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Rallisport Challenge 2 (Xbox)



By: Michael Palisano

Microsoft Game Studios goes off-road once again in the highly anticipated Rallisport Challenge 2 on the Xbox. RS2 features vastly improved graphics engine that sets new standards of realism including improved vehicular damage models and stunningly rendered courses. The intense gameplay leaves little room for error that makes for one of the most intense racing titles on any console to date. There have been many outstanding driving games on the Xbox over the past year but this title represents another high water mark on the console. This is one of the best rally games to date, so join The Laser as we discover what makes Rallisport Challenge 2 shine.

Rallisport Challenge 2 is definitely everything the Xbox community was hoping for and then some. While it stays true to the original title's formula of action and realism, the new game adds more courses and race types to make for a deeper, harder, and ultimately more satisfying experience. Starting in the garage, players will be pleased to know that there more cars this time around with top manufacturers including Toyota and Lancer leading the pack. There are more than 80 vehicles in all, including the famous "B" class vehicles with each vehicle accurately mirroring its real life counterpart's controls and handling. There are several vehicle classes designed to race on different surfaces with specially tuned rally cars for tarmac, gravel, mud, and ice courses. Each one controls differently and mastering their nuances is a key point in winning the race. Some have tighter controls for better cornering, while others give the driver more sliding ability for twisting courses. In addition to the increased vehicle selection, the game features more than twice as many tracks as the original. These take you to different continents throughout the world including the famous Monte Carlo course plus a variety of courses in Europe, Africa, Sweden, and Australia. There are several types of race events including standard rally, point-to-point, rally cross, hill-climbs, ice/snow racing, and the new crossover tracks. These Crossovers are incredibly exciting and quite dangerous since they intersect, which can lead to devastating collisions. Individual races take place in a variety of weather conditions, with snow, rain and fog plus night racing. All of these go a long way in reducing your visibility. Each race type requires a different set of tactics and presents its own challenges, so you need to use varied skill sets if you want to unlock more advanced stages.

Rallisport Challenge 2's controls are smooth and intuitive. The driving interface is easy to understand and but quite responsive, allowing you to perform sophisticated maneuvers with ease. Cornering your car around square turns is difficult, the best advice is to slow down to a near crawl, since the time deficit between a slow corner and a crash is significant. The biggest challenge in rally driving is knowing when to brake and timing these maneuvers so you don't end up sliding off the course. Good driving also prevents your vehicle from taking damage, since the damage in Rallisport Challenge is more than cosmetic and affects vehicle performance significantly. While the first game also featured an impressive vehicle damage model, RS2 implements a realistic collision system that adds to the challenge of each race. Your damage manifests itself in a number of ways including broken windshields, bumpers and more severe types of body damage. You can take damage in a variety of ways including contact with other cars, trackside objects such as railings and signs and more. Obviously, the severity of impact plays a large role in how much damage your car takes. However, damage tends to accumulate quickly, and even a few seemingly minor contacts can make a big difference.

Another significant change makes the single player Career mode deeper and more challenging. Rallisport 2's Career mode has been revised with a new bracketing system that allows you to progress through a larger variety of courses quickly. As you win races, you unlock additional vehicles and courses, in a branching fashion. This definitely gives you a strong impetus to keep playing. As you might expect, the first few levels are cakewalks, allowing you to get the hang of driving, but the difficulty curve gets steep quickly, especially as the opponent AI becomes more aggressive. This leaves you with very little room for error, and the smallest mistakes can cost you the race or position. Rallisport Challenge 2's tightly designed gameplay makes for an engrossing and addictive experience. This highly-polished gameplay is tight and challenging, making for one of the most intense and challenging racing experiences on Xbox to date.

As good as its solo mode is, Rallisport Challenge 2 really shines when you play against other players using Xbox Live. This new addition to the series allows you to compete with other human opponents live. While the Xbox Live service was probably a no-brainer, and may not seem like a big deal, the flawless implementation and excellent features list makes this one worth playing. You can set up a quick race, and jump right into the action, or can challenge a group of other players in long tournament. Players can also run an Optimatch search to meet up with other players who want to race under the same conditions. The game also allows you to compete in a variety of tournament and career modes, either alone or with a group of friends as a racing team. Connecting to the service is a breeze, and it wasn't difficult to find a race to play. While playing online, we experienced no noticeable lag, and the gameplay was just as smooth, intense, and breathtaking as the off-line game. Overall, this is an outstanding addition to the game, and definitely makes the sequel stand apart from the original in a very big way.

From a visual standpoint, Rallisport Challenge 2 exceeds the quality of its predecessor in most areas, creating what is arguably the best-looking racing title on the console to date. There is an impressive degree of production polish evident throughout, making the game's visuals quite pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint. The first thing you'll probably notice is the game's absolutely breathtaking environments, which range from heavily forested jungles, to beautiful snow-capped mountains and urban courses. Each course highlights another aspect of the graphics engine, with a blistering sun radiating on your windshield, rain bouncing off your car or heavy snow and fog. The water effects are particularly impressive, with realistic physics evident in small ponds on the course, or in massive waterfalls. An impressive light-sourcing engine displays a remarkable power and effectiveness, but is also quite subtle and effective. Rallisport 2's car models show an incredible amount of detailed, with each car's frame and elements appearing nearly photo-realistic throughout. The damage each car takes is also realistic with bent doors, crooked frames and missing hoods and fenders making for a more believable experience. Playes can also select from a variety of in-car and behind-the-vehicle camera angles, with the first-person, behind-the-wheel mode offering an incredible sensation of speed that adds to the game's intensity immensely.

There have been a number of stellar racing titles on the Xbox over the past year, and we're happy to report that Rallisport Challenge 2 lives up to the high-standards the console has achieved in the past year with such outstanding releases as Project Gotham Racing 2. Rallisport 2's highly polished graphics engine creates a series of brilliantly rendered racing environments that will leave you breathless. Also impressive are the realistic damage models and crash animations. Underneath the glossy surface, the racing action has also been improved dramatically, with more aggressive opponents and a deeper tiered racing system that makes the single player game much more challenging. The addition of online play adds even more depth and challenge, bringing out the game's high-points with a seamless interface that's just as smooth and exciting as the standard game. Rallisport Challenge 2 is an excellent racing title that should please and impress die-hard rally fans and casual gamers alike.

Grade: B+

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