Rallisport Challenge appeared on Xbox to give gamers a more arcade-like experience to the genre and racing style, and for the most part, the game succeeded. But just like sequels are expected to be, Rallisport Challenge 2 not only offers the same thrills as the first game did, but it completely blows its predecessor away in every respect, quite possibly being the very best racer to land on Xbox.
Gameplay - Rallisport Challenge 2 contains the same modes as the first game, ranging from Rallies, which are true to the sport of one car racing against the clock, to Rally Cross, which are raced with multiple competitors racing on a looping course. Ice Racing makes a return as well, being just like the Rally Cross, only the races are run exclusively on icy terrain. Hill Climbs are races against the clock up steep hill and mountain sides. And finally, Crossover is a looping race course containing two drivers racing against only one another for best time, similar to super special stages run by the WRC.
While it’s true that the sport of rallying doesn’t contain all these styles of racing, the point of the game is similar to the first in that it’s aimed at the gamer who prefers more variety over 100% accuracy. There are lots of things here though for the rally purist, such as four different rally countries from the World Rally Championship: Monte Carlo, Sweden, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In addition, there are locations such as Argentina and Canada for the Hill Climbs, which in all offer a lot more variety than what you may expect from such an anemic number of locales. Each country has the better part of 10 or more stages, and that’s in addition to the myriad of RallyCross, Hill Climb, Ice Racing and Crossover courses available totaling over 90 stages in all. And even though some of these courses are only variations of others, they feel quite fresh thanks to superb weather effects and time-of-day changes (a stage raced in the early morning is an all-new monster when run at night). Each stage is amazing in terms of design as well. While some rally games have suffered from poor, boring design, Rallisport 2 offers some truly fantastic racing and stage designs that rival the Colin McRae games, which has always been a strength for that franchise. Many racing games suffer from “50-50 Syndrome”, where what you hit in the environment can either be busted through or will stop you in your tracks. Unfortunately, Rallisport 2 is no exception. Some sign posts can easily be run through with your rallying machine, but others – that don’t appear to be any more threatening – can stop you cold. Until you play the game extensively, you’ll wonder what objects you will be able to hit and which ones you won’t.
There is definitely an abundance of cars. Rally cars such as the Ford Focus and Subaru Impreza are shoo-ins, but RS2 also hosts the notoriously dangerous Group B cars: the rally machines that are so powerful that racing them was outlawed due to too many driver deaths. In all, there are over 40 licensed vehicles in the game, which is quite a boost in number from the first title. Each car handles differently from one another, but all handle extraordinarily well, thanks to very intuitive and fluid controls. Powersliding feels wonderful, and coupled with the vibration function, driving, sliding, and crashing has never felt so good, especially over the gravel. You can tune the performance of your car, but only to a certain degree. You can mess around with your steering and gear ratio if you chose to tune via the Basic function, or you can go Advanced and adjust brakes and power ratio, etc. You don’t repair your car between stages like in other rally games, which is another trait carried on by its arcade heritage, but damage to your vehicle will affect its performance (though you have to beat it up pretty badly to experience significant handling changes).
The meat of Rallisport 2 is its career mode, which takes you through dozens of events in an Amateur, Pro, Champion, and Super-Rally career. Each career difficulty increases the opponent AI as well as the number of events, but if you want to unlock everything the game has to offer, you’ve got to go through the career modes. Cars can be unlocked, as well as additional skins for each car, and even full tracks are unlocked this way. Most of the game’s unlockables are hidden within the first three career modes, and are quite lengthy, though the more persistent will have most of the game’s goodies unlocked soon enough. Time Trials are present and accounted for, as well as split screen and link play. Online via Xbox Live is a blast, but Rallisport 2 is also compatible with Microsoft’s XSN.com service, which allows you to set up tournaments and seasons, and track your stats when you compete. Unfortunately, XSN doesn’t allow you to set up rally seasons the way they are meant to be organized, and are mostly very bare-bones. It should be noted that the potential is there though.
Online – Jumping online with Rallisport 2 is a blast. For the most part, racing is lag-free, no matter the mode you choose. Up to 16 players can join in a game, and though the cars do take on a wire frame-like look (other than your car), it doesn’t really hurt the racing experience, though many players will likely prefer races with fewer players involved.
Live’s XSN service is taken advantage of and can be raced as either seasons or tournaments. Tournaments are head-to-head elimination rounds that supports up to 64 players, while seasons and team seasons can accommodate up to 32. Unfortunately, as cool for rally purists that seasons sound, it’s worth noting that a participant can race the current stage as many times as he/she wants, provided that they do so before the deadline. This gives players the perfect opportunity to learn the stage, and then race it over and over until they are satisfied with their performance.
Graphics - Rallisport 2 is a very good looking game, but you won’t really appreciate the better of the visual package until you’re playing awhile. It’s then that you begin to notice the small details that really set the game off compared to other racers. The car models are beautiful; quite possibly the most visually detailed we’ve seen. The environments are equally stunning, boasting razor-sharp texturing and awesome effects that go unmatched in the genre. For example, you’ll see nicely-reflective puddles when you drive over moist, muddy surfaces. Realistic sparks fly from your vehicle when you scrape the walls and rocks. Rain effects look great coming down on both the stage and the camera lens itself. Leaves will wildly swirl into the air as you drive over them. The little things is what really makes Rallisport 2 shine, and the subtle details adorn the cars as much as the environments. Reflections beam off the cars as you scream down the narrow gravel pathways, and the longer you drive, the dirtier your car will steadily get, similar to V-Rally 3’s “progressive mud” system. The damage model is also great, a much-improved effort from the first game. While your ride won’t fall apart from the lightest of contact, you can more easily bust out taillights and windscreens, dent the body, and even lose tires and rear wings (you can even lose your headlights while driving a night stage!) To accompany the vehicle damage is excellent driving and crash physics that provide just enough bounce to realistically simulate how a car would roll a dozen times following a hard right turn taken at 70mph.
The only knock against the visuals is that, even though the particle effects system is a dramatic improvement over that of the first release, there are still too few effects going on, and too many missing where they should be really taking center stage. For example, powersliding through a mud puddle will simply yield a few small sprite-like flecks of water when the splashes should be gigantic waves sputtering onto the car and into the camera. Mud should be splattering everywhere, not just a few small clumps shooting from the car every now and again. Granted, the game runs silky smooth at all times, but some of the fun of rally racing is watching the dirt fly. There isn’t much dirt flying in Rallisport 2, which, while we’re probably merely nitpicking, is a bit of a letdown.
Sound – The audio to be found in rally games are generally pretty generic, often neglected by developers. Rallisport 2 actually supports some really nice audio though. For fans of rallying, your navigator calling the notes is distinct and clear, and the cars’ sound effects are well done. What‘s more impressive though, is the quality sound effects when driving on different road surfaces. When plowing through mud and water, the distinct sounds of cars running on a wet street can be heard over the car’s motor. Similarly, when you’re driving on dusty gravel surfaces, crunching sounds are authentic enough to seem completely tangible. The music provided is forgettable, but you can take advantage of Xbox’s custom soundtracks feature.
Bottom Line - Rallisport Challenge 2 is one of those rare games that can appeal to both the rally purist and the arcade racing fan. The game is pretty much everything a sequel is expected to be, and the addition of Xbox Live and XSN Sports play significantly increases replayability. More importantly though, Rallisport 2 gets all the fundamentals right: Great controls, creative stage designs, and lots of variety in cars in which to tear up the tracks. This is a great rally game, and a great arcade racer, all in one.