Rally racing is characterized by its virile, bombastic nature, colored by hostile tracks and an emphasis on slides, grinding, and bullying one's way up the chain. It takes a certain type of individual to truly appreciate the sport's lusty, organic interpretation of the idea of racing four-wheeled mechanical constructs. A person thus inclined, and in addition, possessed by a particular devotion to rally racing, might just get into Mobil 1 Rally Championship.
Rally racing has yet to find a game that does it justice. Colin McRae Rally and EA's V-Rally 2, the titles that serve as benchmarks for the genre, bear their share of blemishes (the former more than the latter). Developed by HotGen and published by EA, Mobil 1 doesn't do much to further rally racing's cause, either. Rather, it adds yet another flawed take on the sport, which, though fun at moments, ultimately doesn't satisfy the sport's need for an adequate digital doppelganger.
Mobil 1 offers all the required play modes for a racing title: an arcade mode, a championship series, a set of time trials, and a two-player mode. The arcade mode, just as you'd expect, allows for a light, small-commitment experience. To proceed through the stages, you must accrue an average of two points (out of a possible four) per race. All of the game's customization options are available in the arcade mode, however simple, and must be altered after every race to best take advantage of the makeup of the tracks. The championship mode comes very close to re-creating the actual rally experience: Dividing the cars into four categories (the last of which becomes available upon winning the championship), championship mode sets you off on a total of six tournaments interspersed throughout the British Isles. Each rally is composed of six races, each with differing track and environmental conditions. With a total of 48 races, variety is something Mobil 1does not lack. And with the fourth vehicle class as an incentive, those so inclined will find themselves drawn to the game. The time trials, on the other hand, start off rather slow, as only the tracks you've braved in championship mode are open for a romp. Also, completion of the arcade mode lets you race through the time trials backward. The two-player mode lets you and a friend enjoy a truly liberated take on the sport, as it features six looping tracks native to the mode. While this isn't doesn't really accurately portray the soul of the sport, most people are in favor of forfeiting reality for a little enjoyment. If only the game were more pliable and less spastic, the game would have been a great deal of fun.Though Mobil 1 is not totally unplayable, certain factors often make it difficult to get into. First off, steering is totally temperamental, even for a rally game. And you will find little solace in the adjustable settings; finding that perfect zone between over- and understeering is quite impossible. The smallest deviations from the ultrathin tracks are punished by wild spinouts and paralyzing crashes.
Speaking of tracks, the race conditions, while truly disparate and never redundant, have effects on the cars' performance that seem extremely off-kilter. Racing on snow feels as if you're battling the influence of magnets placed on either end of the track, periodically pulling you in to their respective fields, making your race feel more like a woozy zigzag than an earthy romp through merciless terrain. Powerslides are governed by the same temperamental physics: Their being the cornerstone of rally racing makes this flaw hard to swallow. Often, a mistimed slide will stop you dead in your tracks, when it should have merely propelled you farther in your desired direction, albeit at your flanks. Also, going offtrack seriously tars down your vehicle. Sad, because the offtrack element is such a huge part of the sport.
At least Mobil 1 boasts a sharp visual production in its favor. The cars are excellently detailed, though the damage they incur looks a little flat and bland. The frame rate is passable - never really impressive, never staggeringly slow. The environments do well to re-create Britain's lush raceways, and they aren't possessed by too much annoying pop-up. Aesthetically, Mobil 1 is one of the sharper rally games out there.
Mobil 1's sound is for the most part bearable, though hardly remarkable. The effects are functional, if often a bit garbled and semidistorted. Engine sounds are particularly whiny, though I've learned to expect that from rally titles. The navigator's voice is often a tad unclear - truth be told, I'm not sure if it's the thick accent or the fuzzy nature of the whole audio production that's difficult to deal with, or a combination of both.
In terms of an overall package, EA's V-Rally 2 and Colin McRae have much more to offer than Mobil 1. Though neither offers a flawless interpretation of the sport, you're better off going with one of them, as Mobil 1's problematic controls and hyperactive physics model seriously compromise enjoyment of the game much of the time. Rally aficionados may find some respite in Colin McRae Rally's sequel, if and when it makes its way stateside.