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In Memory
Sean Pettibone




          

 


 

It might seem that the racing genre is over-saturated with mediocre titles, but every once in awhile, a superb title comes along that does everything perfectly. A good case in point is Microsoftís outstanding Rallisport Challenge, an excellent off-road racer for the Xbox. Visually stunning, this arcade style racer really showcases the visual power of the console while offering incredible car physics modeling and sophisticated, deep and satisfying gameplay. Look inside as we examine this outstanding off-road racer.

Eventually, it had to happen but someone has finally outdone the classic Sega Rally series and made an arcade style Rally title that sets new standards. Some may find it odd that such a high-quality title would come from Microsoft of all places, but Project Gotham Racing proved that the console can handle the demands placed on it from a stunning racing title. With itís newest off-road racer, Microsoft and developers Dice have crafted an addictive and highly enjoyable racers. Rallisport Challenge is one of those rare milestone titles that sets new technical standards on the Xbox while also offering an addictive and truly enjoyable racing game. On the surface, it might seem that this is another rally title because it offers a fairly straightforward racing game, but the game excels precisely because of this concentration on doing the basics well. The standard modes of play include single races, practice rounds and championship modes, in addition thereís a time attack mode where you can race against yourself. In order to unlock additional vehicles, tracks and modes, you must go through the career mode. Here, you are battling against multiple stages and earn points that can be used to unlock extra courses and vehicles. One of the cool things about the point system is that you can earn points for your position in the race but also for factors such as fastest lap times, and keeping damage to your vehicle at a a minimum. Some of the stages can be quite long, consisting of 7 or more individual races to complete. This means that youíll need some endurance to beat these races, but donít necessarily need to win every single stage in order to win the overall standings, which is cool and makes the game less frustrating.

RS allows the player to race through a whopping 48 tricky courses in 4 distinct settings. These locations include deserts, steep mountains and icy winter driving plus some quite beautiful tropical and Mediterranean settings. In addition, the game offers 29 licensed official rally cars, including the B-Class vehicles that have been banned from official competition. As you can see, this is quite a comprehensive simulator and should keep you occupied for hours at a clip. This is true because Rallisport Challengeís course designs are excellent and challenging, with tight turns, banks, courses, jumps, straights, hairpins, banks and more to keep players constantly on their toes. The trick is to be constantly alert because the tracks can throw sudden turns at you with little warning. You also need to be aware that the courses can change their surfaces their width and length of the tracks can make for some tricky driving. It pays to practice each course a few times to master the many quirks. To help you during the race, your co-pilot alerts you in advance to what lies ahead, which can be quite helpful in the trickier courses, though the constant babbling can get annoying after awhile. Itís not easy mastering all the courses and figuring out when to powerslide, or how fast you need to take certain turns, but thatís part of the fun and excitement of the game. While itís extremely difficult to win certain races, the satisfaction that this provides the player is immense and makes for an extremely addictive title.

While each of the courses poses a unique challenge, they all have similar features and its this commonality that makes the subtle differences between the courses so interesting. Players will find each type of course has different kinds of turns and surfaces, and unique obstacles to overcome. For example, some courses take place in huge areas and have different types of surfaces, which can significantly affect the controls and responsiveness of the vehicles. This is difficult enough but factor in the fact that your carsí performance degrades when you crash it and you have a game with a surprising amount of depth. Its this realism that makes the game so satisfying. While all the levels pose a significant challenge, some are harder than others. The unique Hill Climbing levels are particularly tough, but that feeling of being Ďking of the mountainí (literally) is unmatchable.

Helping to add to the gameís appeal is the interface, which is one of the key areas where Rallisport Challenge shines. One of the cool things about the game is that players can choose to either use the analog or digital pad, but it makes little difference since either configuration allows the player to have precise movement. Overall, we found the controls are tight and responsive, while offering quite a bit of realism in their feel. The car physics model is impressive, giving each vehicle distinctive handling, acceleration and controls. Other factors come into play as well, with the tire traction a significant issue that frequently makes the difference between navigating a tight turn successfully and running off the side of a cliff. RSí interface allows plenty of dexterity and is realistic enough to give you a convincing sense of being on the road. The fact that the vehicles take realistic damage from collisions is impressive. In addition to leaving physical scars and broken windows, crashes affect the race itself because your performance is hurt significantly after major crashes adds to the realistic feel of the gameplay. Mastering all the nuances of turning and power-sliding takes some practice, and gives the game a lot of depth, though it takes some times to really get some of the methods under your belt. Understanding the proper use of braking, and anticipating when to begin applying them is difficult and can be a bit frustrating at times, but in the end itís worth it and gives the experience a convincingly realistic feel to it. While the controls and method behind the action is complicated, the controls are easy to understand. The game is extremely challenging yet also quite intuitive, allowing you to pull off sophisticated power-slides, turns and more with ease once you get some time under your belt and master the techniques to become a competent driver. It also helps that you can set the viewpoint on the fly allowing you to find the perfect racing vantage point. So overall, the gameplay is deep and rich, yet also quite addictive and extremely challenging, making for some of the best Rally racing seen to date.

From a visual standpoint, the game is stunning and is truly a showcase for the Xbox console. It must be stated easily eclipses the impressive aesthetic accomplishments seen in Gran Turismo 3ís rally sequences. The action flows ar Rich textured environments unfold before the player and the field of vision and depth that the graphics create almost nearly confuse the eye into believing they are watching films of actual rally racing. The car models are beautiful and detailed to the point that you can even see both driver and co-pilot in the vehicle. This only enhances the feeling that these have been modeled physically to perform much like real vehicles, with small things such as decals and logos evident in the models as well, giving Rallisport Challenge an almost flawless visual look. Light sourcing, incredible trackside detail and accurate plants and buildings make the impressive look of the game approach absolute photo realism. This phrase is overused but appropriate in this case. There are subtle things done with the environments and you need to look closely on the replays to see this, but the game is visually astounding with lush details such as flowing trees, dust particles and more. The way the vehicles kick up mud and dirt when you spin out is also a cool effect. Rallisport Challengeís environmental weather effects such as snow, rain and mud are superb and fit well with the game. These are convincingly modeled since they reduce your visibility. Itís too bad that there are some jaggies that are visible on the distant objects in some areas of the game, these detract from an otherwise flawless presentation buit not enough to undermine the otherwise impressive graphics engine. The sound effects of engines roaring, the chatter from your copilot and the screeching tires all set up to add to the sense of realism, making the game sound as good as it looks.

So in the end, all the elements have come together to make this an outstanding title for the Xbox. While itís true that Rally racing isnít the most popular of the motor-sports, an excellent game like this should go far in increasing its popularity, especially here in the states. From a technical standpoint, the game is outstanding with an incredible graphics engine and sophisticated physics modeling creating a stunningly authentic experience. Rallisport Challenge is an excellent title with a lot of depth. Itís a challenging, exciting and most of all, fun title that captures the essence of the sport, making it one of the best racing experiences ever seen on a console to date.


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