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reviews >> xbox
RalliSport Challenge 2

written by Shaun McCracken

Game Information
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: DICE
Year Released: 2004
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Visuals 9.75
It's an excellent looking game with very few things to complain about. The detail is outstanding, the lighting is excellent, the cars look great and the framerate is near-constant and smooth. But, there is noticable fade-in with the trees (like what was seen in F-Zero GX) and a couple of less attractive textures.
Audio 8.75
Above average and very tolerable. Clear and undertandable co-pilot, and it's nice to see custom soundtrack support.
Gameplay 9.5
It feels much tighter than the first RalliSport Challenge, and progression of difficulty is much more balanced.
Replay Value 9
There's a lot of things to unlock, and a lot of championships to play through within the carer mode. Offline provides at least 15 hours of game time, and Xbox LIVE support expands that. Not as long as Project Gotham 2 or Gran Turismo 3, though.
Reviewer's Impression 9.5
It's fun and easy to get into, and the developers made the necessary improvements to make a better game. I feel that there could have been some better way to add some depth to the career mode than just a tree of events, though.
Overall 9.5
If there's one thing the Xbox isn't lacking, it's quality racing games. Well, here comes one more. Not only that, this is one of the best rally racers ever made. So, there's little reason for me not to recommend RalliSport 2. It's pretty much a must-have for any racing fan.

"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." - Dr. Emmet Brown, Back To The Future I & II.

That quote couldn't be more true for RalliSport Challenge 2. Yes, there are tarmac portions within some courses, but it's all about off-road racing, be it on gravel, dirt, mud, or ice. That's one of the biggest draw about rally racers is that you're not relegated to just the road. But a difference in terrain isn't the only thing that's great about rally racing. It's the risk that's taken on driving on razor thin roadways alongside cliffs, launching yourself off of hills and the inevitable rollover of your rally car when you take a turn too hard. RalliSport Challenge 2 delivers all of this, plus a whole lot more.

The original RalliSport Challenge debuted in 2002 as one of the more visually impressive titles for the Xbox that also delivered a fairly accessable driving experience that a lot of people could get into. The problem with that game, though, was that it wasn't that long, and the limited number of courses tended to repeat later within the championship. RalliSport Challenge 2 improves everything over the first RSC, and includes a few new things that weren't included in the first installment.

The first thing I noticed about RSC2 was that the career mode was a lot bigger, and a lot more balanced. The earliest championship you start in is easy enough for you to get a hang of the controls and nuances of the game, and also allow for you to make up for some of the mistakes you encounter along the way. The next championship contains more events and a greater level of challenge, but not to the point where it would be overly frustrating. The last two championships hold a lot more for you to do, as well as really test your driving skill. And along through each championship, you'll have the oppertunity to unlock new cars and courses, so you're not really doing everything for nothing. But the career mode is not the only thing to do in RSC2 (but it's a pretty big part of the game). You have single session races, time trials, multiplayer and an online mode, which is pretty much expected in racing games these days.

There's a variety of racing events in RSC2, some of what we seen in the previous game, and a couple of types new to RSC2. Throughout the game, you'll take part in a traditional rally race, rallycross races, ice racing events, hill climbs, and crossover events. Rally races, which should be most familliar to anyone who has ever played a rally racing game, are basically point-to-point races against the times set by other opponents. Rallycross races are circuit races with varying terrians, and allow you to race against three other opponents. Ice racing events allow you to race against three other opponents on slick, icy terrain. Hill climb events are similar to rally racing events, except you're going either uphill or downhill on mountianous terrain. Finally, the crossover events are long circuit courses that switch lanes mid course, and put you up against one opponent. And all of this is done with a wide assortment of vehicles suited for the task, and a variety of engine classes. Some of these cars include the ever-so-popular Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Evolution VIII, to the cars that were banned from rally associations such as the Audi Quattro, and classic cars such as the Lancia Stratos. This is just a small sample of the overall 40 or so cars offered in the game.

