an issue, and on dirt you can slide through turns.
While the individual stage or event racing is entertaining, you canít help but feel you are missing out on the rally experience. Expect no more than 4 or so stages for a particular series even though some locales have up to a dozen stages. To its credit, there are some stages that are incredibly long, coming in at over 10 miles long and taking 10 minutes or more to complete. The tracks are challenging, with continuous jumps, elevation changes, various curves, and hazards. Course design is some of the best youíll see. Another departure from reality is the damage model. While you can damage your car, the car is fully repaired after each race. There are no service areas with limited repair time, nor is there reduced performance from one rally to the next for broken items. The damage model appears to be too lenient as well. It requires a bunch of damage before handling is negatively impacted, and it takes some effort to even damage the cars.
The AI can be described as stunted. You only race against other cars on the same track in the rallycross and ice racing events. While the cars will drive decent lines on their own, they tend to hold them and not be concerned about your position on track. AI cars continually ram into you and the other AI cars. On the rally stages, AI cars could use a burst in performance. There are initially 3 difficulty levels available in the game. Iíd expect a challenge from the toughest of those three, but in reality most stages and events can be won on the first attempt and without modifications to the car setups. McRae relies heavily on setting up a car to get an advantage over the AI cars, and even at medium difficulty the AI presents a challenge. In RSC2, the racing is easy which means a ton of easy races in the very lengthy career mode. Itís not until the last few series of the Champion (toughest of the initial 3 levels) that you lose your spot atop the podium. Unfortunately you have to go through the career mode to unlock some of the cars if you want to race them offline or online.
The online racing is improved due to the unpredictable nature of human opponents. You could argue that some of the spirit of rally racing is removed with having huge fields online, but there are rallycross events in reality. Also, the Paris-Dakar rally is an example of a point-to-point event with multiple vehicles battling for position (well, as much as possible for such a strung out field). Regardless, the tracks are narrow and the bumping is intense. Unfortunately it can be tough to know where your opponents since you canít look out either side window. Something that wonít appeal to race fans is that once the number of human opponents goes above 4, collisions are turned off.
Replay Value : 78
What will attract gamers to this game are beautiful graphics, nice course design, and accessible handling and physics. The game does not require as much thought as a full-blown simulation, yet it is not completely dumbed down. The online component is sure to draw a large number of gamers as the racing requires more skill than the current online racing darling, Project Gotham Racing 2. It will be interesting, however, to see if multiplayer rally racing can succeed since 5 to 16 player action utilizes ghost cars rather than full collision detection. Racing games like PGR2, Moto GP (or the sequel), and TOCA 2 all have better online racing models. The Rallisport Challenge 2 online experience just seems to fall short compared to those other titles
Overall : 86
Rallisport Challenge 2 should win the award as the best looking game on the Xbox. Its graphics are nothing short of amazing, but the audio package is typical for racing games. As a single player game, Rallisport Challenge 2 is easy. Even novice drivers should find success with most of the events. The game is not a faithful recreation of the WRC, but it is representative of the spirit of rallying, much like the Sega Rally series of old. The overall score reflects what I feel is appropriate for the casual racing fan that simply wants an entertaining title. Hardcore fans will be turned off by the lack of difficulty and departure from the true rally experience.