With the next instalment of the Colin McRae series already promised to the Xbox, any rally title that was going to be released before it came out was going to have to be up to scratch. To make matters even more difficult it would have more competition, to appeal to driving game fans, from the excellent Project Gotham Racing which has already earned a 9.1 score from us. So it's into this difficult environment that RalliSport Challenge is released. How does it fair? Well a lot of people will be shocked to learn that after playing this you won't be concerned with the wait for the next Colin McRae game.
Designed by Digital Illusions, who were responsible for the excellent Rally Masters on the PC and PSone, RalliSport Challenge smacks of class from the start line to the finish line. All in all there are 48 tracks and 29 cars, ranging from Audi to Volkswagen, to choose from. There are 4 types of rally to participate in. There is Rally - which is the usual stage race or point-to-point race in which each car takes it in turn and attempts to record the quickest time. Next there is Ice Racing - you compete against other cars, wheel-to-wheel, on a ice covered circuit. Thirdly there is the Hill Climb - this is another point-to-point race in which you are constantly heading up hill on treacherous terrain. Finally there is Rallycross - which is a lap based, wheel-to-wheel racing on mixed terrain. All races in multiplayer races are wheel-to-wheel.
The gameplay options when you begin are to start the game or take part in a quick race. Choosing the quick race puts you into a random car and a random race. Electing to start the game takes you to more options. You can choose a time trial, single race, of one the four above race types or get straight to the heart of RC, the career mode. In the career mode you will take part in a total of seventeen rallies, which encompass all the different varieties, on the road to taking yourself from a Pro to Unlimited.
When you begin career mode you will be asked to choose between beginner and normal mode. Beginner mode will make your opponents less challenging and allow you to restart individual stages where normal mode will provide tougher opponents and will make you restart the whole rally again instead of an individual stage. In career mode you earn points in each rally according to where you finish and the amount of damage you cause to the car, less damage equals more points. You will also receive a bonus for your overall position when all the stages of the rally have been completed. Initially, in the Pro class there are only four rallies for you to participate in and a handful of cars for you to drive. You will need to amass 12,000 points in order to progress to the expert class which will unlock more cars and rallies. There is also a Classic class, in which you ride 80's cars, and an Unlimited class which require 40,000 and 70,000 points respectively to unlock. The Hill Climb and Rallycross will not be available to you in single race mode until you unlock the expert mode.
Once you are in a rally for the first time you may be distracted by the magnificent graphics and terrain textures. The scenery just looks so realistic and the draw distance is very impressive with no pop-up at all, in fact all the Xbox games I've seen so far don't have any pop-up. The ice races are where the textures can be seen at their finest. The ice, and the shimmering light that reflects off it look so real. The car models are also excellent and as good as any game that has gone before.
Just as in PGR the gamepad has been used beautifully. The trigger buttons are again used as brake and accelerator with the left analogue stick used to steer. The force feedback is also excellent. The difference between driving on a terrain such as gravel or tarmac is easily felt. You can even feel the wheel's spin when you go through a mud patch. The sense of speed is well realised and very satisfying.
Like every rally game under the sun, RC uses a co-driver to relay verbal messages. Most of these messages also have a visual icon to give the same message. Pages 10-11 of the manual will tell what these icons mean although most, like the directional arrows, are self explanatory. Some messages don't have any icons but in most cases this doesn't matter as they are just messages like the road is going to change to tarmac. Overall the deaf gamer is kept well informed by the use of these visual clues.
Overall Game Rating: 9.2/10 Just pips PGR as the driving game of choice on the Xbox. Immaculate presentation and variety mean that for rally fans this is the game of choice across all formats.
Deaf Gamers comment: Like most driving games RalliSport Challenge is fine for deaf gamers. Uses good visual clues to relay most of the co-driver's messages.