The handling and controls of RSC2 is actually much tighter than the first RSC, which I thought was a bit too loose. The braking is much tighter, and the cars feel like they have more traction, even on gravel or dirt. I said that the first RSC game was fairly accessible to get into, and RSC2 is even more so, and maybe even a better game for people who want to get into a rally racer, but not deal with the harsh technical aspects like seen in Colin McRae Rally 04. The challenge is a little more balanced this time as well, especially within the career mode, where it feels much more progressive than it did in the first game. The scoring is also set up much better, as it's just based more on overall position than other odd factors the original game threw in. Plus, you really don't have to participate in every event to complete the championship, but it provides an oppertunity to make up what you lost (in points) by placing poorly in some events.

The courses are much more varied and better designed than the previous RSC, or in any other rally game for that matter. You can go from the forests of England, to the city and backcountry of Monte Carlo, and even to the deserts of the Australian outback. And in between, there's also snowy terrains, rock mountains and coast-side circuits. The variety, like I said, is much better than the first RSC, which only had like five or so different areas to race in. And the courses are much longer, too, at least where the rally races are concerned. One of my biggest complaints in many rally racing games is that courses tend to be too short, and last only 2 or so minutes, which is actually pretty unrealistic if you've ever seen a televised rally race. But RSC2 has some of the longest courses I've ever seen in any racing game, some longer than 10 miles, which equates to a race time longer than 10 minutes. Not every course is this long, but quite a few are, and that's a good thing.

Visually, RSC2 is an excellent looking game. In fact, looking at the screenshots before the game came out was one of my motivating factors for buying the Xbox. The game just looked incredible, and I knew then and there that I had to get this game by any means possible, even if I had to buy a new system. But you really have to see the game in motion to really appreciate RSC2. There is so much detail that went into each course, even more so than the first game. So many trees, shrubs, grasses, rocks and so much more alongside the course, as well as actual life, such as people that aren't just cardboard cutouts. Most of the textures look great as well, but I didn't see as much bump mapping as I would have expected to have seen in a high quality game like this. Also, that great glistening effect seen on the ice races of the first RSC seems to have disappeared. The lighting is excellent, and adds a real sense of realism to some courses that take place in certain times of day. This time, there are also night courses included in RSC2, and it's important to have the right lighting to see what and where you're going on the course, and for the most part, the developers did this right with the light that comes from your headlights. But take warning, don't HIT anything on the night races, as you could knock/smash the lights off, which litterally leaves you blind on the course. I wish the developers could have added more street lights or other sources of illumination on the night courses, because it is damn-near impossible to find your way through near-total darkness. That could be one of the bigger gripes on graphics. The car models are great, and actually show a lot more damage than the first RSC, and is almost on par with the damage modelling seen in Colin McRae Rally 04. For the most part, the visuals of RSC 2 are excellent, with very few quibbles.

The sound is great, but not as great as the visuals. The co-pilot is clear and understandable, which is so much better than the co-pilot given in CMR 04, which I had a hard time trying to figure out what he was saying. The engine noises are fairly varied, which is more than we can say for some rally games. The music that is provided is fine, but pretty much the standard techno that you could almost predict in a game like this. At least you have the option for custom soundtracks. One thing that did take me a bit by suprise is the effective use of surround sound, which is better than what I've heard in quite a few racers.

Final Thought

If there was ever one rally racing game to get, RalliSport Challenge 2 would be it. It's the most polished, varied, detailed and accessible rally racing game to ever be released. BUT, it's not the most technical or even true-to-life in some respects, at least when compared to Colin McRae Rally 04. But there's probably only a few people who would actually find a problem with that. As far as games go, this is great, and really makes use of the hardware it appears on. Racing fans really need to pick this up, and anyone who has ever thought of playing a rally racer, but may feel intimidated by one, this game is a great place to start.