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Rallisport Challenge 2 Impressions

Microsoft shows off the sequel to its excellent Xbox rally racer.


Microsoft stopped by today with a work-in-progress build of Rallisport Challenge 2, the follow-up to Microsoft's excellent 2002 rally racing game. The game is once again being developed by Stockholm-based Digital Illusions, and the company is attempting to craft an ambitious installment in the series. We were able to try out the early version of the game, and we are impressed by how it's coming along.

Digital Illusions is aiming pretty high across most every aspect of Rallisport 2. Expect to find more customization options for the fleet of roughly 40 cars currently scheduled to be included in the game. Rally fans will be pleased to hear that the game will include every winning rally car since 1978 as well as classic rally cars, including the powerful group B cars that have been outlawed from the sport. As before, you'll start out with a handful of cars and unlock the rest of your fleet as you go. The number of tracks has also been increased, and the final product should sport around 90 tracks, set in various locations around the world.

The modes haven't received as dramatic a boost as the cars and tracks have, but you'll still find a meaty assortment of old and new modes. The career mode has been tweaked to make it more accessible to players of all skills. Each skill level will have an adjusted number of tracks to tackle based on its difficulty. The amateur level will challenge you with 20 tracks, pro will have 36, champion will have 48, and superrally will require you to master every track in an insane test of skill. The varying difficulty levels will be complemented by a less-linear competition structure that will let you have some say over which races you participate in. So, if you're unable to win a specific race, you can try your hand at another, which should keep the action much more accessible. The race types will include the ones seen in the previous game, such as rallycross, rally, hill climb, and ice racing, as well as a new cross-over race that will have you racing on a track that intersects your opponent's course.

While the gameplay in Rallisport Challenge 2 is going to stay pretty true to its predecessor in terms of playability, Digital Illusions is making some slick tweaks to ensure that veteran rally fans won't be bored. The game will offer three basic tuning options: basic, advanced, and suspension. Basic is a simple tuning for your car that requires no input from you. Advanced lets you tweak brake stiffness, brake balance, power ratio, and front and rear toe position. Suspension lets you dig even deeper and tweak your car's spring and damper settings. While such tuning may not be for everyone, it's nice for players who want to get deeper into the game.

In addition to the standard game modes, Rallisport Challenge will feature Xbox Live and XSN support. The Xbox Live features in the game will include multiplayer and possibly downloadable content. The game's XSN features are still coming together, but in addition to the standard suite of options available via XSN, such as leagues and tournaments, there may be racing clans and or customized rally leagues.

The graphics are getting a nice boost in quality that extends deeper than just nicer-looking cars. The environments have been given an impressive face-lift, which includes a robust particle effects system that will kick up an appropriate level of debris when you're behind an opponent. This can potentially blind you to oncoming hazards and adds a nice, albeit nerve-wracking, touch of realism to the visuals. Along the same lines you can expect to find more breakable objects around the track. Weather effects will also be on hand to bring the world to life and stress you out. For instance, rain and snow will force you to be more cautious when zipping through the tracks. The car models will reflect a greater amount of damage, and that damage, if severe enough, will impact your car's performance. A representation of your car in the lower right-hand corner of the screen will change color to reflect the damage inflicted on your vehicle. While that may be a bit depressing to crash-happy racers, the game does manage to show off the damage quite spectacularly via new camera angles and a new "crash cam" that follows your more embarrassing wipeouts.

The sound is still being worked on, but you can expect to hear a plethora of engine roars and ambient noises, such as reactive crowds, in crisp Dolby Digital 5.1. Fans of last year's game will also notice that the commentary from your copilot is now offered up in a distinctly American voice rather than a British one. While some may be pleased by the change, we have to admit we miss our little British buddy and his accented tips.

We have to say we're pretty pleased by how Rallisport Challenge 2 is coming together. The assorted tweaks and refinements, such as more-forgiving position resets that let you roam a bit farther before bringing you back to the track if you happen to stray off the course, seem to give the game a better overall feel. We're especially pleased by the option to tweak your car's settings quite a bit if you're so inclined. If Digital Illusions continues in the direction it seems to be taking, Rallisport Challenge 2 should be a polished gem when it ships next spring.

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