The Rally style racer for the PC is quite an open genre now. Due to the apparent lacking of Codemaster's interest to produce Colin McRae Rally 3 for the PC anytime soon, a gigantic hole has opened for such companies as Microsoft GameStudio, who aren't afraid to give the newly opened market a twirl. However rather than start from scratch with a PC rally game, MS have cunningly ported their Xbox hit, Rallisport Challenge, over to the PC. Does Rallisport Challenge PC follow the ever popular trend of crappy ports? we certainly think not.
After setting up your profile it is finally time to get to business and take it to the track. The main menu system, although appearing confusing at first, becomes easy and powerful to navigate in a short period of time, like the time it takes you to go through the options menu to apply your system settings. It is a different style of menu system indeed, however it is far from discouraging.
Rallisport challenge has your usual arsenal of game modes - single race, career and multiplayer. In your single race you have a choice of four different rally types, which include hill climbing, traditional rally, RallyCross and Ice racing, each offering the gamer a nice balance of modified gameplay. The same can be said about multiplayer, which is basically single player mode against a human opponent over a network connection of some sort (e.g. Internet, LAN).
Career mode is the primary focus of Rallisport Challenge, as it is this mode which unlocks all the game's hidden cars and tracks to use in the other games modes. Starting off with limited cars and tracks, you have to force your way through the competition by winning each championship event one by one. Cars and tracks are usually unlocked depending on the skill tier level you have achieved, which is calculated by an overall point system.
If career mode is completely out of the way, meaning everything is unlocked, there are 29 rally cars available along with 48 tracks from a variety of locations, including Safari races in East Africa, Ice Racing on frozen Nordic roads, and hill climbs in the US Pacific Northwest. These numbers are very impressive, giving the gamer a massive catalogue of car and track combinations that you will find hard to match in other rally titles.
Once you are finally in the actual game the impressive visuals, as discussed later, are a nice surprise. Unlike many previous rally titles, finding yourself off track can actually be dangerous as any rock or ditch could send your car flying out of contention for the race. Although there seems to be no amount of damage that will actually render your car lifeless, crashing severely narrows your chance for victory. This doesn't mean the computer controlled cars are necessarily hard, however they rarely slip up, so this game can indeed provide a challenge even to the most seasoned rally gamer.
While racing with other cars it is sometimes apparent that there are a few clipping issues, which can best be seen in a side-to-side collision where neither car is really influenced, not to mention the actual car models going through each other at times. This isn't a major issue, but perhaps a patch of some sort is in order to iron out small bugs like these.
The best word to describe the visuals in Rallisport Challenge PC is simply "stunning". One would be excused to think an Xbox port may lack in the department of true PC powered visuals, however it couldn't be further from the truth with Rallisport. Using the full power of DirectX 8.1, which the Xbox also does, I can safely say you would be hard pressed to find another PC rally game surpassing or even just matching the visual quality found here in Rallisport Challenge.
In may cases, pretty visuals for games have very little use beyond eye candy, however the powerful graphical subsystem in Rallisport Challenge is put to good use to help supplement the game's realism. Everything from realistic tire tracks in different terrain to mud and dust flying up onto your car is present, making the interaction between the environment and the car one of the best ever seen in a game by a long shot.
There isn't a whole lot to say here regarding audio, Rallisport doesn't really fail nor excel. However it is certain that the audio quality and execution has no negative effects on the gameplay, so they must be doing something right. Your usual engine roars and tire squeals are present with a few other audio goodies here and there making Rallisport Challenge a decent audio experience.
Car control in Rallisport Challenge generally gives a very realistic and accurate impression, which could possibly be the most important aspect of a good rally game. Playing a game like Need for Speed for a week or two leaves your virtual driving senses on a surreal level, however Rallisport soon makes your driving mind come back down to earth where crashing actually means something, so your skills are always on high alert.
On a technical note, I find a game like Rallisport to perform best on a control pad, which in my case was the Thrustmaster Firestorm Dual Analog 2. Mapping the buttons was not a problem at all, and even though this isn't a Microsoft control pad it still powered the control system quite easily. If you must use a keyboard, then you won't suffer performance wise too greatly, however with the precision this game has an analog alternative like a control pad is optimal.
Look out Colin McRae Rally, there is a new competitor in town. 'Straight from the Xbox' may not be the best selling point of this game, because due to all the cruddy ports in the past to the PC from console it was hard to imagine Rallisport Challenge PC would be this good. However don't be fooled, this game is the real deal. Tones of cars, tracks, great graphics and everything else that makes a good rally game tick, generally a must have for any true PC rally fan.