Power meetings. Power lunches. Power creeps in the shadows and corners of today’s world like a small, creepy thing that shuffles its feet softly yet makes its presence felt everywhere. Power can be fun too of course, particularly when combined with the word ‘slide’. For this conjures up images of muddied Audi Quattros ripping round right-angled bends at 60mph. Sheer delight.
One of Microsoft’s many games to be launched with the X-Box console just a couple of weeks ago, Rallisport Challenge (RC) does a fantastic line in power-slides. Its physics are like a Saville Row suit – well tailored to the arcade racing fan, not too slidey and loose, but just enough to make cornering a thrill.
It must be said from the off that RC isn’t a simulation game; there’s no hefty twenty-stage rally tournament to tackle. There’s a career mode but it merely involves racing a series of tracks, scoring points based on your position, race time, top speed and so forth. Accumulate enough points and you unlock the next level of difficulty, complete with new tracks and cars.
The game plays like an arcade affair. We’ve already mentioned the physics, but the sense of speed also feels slightly exaggerated. This is no bad thing though, as the fast straights intermingled with tight bends really get the old ticker going.
There’s a good variety of racing action in that you don’t just have your standard timed rally stages, but also ice races (on super-slippery snow tracks), hill climbs (twisting and turning, steep uphill races) and rallycross (in which you race laps against other cars as opposed to stages against the clock).
All this action plays out against aesthetically gorgeous backdrops. The graphics are excellent, particularly the neat little touches like stampeding herds of zebra on a desert track and the clouds of smoke and dust your car throws up at high speeds. The sound matches the visuals, with superbly sampled car noises and a pumping techno soundtrack (you can customise it with CD tracks ripped onto your X-Box, too). The Dolby 5.1 audio makes good use of the rear speakers so you can really tell when an opponent is on your bumper.
Should you fancy racing your mates, up to four players can take part split-screen style with little slow-down in the game’s frame-rate. As you can probably tell, we were hard pressed to fault RC. The career mode could have been fleshed out more and the computer drivers do tend to be rather formulaic at times, but otherwise it’s fantastic-looking and pure, addictive, rally racing action.