Reviewed: June 17, 2003
Released: May 4, 2003
RalliSport Challenge 2 has probably been one of the most anxiously awaited Xbox games next to Halo 2, or at least it has been for this hardcore racing fanatic. The original RSC redefined racing on the Xbox when it released back in 2002, and now two years later the franchise is back, bigger, better, and with the eagerly awaited online racing mode complete with XSN support.
A fresh metric ton of new content makes this the most comprehensive rally game you can play on the Xbox, but the gameplay still sways into the controversial “arcade zone” leaving Colin McRae the undisputed victor in the actual “sim” category. But for those of you looking for all the perceived authenticity of the sport of rally racing without the grueling realism, you won’t find a better game than RalliSport 2.
RSC 2 delivers more than 40 cars and multiple skins (paint jobs) for each. This introduces the first of many clever innovations, the odometer. Each car keeps a log of the mileage and when you hit certain milestones (31, 87, 128) you unlock a new skin. It’s an interesting goal to work for since once you unlock the faster cars you really have to force yourself to go back and use the less-powerful vehicles simply for the purpose of unlocking skins. Mileage is racked up no matter which mode you race a car in and even if you retire or abandon a race you keep your miles.
The world is your racetrack with more than 90 gorgeous tracks ready for your racing pleasure. These range from standard rally tracks to hill climbing, ice tracks, and closed circuits. You’ll race in rain, snow, and fog. You’ll race at sunrise, noon, sunset, and in the glow of the full moon. There are so many tracks and so many variations for each that you’ll hardly recognize them when you finally do race on them again.
Content is only half the equation and DICE has upped their game in the areas of physics and control. The first noticeable improvement is the greater freedom you have to stray from the road. In the previous game you had little room for error if you strayed a few feet from the shoulder. Now you can go several car lengths off the track before the camera cuts away to a third-person view and even then you have a few moments to correct yourself and steer back to the road. You can always press the white button to reset or wait for the computer to do it for you but the clock is always ticking and most races are won and lost in tenths of seconds.
Control is greatly enhanced and you now have much more precise steering so you can finesse those powerslides in dirt and ice. Also added is the cockpit view, missing from the first game, now included with functioning wipers, water drops, and snow accumulation. This makes for some incredibly realistic and immersive racing.
The career mode is made up of several difficulty tiers, each with a massive flowchart of races. Each box on the flowchart represents a style of race; ice, rally, circuit, and each box can consist of one to four races. You are awarded points based on your finishing position and a certain number of points is required to advance through the career. If you are obsessive-compulsive like me then anything less than a perfect 20 points in each box is unacceptable.
Races come in multiple flavors. One style has a co-pilot calling out the upcoming turns. These calls also accompany a rotating sequence of symbols noting turns, bumps, hairpins, and jumps. You can also turn on advanced co-piloting where each call is also given a number value noting the severity of the upcoming track “feature”.
There is also a mode that simply displays a small section of the track map and you must make quick glances at this map to figure out what lies ahead. Circuit races will actually have you make a qualifying run to place you in a bracket. Depending on which bracket you place dictates your possible point earnings in the actual race. These races are the only time you will see other cars on the same track as yourself. Everything else is a race against the clock.
Prior to each race you can tune your car. This is fairly basic and allows you to switch between manual and automatic transmission, change tires; adjust suspension, brake, and most importantly, gear ratios. If your track has a lot of twists and switchbacks then you definitely want power in the low end since quickness if more important than top speed. The computer AI is designed as such that you won’t even need to tinker with your car until you get into the third series of races.
Outside the career mode you have your standard Time Attack, Single Race, and Multiplayer, both for system link and Xbox Live. Multiplayer offers support for all the normal single player modes including the new Crossover mode. Crossover is new to RSC 2 and is basically a circuit within a circuit and somewhere along the course the two tracks meet. Each car starts at their own starting line and finishes at the opponent’s finish line. Sometimes the tracks run parallel and you can see your opponent but the design is such that you will never go bumper to bumper or get in a wreck, even at the crossover point.
I have to admit that I was one of the fans eager to play RSC 2 online but once I got a taste of it I realized that rally racing is not about head-to-head competition. There is a reason why this sport is about stopwatches, timed releases, checkpoints, and non-confrontational racing. Anyone who has played RSC 2 in single player already knows these tracks are narrow and twisty. Now add 2-15 other cars into the equation and you have a real mess.
To help ease the congestion DICE has done two things that race fans probably aren’t going to like. When playing with more than four racers opponent cars are shown as wireframe models, both to help with framerate issues and allow you to see the track through them should they be in a position to otherwise block your view. Second, collision detection has been disabled so cars simply pass through each other, much like racing a “ghost” of your best lap.
