If you've been waiting for a great rally racing game to come to the GameCube, keep waiting. Rally Championship isn't it.
It really goes without saying that while just about anyone, with any kind of budget, appreciates a good bargain, there are just some things that you shouldn't cut costs on. Take cars for example. While not everyone needs the fastest, sleekest sports car or the most luxurious SUV to take them from point A to point B, there is some general, basic functionality people expect from a car that just doesn't seem sensible to cut costs on. Another example of this would be Rally Championship for the GameCube. Published as a bargain title by Conspiracy Entertainment and developed by Warthog and SCi, Rally Championship is a well-meaning title that seems to have all the necessary ingredients, but its key features simply feel too underdeveloped to be any good.
The core gameplay of Rally Championship is that of a pure rally game, which is to say that it consists mostly of time trials on linear courses. There are three different single-player game modes: quick rally, arcade, and career mode. Quick rally lets you pick any car and race on any section of any course you have played through in the career mode. More than 20 cars are available, and they represent manufacturers such as Peugeot, Honda, Ford, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and a number of others. Rally courses take place in a variety of countries, including Scotland, Africa, Wales, Finland, and the United States, and each location boasts its own unique terrain and challenges. Arcade mode allows you to pick from a more limited selection of cars, places you on a randomly selected stage within each country, and lets you race the clock from checkpoint to checkpoint. The game also has a multiplayer mode for up to four players, where you race on eight different closed-loop tracks in a rally-cross, multicar type of race.
Like with most racing games, however, the meat of the game lies in the career mode. Career mode in Rally Championship is much like a cross between the simulation mode of the Gran Turismo series and the championship mode in Colin McRae Rally 3. You are given a small sum of money with which to purchase your first car and compete in a local rally at the privateer level. In the beginning, you will race in three separate countries, each containing three different stages. Between each stage, any car damage you sustained in the last stage is automatically repaired, and you are given a brief description of the course, surface, and weather conditions of the road ahead. You are also offered an opportunity to tweak your car's settings, such as suspension, gearbox ratios, and tire selection, to be appropriate for the course. At the end of each country, you are awarded championship points based on how you did in that country, and these points are tallied up at the end of the championship to determine the victor. Prize money is awarded, which will allow you to purchase a new car from any of the other competition levels, such as 1600cc, 2000cc, or pro level. Each level of car affords you the ability to compete in that level's championship, expanding not only the number of countries you will compete in, but also the number of stages within each country.
While the above description makes Rally Championship sound like you're getting a lot of bang for your buck, when you get down into the gameplay mechanics, graphics, and sound, the game falls apart pretty rapidly. Clearly one of the most rushed aspects of the game is its physics engine. Cars feel like they have little to no relationship to the ground, making the steering inputs wildly unpredictable, and the entire control scheme feels very floaty and disorienting. Similarly, imperfections in the road surface can also be quite shocking. One bump might simply unsettle your suspension and steering, while another, seemingly identical bump can send your car tumbling skyward, rolling onto its roof or careening over a cliff. Encounters with roadside obstacles are similarly random--sideswiping one tree might just slow you down a bit, while sliding past another may send you into a comically dramatic spin of even up to 720 or 1080 degrees.