Every year a new rally game seems to set the standard all other developers hope to reach or surpass. Last year, Mobil 1 Rally Championship stole the spotlight as the premiere rally game because of the number of options it offered and its overall attention to detail. Earlier this year, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 attempted to raise the bar even further with its incredible graphics and solid gameplay, but an assortment of minor problems prevented the game from taking the throne away from Mobil 1 Championship. This fall, the standard will be challenged once again with Bugbear's upcoming Rally Trophy, but you won't find the Subaru Impreza, the Toyota Celica, or any other present-day rally cars in Rally Trophy, because the game actually focuses on the classic days of rally racing, with cars that lack the sleek, aerodynamic look of their current counterparts. But don't let the older cars fool you--Rally Trophy is one of the most visually complex rally driving games to date.
There are 12 cars to select from in Rally Trophy, some of which are fairly well known rally vehicles like the Ford Escort, only this game features the 1971 edition. The current build of the game also offers a 1963 Ford Lotus Cortina and a 1962 Volvo Amazon. All the other cars in the game come from the same era of racing, but despite their obviously older look, the cars look quite amazing when they're out on the track. The development team at Bugbear has gone through the process of accurately modeling every car down to the style of taillights. In fact, Bugbear wanted these cars to be so realistic that it used various recording devices to capture the engine noises from the actual cars, so you'll hear realistic noises during a race rather than just a generic hum.
Every car in Rally Trophy also displays physical damage depending on how and where you hit an object. If you speed head-on into a fence, your car hood crumples like a piece of paper and moves up and down as the car progresses down the track. Driving in reverse and hitting an object causes a similar effect with the trunk of the car, but performing such a maneuver destroys your taillights as well.
But regardless of how they look or sound, the most important aspect of these cars is that they perform differently, giving some an advantage over others on particular tracks. You might find that you prefer the handling of the Ford Cortina to that of the Volvo Amazon for taking those sharp hairpin turns. If one track has a large number of straightaways--which, realistically, isn't all that common in rally driving--the Ford Escort may be your best option because of its added horsepower. It's important to pay attention to the characteristics of your car in any rally driving game, and Rally Trophy is no different, as it quickly becomes apparent that some cars don't mix well with a particular driving strategy.
Driving Around the World
Rally Trophy won't suffer from a lack of tracks--there are 42 of them in the game, and they're spread out over five different countries. Ten of these tracks have been specifically designed for the game's arcade mode. Unfortunately, the current build only offers three different countries--Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland--and only the Russia track currently has anything other than one main track. Like the cars in the game, most of these tracks feature an astonishing amount of detail, with the usual assortment of trackside objects such as farms, woodpiles, and spectators mixed with spectacular waterfalls and other environmental effects.
The level of detail is impressive, but the most intriguing aspect of these tracks is just how large some of them are. Typically, it's not possible to move more than a few feet off the road before you have to turn around, but that's not quite the case in Rally Trophy. With the obvious exception of mountain tracks and their sharp cliffs, you can actually drive a distance away from the main road and into the surrounding areas. The extra width in the tracks affects gameplay--it takes you longer to recover if your car unexpectedly spins out of control because there's nothing to bump you back on to the road. Of course, you can also use the extra space to your advantage by taking an occasional shortcut across some flat land to bypass parts of the track, but there's a much greater risk of damaging your car.
The variations between the tracks in Rally Trophy aren't just cosmetic, though. Some, particularly the Russia tracks, aren't very complicated, making them perfect for practicing your driving skills. There are a few tight turns in these easy tracks, but in general, straightaways and long turns dominate the course, letting you practice the timing of breaks and power-sliding--two skills that are absolutely crucial for winning a race. However, the difficulty level raises rather abruptly with the mountain tracks of Switzerland and the snow tracks of Sweden. Switzerland probably has the most difficult track at the moment, as it has plenty of hairpin turns and narrow areas that are perfect for damaging your car--you definitely don't have the luxury of spinning out into a flat pasture area on this track. In Sweden, a thick layer of snow covers the tracks and the countryside, so cars tend to slip quite often, and getting trapped in snow on the side of the road becomes a common problem.
At this point, Rally Trophy is shaping up nicely. Bugbear has gone through a great deal of work to ensure that the cars and environments are as realistic as possible. There are still some issues with the game's frame rate, but hopefully they'll be addressed before its final release. In addition, the control is fairly good at this point, but if kept the way it is, beginners will definitely have a hard time adjusting. The development team still has to incorporate Rally Trophy's multiplayer mode, which will support six players through a LAN or Internet connection. Rally Trophy is scheduled for release this September.