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Rally Cross 2 (PSX)

Background Info

The original Rally Cross was a love it or leave it proposition. Revered by some (including me) as one of the most challenging and fun arcade racers available for the Playstation, it was despised by many for a physics model that made for a steep learning curve in terms of control. Idol Minds and 989 Studios have evidently taken those criticisms to heart and made Rally Cross 2 a game which will be more accessible difficulty-wise to a wide range of gamers. They've largely succeeded in striking a balance that should appeal to first-time players without alienating fans of the original.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
Rally Cross featured very colorful and attractive graphics which still stand up well nearly two years after its release. No surprise, then, that Rally Cross 2 employs a very similar graphics engine, and the results are impressive. If you appreciated the graphic style of the first game, you'll be more than happy with what's served up here. The tracks and backgrounds are every bit as eye-catching as the original and then some. Weather effects are very good, and dust, mud, water, and leaves are kicked up as you drive over different surfaces, just as in Rally Cross.

All kinds of little touches have been added to enhance the look of the game including pylons that get knocked around the track, mud and snow that accumulate on your car throughout the race, skid marks, and gas drums on the Refinery level that explode when you run into them. Whoo hoo! Unfortunately, all of these graphical goodies come at the expense of visible car damage, and that's a shame. Watching the cars' condition deteriorate over the course of a race was one of the joys of the first game.

The cars and trucks are nicely detailed and more closely resemble real-world vehicles than did their counterparts in Rally Cross. A paint option has been included which allows you to change the color and detail of your vehicle, a neat little addition.

The game runs very smoothly, and view distance is good with very little draw-in noticeable. Although there is some occasional clipping evident when you veer too close to the edge of the track (in a tunnel for instance), it doesn't detract much from the overall graphical look of the game.

Presentation/Audio : 75
The audio in Rally Cross 2 is unremarkable at best. The sound is loud and punchy, but there only seems to be one engine sound and it's not a particularly good one. This is not a game that provides the audio cues necessary to allow you to shift gears based on engine sound alone. Sadly, gone are the brilliant suspension creaks and squeaks that added so much character to the first game. The crashing and banging of the vehicles sound good as do the ambient sound effects. The music is of the same ilk as that used in Rally Cross - generic 80's guitar rock. I haven't turned it off yet, but that's about the kindest thing I can say about it.

Interface/Options : 95
The first time I booted up Rally Cross 2, I thought I had popped the original into my PSX by mistake; the interface is identical, right down to the music. It's simple and functional, and only differs from the first by way of the new features and options that have been added. Most notable is the inclusion of a splendid track editor. You start with a simple grid within which to design your track and add segments one block at a time. There is an excellent selection of features (17) from which to create the track of your dreams (or nightmares). They include a wide variety of turns, jumps, bridges, creeks, and mud pits. Track length is limited by the size of the grid, but you've got ample room to work with. Unfortunately, you're only able to choose from three "themes" (backgrounds). It would have been nice to pick from any of the backgrounds used in the regular tracks. Still, the overall implementation of the track editor works beautifully. It is so simple and effective that I was able to create a track as good as any in the game (if I do say so myself) on my very first try. Nice work Idol Minds/989!

Gameplay : 88
For better or worse (depending on your perspective), this is where all the tinkering has gone on. Rally Cross could be described as an arcade racer with simulation physics. It worked like a charm once you got used to the feel of it, but many gamers bailed out long before they reached that point. Rally Cross 2 has a revamped physics engine which moves the series in a decidedly more arcade direction. This despite the fact that there are now options available to adjust steering, braking, gear ratios, tire type, etc. However, the adjustments are quite simplistic compared to most simulation racers out there. They serve more as a means of fine-tuning control and are very effective in allowing you to do just that.

The vehicles in Rally Cross 2 have a lower center of gravity than those in Rally Cross, and that makes them much less prone to capsize. You'll still flip often enough but, when you do, you only need hit either the L1 or R1 button to right yourself. It's no longer necessary to rock yourself back onto all fours. Default control is a little on the loose side and, although there is no option to calibrate the Dual Analog controller, things can be tightened up to suit your driving style by adjusting steering sensitivity and braking in the car set up menu. Once you do, the game controls very well indeed. The only real complaint I have is that, when using a manual transmission, it's necessary to be in first gear to start moving after a crash or spin-out. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it's a real pain to have to shift all the way down from 6th gear to 1st before you get ANY power to the road. Your car should start rolling in 3rd or 2nd gear, albeit with reduced acceleration.

The gameplay in Rally Cross 2 is structured identically to the first. You can choose to run a single race, time trial, practice, season, or two-player race (unfortunately, the four-player option has been removed). Races can be run in forward or reverse either in the same direction or head-on against one or three other cars. There are still only three CPU opponents, but the relative lack of competition doesn't take away from the fun. Naturally, season mode is where it's at because that's where you will unlock more cars and tracks. There is a nice variety of well-designed tracks available plus several more that can be accessed via code (including the Oasis and Jungle tracks from Rally Cross). However, the game is a little deficient when it comes to vehicles. There are only seven cars and three trucks to choose from, all but three of which must be unlocked. I'd like to think that there are many more buried in the game somewhere, but I haven't found any yet.

Difficulty : 87
Just like Rally Cross, Rally Cross 2 offers three levels of difficulty: Rookie, Veteran, and Pro. Each level must be cleared by winning the season championship prior to moving on to the next. Doing so will unlock more cars and tracks. You begin with three vehicles and three tracks and progress from there.

The AI of the CPU vehicles is very good. There are not infallible and you will see them crash and spin out of their own accord, especially at the lowest difficulty setting. They will challenge you physically, but are nowhere near as dastardly as the opposing drivers in Rally Cross were. Like the relaxed physics model, this is consistent with the reduced difficulty level of Rally Cross 2. I recall how challenging it was to clear the Rookie level in Rally Cross, but had little difficulty getting past it in Rally Cross 2. The real challenge doesn't begin until Veteran level. This smoothes out the learning curve for newcomers at the expense of longer term challenge.

Overall : 87
I have to admit to some initial disappointment with Rally Cross 2. I was a huge fan of the original and, while Rally Cross 2 bears a lot of surface resemblance to Rally Cross, it just doesn't feel the same. Rally Cross had a charm and magic all its own which has been lost in the translation. That said, as I played further into Rally Cross 2, I discovered a very entertaining game in its own right. It offers great control, a good sense of speed, very nice graphics, and a terrific and easy to use track editor that adds significantly to replay value. Rally Cross 2 is one of the best arcade racers to be released since Need for Speed 3 and is a game that will be finding its way into my Playstation long after this review has been filed.

By: Pete Anderson 12/1/98

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