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RalliSport Challenge

First Impressions - Tom straps himself in for another jaunt with RalliSport

As PS2 owners muddle their way through V-Rally 3, WRC II Extreme and Colin McRae Rally 3, Xbox owners can happily turn their noses up at all three; RalliSport Challenge beats them hands down. It loses a few seconds to Colin, perhaps, but it still firmly tops the leader board, and now Digital Illusions' masterful rally game is but days away from its long overdue launch on the PC.

And cor blimey guvnor, it looks even better running on the latest NVIDIA and ATI hardware (sorry Matrox). Although in reality the only improvement is resolution, it's nice to see the game hurtling along at a fair pace without dropping frames. Graphically, RalliSport accelerates into the genre's lead spot, with beautifully crafted vehicles and, unlike McRae, environments to match. The game world glistens, as your Focus and its ilk carve their way through snowdrifts, sloshy mud and crunching gravel, and leave muddy tyre prints on the bump-mapped tarmac.

Edging ahead

You're so pretty

The wealth of handsome effects, from dust and flying mud to the gradual build-up of dirt on the bodywork, form a transcendental layer of varnish on top of the already pristine visuals. On the whole, we can barely fault it - a very pretty game.

The riches here are equally evident elsewhere. There are more than 20 vehicles in the PC version, ranging from the elite Ford Focus Cosworth and its cousin the Escort Cosworth Rally to the Nissan Skyline, Subaru Imprezza and higher end cars like the Audi Quattro S1 and Suzuki Grand Vitara. You won't unlock all these in a day.

And there are in the region of 50 locations to pootle around in. Rally mode offers about 18 tracks across three different terrains; Safari, with often flat and immensely speedy roads obscured by the odd Zebra and a few advertising hoardings amongst the flora, California Pacific, with its sun-baked forests and quaint little sun-drenched stone bridges, and a final series of Mediterranean tracks, ideal if you like racing close to the coast.

I'm aiming for camouflage here, so that my three competitors can't see me! Ha!

Slip sliding away

And Rally mode is just the start. There are tens of different cups and challenges to complete in RalliSport's Career mode, and each seems present and correct from the Xbox version. We particularly enjoyed the slip-slidey snow pack rallies, and rallycrosses with up to three other players joining in. Single players won't complain either, with the challenge ramping up quite significantly as you emerge from the basic Pro races and find yourself contesting Expert, Classic and Unlimited bouts.

You gain points for each race - rather like Project Gotham's Kudos system, to use an Xbox-based comparison - and your progress is also rewarded with plenty of new cars. You'll have to think about your choice of car, too, based on the terrain. A track with 80 per cent mud and 20 per cent tarmac wouldn't benefit too greatly from something with significant speed to its name but rubbish handling, for example.

One of the really impressive things about the PC port though is just how stable it is. Some had voiced concerns that Xbox games would port very well to PC until they started crashing, but hopefully we can allay those fears - RalliSport hasn't so much as beeped in a way we didn't enjoy. It's very stable.

Overall then, it looks as though PC owners are about to find themselves recipients of the best title in the genre, with fantastic visuals, a finger in every rally pie and an improved multiplayer mode. We'll bring your our final verdict closer to the game's November 15 release date.

RalliSport Challenge screenshots (PC)

RalliSport Challenge review (Xbox)

RalliSport Challenge screenshots (Xbox)

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