Richard Burns, a contemporary of and rival to the inimitable rally car champ Colin McRae, has taken the competition to a new medium--video games. Console and PC versions of Burns' rally car game appeared midway through last year, and now the portable version of the game is accelerating toward the Gizmondo's August US launch date. A few laps alongside Burns in the cockpit of his custom Subaru WRX was enough to show off his game's racing feel, as well as some of the capabilities of the new portable platform.
The preview build of Richard Burns Rally we played had three cars available--the WRX, a tricked-out Toyota Corolla, and a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo--and a handful of unlocked tracks in Japan and France. To start out, we hopped in the WRX and hit the Japanese track, a pastoral little country road called Noiker. Right off the line, we took note of the game's nifty rendering tricks. As the WRX ran past the environment's smooth grass textures and leafy trees, it kicked up a translucent dust cloud and even small rocks and bits of gravel, making good use of the Gizmondo's Nvidia graphics hardware. Richard Burns Rally runs like magic on the Gizmondo, managing a very respectable frame rate at a resolution that seems to be better than the Nintendo DS. On the other hand, the algorithms behind the vehicle modeling could still use a little work. Damage effects, which are one of Colin McRae Rally's big draws, were understated in this build, and our car seemed to maintain an unnaturally smooth ride at times when it should have jounced around a little on the racing suspension.
Like most other rally car games, Richard Burns Rally lets you select from manual or automatic transmission types. We opted for the manual transmission, because it seemed to offer us more control over traction and acceleration through the turns. This game's driving physics are very comparable to Colin McRae's. Our cars skidded around corners in a realistic manner, fishtailing as the tires regained traction. Hopping over bumps at high speeds produced a commensurate loss of steering control, too. Richard Burns Rally is really successful in producing a feeling of speed. If you're hurtling along at 160kph, you'll know intuitively that you need to slow down before taking a turn. Just in case, a digitized voice (your copilot, perhaps?) will alert you to all terrain features a few seconds before you reach them, so you'll have plenty of time to plan your maneuvers.
Richard Burns Rally is one of the more promising Gizmondo launch titles. It's shaping up to be a highly playable rally car racer with solid production values. Plus, it's an established property that has some name recognition, unlike many other Gizmondo games. Buckle up for our full review in a few months.