V-Rally 3

PS2

Review by Greg Wilcox

Atari/Eden Studios

Racing

Graphics: 8

Sound: 9

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 8


V-Rally 3 is a mostly excellent mating of simulation and arcade gameplay thatís both fascinating and initially frustrating. On one hand, the amazing car and damage modeling, challenging Career mode and great sound design will keep you glued to your TV for hours. But the ultra sensitive car handling combined with some extreme track conditions like dense fog and thick mud mean youíll have to get used to being all over the road until you nail down the controls. If you have a Logitech GT Force wheel, you may want to whip it out for this game.

The best way to jump into V3 is through the Time Attack or Challenge modes. You can unlock new cars and reverse tracks while getting accustomed to the steering. Becoming successful at this game demands superhuman concentration and effort, and may cost you a few of your louder beer buddies. Itís nearly impossible to get very far with even the slightest distraction, and youíll be restarting race after race until you know the courses like the back of your hand. In the arcade modes, crashing only makes you lose time and is hell on your car from a visual standpoint, but you can still finish a race. In V-Rally mode, sailing off the course or slamming into too many objects can end your season immediately. Youíll also most likely lose a wheel or two if youíre really creatively careless.

When you start up the game, you create a profile that lets you choose a face and nationality, a nice touch these days. There are no licensed drivers or courses here, but the game gives you a fairly decent rally experience. You start out getting e-mails from a few racing teams offering you a spot on their team and a test drive.  Youíll be able to do a short run on a random course, and if you donít wreck the car and finish within the set time, youíll be offered a job. If you complete the season with a good enough position, other teams will offer to take you on as a driver. Initially, you have access only to the 1.6L cars, which are slower, but handle a lot better. When the 2.0L offers start rolling in, you may want to brush up in Time Attack before committing yourself- these cars are fast, and a light touch is key in those races.

V-Rally 3 lovingly keeps track of all your best track times, total miles raced, and other records, and you can either save a few different profiles on a Memory Card, or compare your stats to another playerís saved data. Itís too bad that you canít save race replays at all; Hopefully Eden will add this feature to future installments. Itís hard to explain the thrill of finally overcoming a tricky course or describe a spectacularly nasty crash that nearly had me sending my controller into orbit. Sit a novice down in front of this game, and theyíll be less that thrilled with it as they bounce into, off and through stuff while cursing at you for the torture. Thankfully, it doesnít take too long to realize that this is one of those games that need to be played until mastered.

And itís quite good looking as well. Eden Studios absolutely knocked themselves out with some fantastically solid and detailed car models. On the spec screens, you can rotate and zoom the cars, open up doors, trunks and hoods to check out the engine, seats, console and spare tire rigs. You can also see what each car looks like with different setups for the assorted weather and track conditions youíll face in the game. The damage model is also great, more realistic than in World Rally Championship but not as thorough as the one in Colin McRae Rally 3, if youíre interested. Some of the course designs fare batter than others here in terms of overall impact, but you canít ignore the sheer density and sense of scale youíll get here. The weather and environmental effects are well implemented for the most part. If youíre really picky, youíll see that tracks packed with lush foliage and rows of trees have fewer visual problems than the more open courses. But the game is locked at what looks like 60 fps, and youíll be too busy paying attention to keeping an eye on the road than looking for problems. Youíll still probably notice a bit of pop-up in the African and Swedish courses and some other occasional minor graphic glitches in the replays, but the overall quality of the game renders these issues somewhat moot.

Like any good rally game, the sound is excellent and really puts you into the driverís seat. Engine noise, ground effects, your co-driver calling out turns (and occasionally berating you when you screw up badly), and the sound of stuff smashing when you hit it are all here. In a great touch, the in-game musical choices are slim. Other than the alterna-rock opening theme and some innocuously inoffensive demo and menu music, thereís not a scream, yell, or wail to be heard, which is fine with me. Too many racing games rely on pushing annoying licensed music to sell what should be a gameplay first experience. But hell, the folks that are paid to do this are going to keep doing it, so Iíll shut up about the practice and let them pay their bills.

The few problems I have with V-Rally are some of the highly useless replay angles, and the robot-like crew and spectators that look like someone enlarged paper cutouts and hand animated them. The courses where fog comes into play are ridiculously treacherous, especially when coupled with rain. Itís a great effect, but the fog is so thick that youíll be slamming into stuff even after youíve memorized everything. Once in a while youíll even hear your co-driver yell out ďBloody Fog!Ē at the start of a race, which is good for a laugh. My free advice to those of you having issues: use the bumper camera, and never go back. Longtime V-Rally fans will no doubt be moaning over the lack of a track editor, perhaps (and hopefully) Eden will refine and include this in the next game. To me, the biggest issue was the lack of true night racing and good headlight effects here. V-Rally 2 had some great night lighting effects, so I was left wondering why they werenít improved on for this game.

But donít let that stop you from grabbing this game if youíre a rally fan. Overall, V-Rally 3 is a highly challenging racing game thatíll keep your fingers on their toes from the moment you pop it in your PS2. If youíve never or rarely rally, itís the perfect rental for a weekend test drive, and a definite keeper if you can keep up with what it throws at you.

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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:36 PM