I can’t blame DICE for this setback. Rally racing is not a multi-car event and they’ve done the best they could trying to force the issue to appease the fans of the sport who can’t or won’t grasp this fundamental concept. Leave the multi-car racing to Project Gotham. The most authentic version of rally racing would only require the use of Live’s scoreboard feature to record the best times for each track.
The exception to the lackluster multiplayer experience are the modes that have races with 2-4 players. Here you have full collision and car models. It’s basically the same crossover and circuit racing you’ve played in career mode only now there are real people driving those other cars. As long as you stick to four players or less you will enjoy your time online.
Those of you who like to organize tournaments or monitor your leaderboard standings from the office will enjoy the full support for XSN – actually, this is the last announced XSN title for 2004.
Everyone who has been following this title has been drooling over the movies and screenshots for months prior to RSC 2’s release. Everything you could possibly imagine has come true and probably more. This is without a doubt the most photo-realistic racer on the Xbox to date and the opening movie only hints at the goodness that awaits when you climb behind the wheel.
We’ll start with the amazing track design. All tracks are original layouts although you will see several familiar environments from the original RSC. The level of detail is just insane with trees, grass, rocks, dirt, dust, water, road signs, fences, buildings, and even small villages and larger cities. Whether you are winding a narrow path through an autumn forest or flying down a coastal switchback or sliding through a snowy mountain pass, each and every frame (all 60 per second) is a painting waiting to be framed.
The cars are equally as stunning, their complexity only hinted at in the menu selection phase. When you watch these cars in motion (preferably in a replay) you will see the effects of gravity and inertia working on the suspension. The car will bounce and lean and when you hit something or roll the car just sit back and watch the realistic damage model go to work.
Glass breaks, doors, bumpers, hoods, spoilers, and anything else than can detach will do so and go flying. My personal record for rolling my car is 19 rotations before the game took over and reset me. Unfortunately, damage is purely cosmetic and there is no performance degradation if you do wreck, although the time penalty is often enough to send you from first to last place.
Special effects are excellent with volumetric dust and wonderful particle effects for rain and snow. You also get the droplet effect and snow accumulation on the windshield if you are using that view. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get any spray when driving past the many waterfalls on the hill climb levels.
Lighting is particularly important, especially in the low-level dusk and nighttime races. Tracks are literally pitch black and you only have your lights to guide your path. One bad wreck can smash those lights and send you to the restart menu. Just as realistic is racing into the rising or setting sun. It will literally blind you.
RSC 2 supports HDTV 480p and widescreen modes and looks just as good as any PC racing game on an HDTV. The framerate hold ups through the entire single-player game and only in a few cases is there any noticeable pop-up on the horizon.
Aside from the opening music number I found the in-game music rather bland; simply more of the same old tired techno and rock beats we’ve heard in countless other racers. Thankfully, the game supports custom soundtracks and my Xbox hard drive is bursting with MP3’s so I was never at a loss for music no matter what mood I was in.
The only other sound elements are the engines, crashes, and a few environmental sounds like the roar of a waterfall. Sound is appropriately modified based on your chosen view and each of the cars has a slightly varied engine sound. This is one game where the right music can actually enhance the gameplay more than sound effects. The only thing you really need to listen for is the calls from your co-pilot.
The game also supports Dolby 5.1 but in a game with only one car there isn’t a lot of outside noise to model in 3D space. You do get to appreciate some Doppler and 3D sound in the replays but that’s about it.
Prepare to dedicate a substantial chunk of your free time to RSC 2 provided you don’t get bored with it first. The career mode is going to easily take you 50-80 hours to finish and if you want to unlock every last skin for each and every car you can spend well over 120 hours.
There is a lot of repetition, failures, restarts, and even some frustration but RSC 2 is a blast in short doses. I did the first two tiers in two days then when I hit Championship things ground to a screeching halt as the times to beat became increasingly difficult and the margin for straying off the track for even a second vanished entirely. Nothing short of flawless perfection is required for the highest career series.
RalliSport Challenge 2 delivers a solid sequel with more content than anyone could ask and probably more than anyone other that the most diehard racer will ever complete. Despite all the hype around the online component, rally racing remains a sport of solitude and cramming anything more than four cars to a winding “trail” is insanity. The wireframe solves the technical problems but doesn’t make for pretty gameplay.
Sim purists will still want to get their Colin McRae on, but those looking for a fun and challenging rally racer that bends the rules in favor of fun will want to make RSC 2 a permanent addition to their Xbox library.