Players: 1 to 4 Player Game | Release Date: 03/04/02 | Genre: Driving
RalliSport Challenge is one of those rare racing games that comes along and seems to get everything just right. The fact that the Xbox could receive such a competent racing game so early in its life is promising for owners of the console. In fact, RalliSport Challenge is so good that it can easily be considered the best rally racing game on the market, beating out the long reigning king known as Sega Rally 2.
The first thing that will elicit a "wow" from players is the graphics. RalliSport Challenge provides an amazing visual experience. The course design is outstanding, and tracks are populated with rocks, trees, bridges, billboards, and even little towns, depending on the racing environment. Snow, sand, and mud are kicked up in appropriate situations, and even stay on your car throughout the duration of the race at hand. Lighting effects are actually subtle and realistic, so no over-the-top lens flare effects will be getting in the way. The cars also look spectacular, and are not only modeled accurately, but reflect the surrounding environment in a way that's not too overbearing. Furthermore, cars show full and complete damage, from minor dents to shattered windshields. This is another tally in Microsoft's favor that shows off the graphical power that their system is capable of.
The sound effects are also pretty impressive. Each car has a fitting and unique engine noise to accompany it, as do the various tracks that you'll be driving around on. No fault can really be found in the music either. Aside from providing a few licensed tracks, mostly on the techno side of things, the game provides the super sexy ability to have your own ripped .mp3s included in the play list. This is a feature that really needs to be seen in more games, as the experience of playing games like RalliSport Challenge and Project Gotham is heightened immensely when your favorite bands are playing in the background.
Of course, the cap to all of this comes in the gameplay, as aural and visual effects can't make a game by themselves. Thankfully, RalliSport's gameplay is possibly one of its strongest points. Rally racing games have the privilege of simulating a sport that can be played in an arcade fashion. That is, rally races are largely made up of raw power and speed along with well-timed power slides and drifts, which translates to some enjoyable video gaming. Digital Illusions has managed to make the sport feel even a little more exaggerated than it really is, though only slightly. Jumps provide a little more air than they really would, some crashes are more forgiving than they should be, and damage to a car won't have any direct performance effect. The game's control is flawless and relatively simple; the triggers control acceleration and braking, the left analog stick controls direction, the A button is the emergency break and the X and B buttons are used for shifting. Within no time players should be able to have a solid grasp on the controls, allowing for quick access to the game.
Lastly, RalliSport Challenge offers a few key modes to delve into. The meat of these is Career, which in itself has a number of options. In the Career mode, you'll race in multiple different types of events across four difficulty levels. These events include hill climbs (climbing a hill as fast as possible), ice racing which is done against three other racers, rally cross which is done against three other racers but over multiple types of terrain, and traditional rally racing in which you race against the clock. All of these races are fun to play, and the variation keeps things fresh. As you reach new difficulties - which is done by accumulating points by winning circuits - new licensed cars are unlocked, along with new tracks. And as these are unlocked in Career mode, they're unlocked in the other two modes, Single Race and Time Trials, both of which are self-explanatory.
RalliSport Challenge offers a large selection of courses and licensed cars, a gorgeous graphics engine, and outstanding gameplay, which equates to a fine buy for anyone who is even remotely interested in rally racing. Add in some split-screen multiplayer racing, which hardly touches the framerate, and you've got a package that should even be considered by those the don't typically enjoy racing games. RalliSport Challenge is easily one of the best rally racing games ever made, and is an excellent addition to the Xbox's software lineup.