RalliSport Challenge 2 Xbox Review

Let’s face it, the Xbox is literally overflowing with racing titles. Most of them are of an extremely high quality, so developers are going to have to pull something very special out of the hat to make their game stand out and appeal to gamers in an already exceedingly crowed market. In 2002 Digital Illusions managed to attract gamers’ attentions in releasing the very impressive RalliSport Challenge; however the market was less crowded back then. So now in 2004 they return bearing RalliSport Challenge 2 in hand. They have had two years to improve on the original but the question is: did they better the original and if so by how much and does a sequel really make a worthwhile purchase?

Gameplay

While still having the arcade feel of the original, Digital Illusions have decided to take a slightly more realistic approach to gameplay. Fans of the original should not start screaming obscenities yet though as the game still keeps its roots firmly in the arcade ancestry of it predecessor. The new style suits the game very well and not only helps the game outshine Digital Illusions previous effort of 2 years ago but makes it stand head and shoulders above most other rally game out there.

There is a good selection of over 40 cars to choose from in the game, ranging from the Toyota Celica to the Subaru Impreza to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII. There is also the inclusion of the group B cars that were banned in real life racing. Each car has a slightly different feel but it should not take any longer than 2 races to adjust yourself and then you will begin to get the most out of the car. After playing for about a week you will probably find yourself liking one car more than the others as its driving style will appeal to you more. You can also tune your car before every race for a vast selection of options, ranging from tire type, to gear ratio, to brake stiffness and many others. These changes actually make a dramatic difference on your car’s performance and how well you will race. Small tweaks in the tuning could definitely make the difference between a first place and a second place on some of the higher difficultly levels.

Now I have talked about cars – but what about tracks? Well RalliSport Challenge 2 features 90 different tracks to test your wits. These 90 tracks will take you all around the world as you drive through the stony dusty roads of Australia, to the exciting Monte Carlo tracks and even from the bottom Grand Canyon to name just a few! To make these tracks look even more spectacular and boy do they look spectacular there is also the inclusion of weather conditions. Be it heavy rain, snow or even a clear day the weather conditions will affect the way your car handles and the way you will have to drive. If you chose to race using the first-person view then the changes will affect you even more!

But are these added extras enough to make you buy the game if you have the original? Some would argue yes, others would argue no but gladly Digital Illusions have decided to do more to the game than just add a few extras. They have gone straight to its core and added lots of new race modes. With all the original modes still in place it is a very intresting mix. They have gone above themselves to make sure fans of the original will find this game an irresistible purchase and I am sure they hope to bring new fans into the franchise. It really does outshine it predecessor in so many ways. There are five different race types available in the game: traditional rally races, ice racing, rallycross, crossover and hill climb. Then there is the career mode which has four different difficulties for you to choose from: amateur, pro, champion and super-rally. I personally found amateur and pro a bit to easy and I believe champion and super-rally is where the really challenge and longevity of this game lies.

The career mode is also where you will compete to try to obtain the unlockables in the game; these consist of new cars and tracks. I mentioned before there was around 40 cars and 90 tracks in the game but most are locked when you begin the game. You will have to fight it out on various tracks to unlock most of the other tracks. In this way the game is like a carbon copy of Project Gotham 2 – you have to become skillful to get the best cars/tracks but once you unlock them you will wreak the benefits both offline and most importantly online on Xbox Live.

Yes the RalliSport franchise is now fully live enabled like all other Microsoft published titles of recent months and it is overloaded with features to try and grab you attention. You can either choose to host your own race or search for other fellow gamer’s race in lobbies. Online races also have many different settings that can be tinkered with, such as manual gear shifting – turned off or on and which camera types must be used by all players. However, the most important setting is the collision detector. Whether it is turned on or off is crucial as this setting affects online play the most. If collision is turned on only a maximum of 4 cars will be alllowed to compete in the race however if it is turned off the maximum quickly shoots up to 16, the downside in this mode is that you don’t get to see the full car models, all you see are coloured outlines of the cars you are up against. This will seem weird at first but it is needed to get the game to run at a high quality and without lag. RalliSport Challenge 2 also includes XSN support, featuring individual and team-based seasons, as well as tournaments and trackable stats via the XSN Web site.

Graphics

Some people have said the graphics in RalliSport Challenge 2 push the Xbox to the max. I don’t believe this is true – but it does come very close. The game looks absolutely fantastic, almost hitting photorealistic at times, even by just looking at static screenshots before the games release you could tell it would be special, but seeing it in motion (with you in control) is definitely a sight to see. What makes it so special you may ask? Well first things first, RS2 doesn’t use the photo backdrops like some racers on the market; polygons are used to create all of the environments you see. While that doesn’t sound like it would change alot at first, once you play the game you will realize how much of a difference and impact it makes.

Because Digital Illusions have gone the fully polygon route it gives the impression that everything on and off the road seems much more alive. Trees now sway in the breeze, tumbleweeds cross the road and dirt and snow shoots up and attaches to your bumper and wheels. Countless other small touches have been added to try and immerse you in the game. RalliSport Challenge 2’s damage modeling is also of a very high quality – almost every part of your car can be destroyed in some way. Cracked widows, broken bumpers, dents in the bodywork and broken doors will be seen in spades if you driving is not up to standard. It is not just your car the can be wrecked though; part of the road including signs will meet an untimely end if your driving is not up to a high standard. Some of these little touches may have been done in other games before but RS2 takes them to the next level and makes them so much more. The high quality graphics makes everything you see so much more special and it truly looks and feels like the next-gen it deserves to be called. This is more than I can say about some other “next-gen racers” released recently.

Sound

The soundtrack contained within the game is not one of the best or most original ever. It could be classed as both nu-metal with maybe a hint of rock, but most of the songs are just not to my taste. Gladly in the end that doesn’t matter as the custom soundtrack option has made an ever so welcome return. So whatever music you like, you can have it in droves whenever you play the game – that is if you have the time and patience to load all your desired tracks in.

The sound effects don’t seem to have the same half-baked feel about them as the soundtrack does. Infact I believe a great amount of work has gone into getting the effects to sound as realistic as possible and dare I say it, Digital Illusions has achieved this with nigh on perfect execution. The sound effects are in all essence of the word incredible. All of the cars included within the game have their own individual engine sound. Even the slid jumps and crashes have different sounds, depending on where you were, how fast you were hurtling your vehicle through the given course and what surface you are driving on. This may sound good but it gets better. The sound effects change depending on the view that you choose within the game. You may not think this is a great added extra but if you have a surround sound system it will really immerse you in the game. Digital Illusions have just raised the bar for sound effects within a racing game.

Lifespan

As I said before, RalliSport Challenge 2 contains a huge comprehensive story mode. This alone should be enough to keep anyone going for a few weeks. When you add in the fact that the game is also fully live enabled it opens up its lifespan to almost an unlimited extent. You can really keep playing the game for as long as you want to. The exhilaration and fun aspect you experience when you play the game for the first time will stay with you for as long as you want it to. This is what all excellent games should aspire to do.

Overall

RalliSport Challenge 2 truly is a breathtaking rally game. It merges awe-inspiring graphics with amazing gameplay; it has everything under its hood that it needs to make it a worthy sequel. Although it may hint more towards to an arcade style of driving than the sim based exploits of the Colin McRae series and others, in the end, that doesn’t really matter. Its semi-arcade control system means it is an extremely exciting fun game to play and should keep petrol-heads entertained until they cross the finish line for the very last time of the very last race. RalliSport Challenge 2 not only gets poll position but it comes in first place after a hard fought race, leaving others in its dust.

9.3 out of 10

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