Hands-onV-Rally 3

We get a demo run with Infogrames' upcoming rally racer.

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V-Rally 3 is the latest manifestation of Infogrames and Eden Studios' popular racing series, and we got to play with it a good deal at a recent press event. The series' heritage is undeniably solid, and, especially among European gamers, each installment has been quite popular--the series has sold in excess of five million units worldwide, a minority of which you can assume were registered by North American retailers. Its current PS2 incarnation is looking altogether solid and appears to stand a fighting chance against Microsoft's recent successful Xbox game, Rallisport Challenge.

French developer Eden Studios, the group responsible for every one of the previous installments, is building V-Rally 3. As the series' first outing on the PS2, the game is looking great--the cars are ultradetailed, ranging from 13,000 to 15,000 polygons apiece, and they can be both soiled and destroyed to boot. The environments are similarly neat looking, populated by vibrant foliage, dynamic dirt effects, and, eventually, bold onlookers that'll run onto the road to snap a photo of you as you pass. The game--which, according to the Infogrames reps present, was in beta state--was certainly looking quite polished when we saw it. The frame rate was for the most part consistent and strong, and all the essential handling elements were implemented. The game, in short, was fully playable and in need of only minor tweaking, from a mechanical standpoint. At this point, it's feeling a little sim-heavy; the traction isn't too forgiving, and you're required to perform a good deal of correcting and oversteering to keep from doing involuntary donuts--at first, anyway. After a few rounds at it, the logic of rally racing sets in, and we found ourselves driving quite decently. The producers present mentioned that Eden will make the car handling a bit more forgiving for the North American release, which should make it a bit more accessible.

The most significant chunk of gameplay will lie in the V-Rally mode. In it, you'll progress through a rich and eventful career as an in-demand rally driver, dealing with race promoters, auto manufacturers, and members of your racing team. The interface is designed around a simulated e-mail system; new events will be presented to you as messages from the aforementioned parties, which you can opt to ignore. Test runs, actual events, and other sorts of proposals will be made available to you in this manner, and the setup makes it fairly easy to sift through many different opportunities. As you progress through these races, you'll eventually get to running with a team. You'll have something of a symbiotic relationship with your team--your performance in races will affect your team's standings, as well as the morale of the pit crews you'll deal with when you're in need of repairs. Do badly, and your repairs will lag, and your overall standings will fall--which could lead to your getting kicked off the team. Do well, though, and the opposite will occur.

All sorts of cars will be available in the final game, all of which can be tweaked and upgraded in various categories. You'll see cars like Subaru's new Impreza, Mitsubishi's Lancer Evo 7, Citroen's Xsara, and Ford's Focus, among others. You'll be able to tweak the settings on their acceleration ratios, gearboxes, steering, and brakes. You'll also be able to turn your navigator on or off at your leisure, as well as control the frequency of his warnings. You'll race in places like Germany, Great Britain, Corsica, France, Finland, and Sweden, each of which has its own unique look and terrain. Though they're not quite modeled directly after real-life tracks, they do look for the most part authentic, and, since they've been entirely hand-built, they feel suitably organic.

V-Rally 3 is coming along quite nicely and is set to be one of Infogrames' larger releases in Europe. Rally racing is still something of a niche in North America, but even in the niche genres, high-polish, solid games are seldom a bad thing. The game hasn't been officially approved by Sony as of yet, but expect that to happen in due course. We'll keep you updated on V-Rally 3's status as more information becomes available.

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