Thanks to Gran Turismo 3, Rallisport Challenge, and the Sega Rally series, rally racing's popularity continues to grow. Infogrames will attempt to capitalize on the growing market with the latest game in its rally series, V-Rally 3. At first glance, V-Rally 3 may not seem all that different from other racing games of this type, but in fact, it offers an interesting mode that essentially brings you closer to the actual sport. In addition, V-Rally 3 offers a wide variety of customizable options, including the ability to adjust different aspects of your car and even the physical appearance of your driver.
Of course, V-Rally 3 also has the typical assortment of modes you'd expect from a rally racing game. There's a time attack mode in which players can test their racing skills against the clock in any of the six environments in the game. You can unlock different sections of each track for use in time attack. The mode also doubles as a practice area that you can use to familiarize yourself with some of the cars that you've unlocked and learn how each one responds to varying types of terrain. You'll find out early on that a car that's equipped to handle wet gravel may not be quite as easy to control when it hits dry asphalt.
In addition to the time attack mode, V-Rally 3 features a challenge mode. This option give you a small taste of what it's like to race against the competition, as you'll have to race through a series of stages in an attempt to beat your opponents' times. If you successfully complete a challenge, you'll unlock an additional car. You won't actually see the other opponents on the track Instead, you'll be given an indication of how well you're doing after you pass each marker on the track. If you're beating the opposition, your time will be displayed in green and you'll see how far behind you the other racers are, but if you're doing poorly, the time will be displayed in red. Both the time attack and challenge modes support up to four created players, so you can compete against your friends as well.
These modes can be entertaining, but the real attraction in V-Rally 3 is the v-rally mode, which is equivalent to a franchise mode in a sports game, only the franchise just involves you. When you start this mode, you'll be brought into an office area, where you'll have access to all sorts of personal information and statistics on racing performance, but before you can go out on the track, you need to sign a contract with one of several racing teams, such as Fiat or Toyota. All you need to do is select the e-mail option in the office menu and sort through the three or four e-mails from teams that are interested in your driving abilities. Each e-mail will include some brief text explaining that the team is interested in your driving skills and would like you to come take a test drive in one of its cars. You'll also see important information about the team (its morale, reliability, performance, budget, and finishing position in the last race) displayed on right of the screen.
When you see a team that you're interested in, you can accept its offer for a test drive by selecting the go option at the bottom of the e-mail. The test drives we've played through so far only require you to take a single lap around a track within a specified amount of time and prevent the car from sustaining an exorbitant amount of damage. Most teams will give you a few chances to successfully complete the time test if you initially fail, but teams that are pressed for time may give you only one shot at it. When you're successful, the team will offer you a contract that you can decline or accept, and when you accept one, you can jump into the first race of the season.
Each season in V-Rally 3 is made up of several races spread out over Europe and Africa. Before the start of each race, you'll get to tweak your car. You can select different types of tires and then adjust the pressure, which will have a direct impact on your car's top speed and grip capabilities. In addition, inflating your tires even more will help you tremendously on dry surfaces. Steering, brake, and acceleration sensitivity can also be adjusted. It's worth noting that V-Rally 3 uses the analog feature of the PlayStation 2 controller, and at its default sensitivity level, you have to press pretty hard to reach your top speed, so it's usually a good idea to make the acceleration a little more sensitive. In the pit screen, there's an additional option that gives you information on each stage in the track, so you can find out what the weather will be like and what kind of terrain you can expect.
When you've finished a stage, you'll go back into the pit screen to make any repairs to your car. Interestingly, the repair system is actually limited by the amount of time you have, which is 30 minutes. For example, if your car's engine is severely damaged, it will take the pit crew six to eight minutes to repair it, and if the body is severely damaged, it might take an additional eight minutes to repair. If all the repairs you need to make will take well over 30 minutes, then you can only repair two or three parts of your car. Though we have yet to encounter the problem of not having enough time to make repairs, there are times when you'll have to race two stages back-to-back, so the damage can start to pile up if you're not careful.
In the midst of a season, you'll start receiving e-mails from other teams that may be interested in your skills. You can accept their offers to take a test run during the middle of the season without fear of hurting your status with the team you initially signed with. V-Rally 3 throws in some added personality by sending you e-mails from drivers on other teams or on teams that are offering you a test drive, and in some cases, you'll get to respond with one of a few preset answers. When you reach the end of the season, the team you took a test drive for may or may not return with a contract, but there will be several other teams waiting to give you a contract. If you feel comfortable with the current team, then you can extend your contract.
V-Rally 3 is shaping up quite nicely, though some work still needs to be done on the visual aspects of the game. It looks as though some of the sky textures have yet to be incorporated, and there are a few problems with polygons flashing on the screen. However, the car models generally look good, and there are plenty of small details like dirt or snow on the bumper and individual pieces of the car rattling when it is damaged. V-Rally 3 is currently scheduled for release in October.