Xpand Rally Xtreme PC Review

For most gamers interested in the world of racing, specifically rally driving, there is not many quality titles out there to choose from. For years the highly acclaimed Colin McRae franchise has topped the billing with a few others dotted around the place. Some may point straight to the Sega Rally games as direct competition, yet Sega Rally has always been much more of an arcade game, rather than the more simulation based experience of those other previously alluded to titles. Seeing a potential gap in the market, developer Techland have stepped into the void to give Codemasters some much needed competition. But, in the face of Colin McRae and the huge market share it possesses, can Xpand Rally Xtreme truly have an impact? It would certainly seem fair to say that XRX has the potential to give Codemasters more than food for thought.

Let us ignore everything else for now and examine how Techland’s title plays. XRX’s first important feature is that you can choose the style of rallying you wish to participate in: arcade or simulation. While much of the game as a whole remains the same with either choice, there are some important gameplay issues to consider when choosing between the two options (note that it is simple to create another profile with the other option if desired). Those preferring to jump into the game relatively quickly will feel more at home with the arcade settings, while those wanting a fuller experience will opt for simulation. When adopting simulation mode the car’s handling noticeably changes; it is certainly easier to skid and spin and therefore extra care has to be taken when braking and accelerating. The other major differences are damage related. In arcade mode it is not possible to flip your car without extra effort and it is the same when trying to smash the vehicle to such an extent that the wheels come off. The car is generally a lot more robust in arcade mode than in simulation mode where every paint scrape is to be avoided at all costs. Perhaps most excitingly, it is also only possible (hilarious though it is) to actually injure your driver to the point of retirement in simulation mode; that’s right, in XRX your driver takes damage as well as your car. The driver’s health is vital to your racing ability, too many bumps and your car will become slow to accelerate, and a heavy side impact with a tree will actually force you into retirement from the race because of driver injury. These arcade and simulation differences, in terms of damage certainly, add a great area of interest in the game. The damage model generally is highly diverse, with many parts of your car at risk from simply driving recklessly, even if not to the point of the downright mad. This all means that you can have a relatively laid back arcade experience, or choose a hyper-real simulation that forces you to really concentrate.

In terms of wider gameplay features XRX is certainly solid. The car’s physics allow for many driving styles, these can also be enhanced with the many ways to customise your car’s settings before each race. But, make no mistake; even on arcade mode these settings need to be heeded. While, especially on arcade, many settings can be brushed aside, it is crucial to consider variables such as tyre choice carefully. The incorrect tyres for the surface, of which there are many types, hinders acceleration and handling to mention but two areas. While it is possible to neglect these in the early stages of the championship mode, when the heat builds later on, these kinds of choices become vital. Weather conditions also play a major role; a wet rally can noticeably give your car the feeling of being on ice, rather than on, for example, tarmac if you have picked dry weather tyres.

Aside from weather and the myriad of car settings at the player’s disposal, XRX’s car physics are superb. Your car carries momentum into corners superbly, especially apparent when driving the heavier cars if not set up properly. Track features such bumps create realistic effects when hit. But, as with real rally driving, your trusty co-driver is there to guide you through, and you will certainly need him to get the most from your car and your lap. As with your car, your co-driver is customisable, so you can change the distances from a corner at which he announces its description, or the language in which he describes it; the latter really helps to spice things up if you think you are getting too good. All these elements of the game are supported by a wide variety of other essentials, such as the superb night races, the large number of cars and championships, and not to mention the presence of online multiplayer options. Conveniently all these gameplay areas can be enjoyed with the excellent ability for controller customisation. For the review an Xbox 360 wired controller was used; it was very simple to setup and enjoyable to employ, thus enabling the game to be experienced to a fuller extent than can be the case when games force you to use a control set up you are simply not comfortable with.

Graphically speaking, XRX measures up fairly well against many current games in the rally genre. To start with, the presentation of the menus is clear, crisp and easy to understand. These graphics will not blow your mind, but they do the job well and surely menu graphics do not constitute a good game. Rather it is within the game itself that, and rightly so, the graphical qualities of XRX will be examined.

