Reviewed: May 16, 2003
Released: November 7, 2002
Rallisport Challenge is one of those rare games that gets ported from the console to the PC rather than the other way around. I was hopelessly addicted to Rallisport Challenge when it arrived on the Xbox more than a year ago, but the entire time I was playing this great rally game I kept thinking “how would this game play on the PC with a wheel?”
I recently had the chance to find out when I was given the task of reviewing the PC version of this racer a few weeks ago. Having played the Xbox version all the way through I figured reviewing the PC version would be a piece of cake, but there turned out to me more differences that I could imagine.
Rallisport Challenge has a large assortment of licensed vehicles; plenty of race modes, and some of the most mind-bending graphics you will see on your PC provided you have the video hardware to throw at it.
I was drooling with anticipation as I calibrated my Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback wheel and loaded up Rallisport Challenge. I picked my car and headed to the practice stage to get a feel for playing this game without a gamepad and my dreams were soon shattered. Apparently there has been no effort put into the PC version as far as wheel support.
The PC version plays just like the Xbox in that there is no “force feedback”, only vibration, which is not the same thing. The wheel was also very sloppy and I had to tweak and re-tweak my settings several times before the game was remotely playable with the wheel. Even then, it felt like I was playing a console game with a wheel. It felt forced and unnatural. I switched over to my vibrating gamepad and the gameplay improved considerably, but now I was virtually back to a full-on console experience in which case, why not just play the Xbox version.
You have some minor control over you car setup. It’s very basic stuff like picking the right tire for the next course or choosing your gear ratios, and steering. Those of you who prefer automatic transmission may be annoyed at the unusually high RPM’s required before the computer decides to shift. This was a problem on the Xbox version as well and the only solution is to drive a manual stick.
Racer AI is adequate but hardly challenging. The computer cars are quite unpredictable. They will slow down and speed up at random for no apparent reason. At first I thought this was the good old “rubber band racing” trying to keep things exciting, but these oddities seemed to happen regardless of where I was positioned in the pack. Plan on lots of bumping and rubbing unless you can pull away from the pack and stay there.
As with most rally games, you are generally racing a clock so other cars are seldom an issue. You simply speed around the course and watch your position change while you keep an eye on that stopwatch.
Physics is more arcade than sim. Having just played Colin McRae Rally 3 I was coming off an ultra-realistic rally sim. RSC is more akin to Sega Rally or some of the other arcade-style racers.
Flipping your car or straying off the track will trigger an abrupt reset. This can be annoying as the distance you can stray from the course is not always constant. If you try to cut a corner you can obviously expect a reset but other times you might only have two wheels off the side of the road and some invisible force puts you back on course.
Working through the career mode is necessary to unlock many of the extra cars and tracks hidden away in this game. This is done through a creative scoring system that not only ranks your finishing position but also takes into account the damage you did to your car. This is a great concept that rewards you for safe/stylish driving, much like the “kudos” system in Project Gotham Racing. If you aren’t happy with your score you can always retry the event, which wipes the slate clean and replaces your score with whatever you earn the next time. This lends itself to experimentation and replaying certain races with newer cars as you unlock them.
The Xbox version of RSC was simply breathtaking and the PC version is no different. The game will scale itself to whatever hardware you have, but keep in mind this game is “hungry” and will devour even the most powerful video card. My 2.4GHz system with Radeon 9700 was working overtime to run this game at 1024x768 with all options cranked up. When I started racing the 4-car events I actually had to make some adjustments and back off on some settings. Either RSC is “ahead of its time” or this game wasn’t optimized for the PC all that well.
Those who have the multi-gig processors and 128mb video cards will enjoy some of the most stunning visuals ever seen on the PC. There are bump-mapped textures that pop the pavement off the screen (especially the ice tracks), lens flares, real-time reflections, lighting and shadows, and some of the most lush and lifelike vegetation and scenery you can find in a racing game.
The cars are created with extra care and detail, modeled with thousands of polygons and textured with deformable panels and breakable glass that depict some cosmetic car damage – there is no degradation in performance or handling. Draw distance is exceptionally far and objects will fade into a haze rather than popping out of nowhere or vanishing into unrealistic fog.
All of the great camera views are back including the stunning replays, but there is still no cockpit view. This was something I was desperately hoping for in combination with using my wheel, but since the designers botched the wheel implementation I guess the cockpit view is more easily dismissed.
RSC has some good engine noises but they are a little too high pitched for my taste. Perhaps it is my PC speakers, which don’t begin to compare to my home theater setup that produced some great engine effects on the Xbox version. You’ll hear cars skidding across pavement, dirt, gravel, and sliding through slush and ice and banging into each other.
There is a good use of stereo effects and you will be able to hear the other cars around you during the 4-car races, but there really wasn’t a good 3D mix like the Xbox version. Everything that is here is good, but nothing really stands out as being truly exceptional.
You can finish Rallisport Challenge in 20-25 hours. After that, it just depends on how strong your desire is to complete every last challenge and unlock all the cars and tracks. There is plenty to do and it’s all fun, but it can get repetitive at times.
The tracks are short and easy to learn, so most of the time you are simply trying different cars to find the one that lets you win the race and learning the courses for the most damage-free finish.
I had high hopes that all of the deficiencies of the Xbox version (and there weren’t that many) would be patched up for the PC game, but ultimately you get a direct conversion of the console game. There is still no in-car view, the wheel support is pathetic, and the system requirements to make this game look and play as well as the Xbox version are staggering. Unless you already own a super-system you will probably spend more in PC upgrades than you would simply buying an Xbox and a copy of the game.
At the time of this review the Xbox version of Rallisport Challenge is now a $20 Platinum title. If you have an Xbox or access to an Xbox then this is the preferred version. If a PC is your only gaming platform and Colin McRae Rally 3.0 is too tough for you then you might want to check RSC out.