Review by Mr P

"Great dirt rallying, but a half-finished game"

I have a rather conflicted opinion about this game. On the one hand, I find the driving experience on dirt (the most substantial part of the game) quite enjoyable. On the other, there are innumerable things that make me feel I've been handed a half-baked product. In that regard, there's some consolation that the game is $20 out of the gate... but I'm still bothered by the feeling I'm getting second-rate stuff.

I can't speak with authority as to the realism of the handling on dirt and snow since I've generally kept my R/L driving on those surfaces fairly safe, but I can say that I find the physics to be enjoyable in their being consistent, reasonably intuitive, and discouraging of abuse (such as entering turns too fast). I also very much like the graphic obscuring effects on the windshield with the in-car view that come with the likes of rain. Along with the color palette, which just seems right, these attributes can make for a very engaging and immersive experience. The damage modeling also feels appropriate in both visual and performance effects, and the repair and setup systems are decent.

Unfortunately, all the inexplicable lameness-es, some of which are clearly bugs, impede really getting into the game. I've listed them below, but in the interests of concision I'll encapsulate first. Perhaps the most significant faults are the inability to get a decent button configuration, a general lack of info display such as your progression through a championship, and the lack of any options on the minimalist replays.

One particular thing that knocks my rating down a full point and merits detail is the way Codemasters chose to handle secrets. They have codes to enter in order to open secrets, but the codes are based on a number apparently randomly generated when you create your game file, so players can't simply share codes. You are instructed on the secrets screen to call the listed Codemasters number or visit the listed webpage for the codes specific to your random number. The catch is that it costs $2.00/min to call and in all my many attempts the URL has always come up inoperative. That's lame. It's not clear to me that the codes open any secrets that skill won't, but there shouldn't be a barrier to answering that question that's outside the game itself. (Work-around: code generator at gamewinners.com cheats).

There are also some substantial elements of driving that frustrate me. As from the first Colin McRae Rally, the tarmac handling is totally off, feeling as if it's super sticky dirt or something. There's no nuance to the road noise on any surface. All the cars have the same rev range. There's a second English-speaking co-driver voice selectable but it, too, is a male and a Scot and uses the same level of detail as the primary voice, which is often so detailed that it becomes a case of sensory overload, leaving one to wonder the point of the alternative voice (How about, say, a laconic American female?). Also, sometimes the directions seem a little off: occasionally erroneous and/or going by different rules on different surfaces (e.g. tarmac).

Since some may want a complete compendium of cons, I'll list them, too:

1. No way to customize buttons. Only 4 config options, none of which seemed right.
2. Shifting in some mini-games reverts to default button configuration.
3. Selected gear not displayed during shifting, and must shift into Reverse through Neutral: cumbersome.
4. "Quick Race" doesn't allow transmission type selection (uses last selected).
5. Easy to miss notification for additional simultaneously unlocked cars.
6. Winning on "Advanced" doesn't open cars from "Normal" championships.
7. Hardest difficulty (Group B, not "Expert") only moderately hard.
8. Only one replay with no options (e.g. no in-car or chase camera).
9. Difficulty level not displayed anywhere in championship: only when you load.
10. No indication of overall championship progression.
11. Indeed, no list anywhere of which countries or how many included in rally.
12. Championships completed not indicated as such.
13. "Bonus" cars not usable in championship.
14. No display of cars' power peak or number of gears.
15. All cars have same redline & rev limit (8000, 8500).
16. Asphalt handling unrealistic.
17. Road noise inchoate.
18. Unclear how much tire upgrades change performance relative to dedicated tires: e.g. upgraded "Light" vs. regular "Fine" on "Fine Gravel" road.
19. Co-driver directions can be too much at times.
20. Often, but unpredictably, teleported back to course on cross-country tries.
21. No online racing.
22. Must pay for secrets, it seems.
23. Invisible wall at end of Sweden's stage 4 damages car.
24. No in-car view for Super Special Stages in championships (except "Expert").
25. Possible to get stuck with no way to resolve but retiring from entire rally.

This list may seem to overwhelm the possibility of redemption, so it's worth noting that the dirt driving is really good. To encapsulate, this game does one thing really well: slippery surface rally driving. If you value that, it's a rewarding game.

For the sake of convention, I'll also do a standard breakdown. Gameplay 8/10: the co-driver issues and strange if workable tarmac physics bring down gameplay otherwise buoyed by dirt driving that I cautiously agree with the promotional copy in describing as "sublime". Graphics 8/10: not remarkable but serviceable, with no slowdown (as reported for PS2 version); also, I personally was never bothered by cardboard cutout spectators, as some other reviewers have been. Sound 7/10: Also serviceable but undistinguished, with a score a little lower on account of the underdeveloped tire noise (note: no music in-race, but that's no surprise with a co-driver). Replay 6/10: hard to speak authoritatively with only a few weeks experience (not that most reviewers seem to have a problem with that), but I'd say limited because of only moderate challenge, lack of variety in cars available for championship, and absence of online play. Overall 5/10 (not an average): the inexplicable absence of basic fleshing out like customizable buttons and unfortunate presence of silly bugs further bring down a title that still has problems with tarmac handling, valiantly redeemed by a really great dirt rally experience.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 05/09/04


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