The importance and effects of damage within Xpand Rally Xtreme have already been documented above, but does all this damage come as a mysterious result at the end of the race or can one visibly witness their car falling to pieces in gorgeous detail? In short, the latter is the case. Most pieces of your car will fall off if provoked, from doors to bumpers your car is a fully destructible unit. The cars look nice before you smash them, for example they reflect the scenery excellently, with aspects such as cloud reflecting properly off the windshield or roof. When playing the game with the camera positioned in the classic behind-the-car view, all the graphical details come into full glory and showcase some of the time and effort put into detailing the cars by the developers. When viewed from inside the car there are also other nice touches such as the cracking of the windshield, plus the interaction of the windscreen wipers and the rain. On the topic of rain and climate in general XRX also graphically measures up well. The difference between a clear stage and a rain filled event is not only evident in the attributes of your car, but also on areas such as visibility; this is also the case when racing in day or night conditions.

Unfortunately, these graphical positives are offset by a number of negatives. Although these do not hinder the gameplay experience they serve to reduce the overall presentation of the game. The first issue to note is one that is present in many titles, that of popup. By this it is meant that sometimes, for example, a distant tree will suddenly appear without explanation. Of course small instances of popup do not overshadow other aspects of XRX such as the superb car damage visuals. Rather, it is the second issue which brings the game down graphically speaking and that is the issue of scenery as a whole. Grass, trees, buildings and fences, well most of the scenery to be honest, is not at the same level as the car. While looking respectable from a distance, when up close these “world” elements are distinctly two dimensional. When viewing replays it is also especially obvious that most grass is not bent aside or destroyed when driven over, rather it is driven through and nicely in tact when the car has passed. These kinds of negatives are frustrating when you also see nice touches such as a deer bounding across the track in front of your oncoming vehicle, or a spectator doing much the same. These little touches, plus the car, serve to highlight perhaps a lack of proper focus on the scenery and world in which the races are set, marring an otherwise graphically pleasing game.

Moving on from graphics, sound should be addressed within Xpand Rally Xtreme and the game does not disappoint. The menus have some solid guitar tracks to entertain you, but of course within the races themselves sounds become more important. Pleasingly the sound effects are handled well and there is not any real room for complaint. Each crash is supported by a good, solid crunching noise. The engine tones are perfectly attuned to allow one to change gear manually, plus they change as your vehicle takes more damage. Linked to this damage is once again your driver; the more damage your driver takes impairs his hearing. If he sustains a number of bumps and bashes then he (and therefore you) cannot hear the engine well, it subsequently becomes much harder to change gear as you have to constantly glance at the rev metre. Strangely, you can always hear your co-driver and while this is strange, enables you to drive relatively well even after a few crashes.

Overall, Xpand Rally Xtreme is a good rally game. The car attributes work well as do the weather conditions and the handy variation of arcade and simulation modes to enable the game to appeal to a wider number of players. Unfortunately, XRX is let down by two areas, namely scenery graphics. As mentioned before, this is very frustrating when one sees the clear effort put into working on the vehicles and other areas and therefore serves to highlight the scenery’s failings further. The second problem for XRX is a lack of distinctive licences (please note this has not particularly affected the rating of this game, it is rather more a marketing observation). For some this will reduce their desire to try a new title, but as Konami have proved over the years, licences do not make a great game. The problem with a lack of licenses is that it will hinder Techland in the quest to challenge Codemasters in the rally genre. Sadly, a big name that is recognisable to the public gets you on the map these days and for a relatively new brand, this could prove difficult to overcome. However, in saying all this, if you do not really mind about names etc then this game is certainly worth a try. The racing itself is very good, the game as a whole is only let down by some graphical issues to do with the backgrounds. The championship mode gives good life to the single player affair, while the presence of multiplayer internet and LAN options gives the title a good lasting appeal.

Minimum System Requirements: Processor – Pentium IV or AMD Athlon at 1.8ghz/Memory 256mb/Hdd – 2gb free space/DVD-Rom/Graphics Card – DirectX 9 compatible (Geforce 5700 or Radeon 900)/OS – Windows XP or 2000.

Review System: AMD Athlon 3400+/Memory 1gb/Hdd 80gb/DVD-Rom/Radeon X800GT 256mb/XP Home.

Maybe not a McRae beater just yet, but not far off

7 out of 10
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