In many ways, Rally Cross is still one of the most unique racers out there. It had a fine balance of flash and skill, while retaining a learning curve that made it a cult favorite among racing fans. Behind its over-the-top monster truck persona was a subtle physics engine that would stand unsurpassed in realism until the release of Gran Turismo. The sequel, Rally Cross 2, was developed by Idol Minds, an independent software company started by Mark Lyons and Scott Atkins (the lead programmer and artist on Rally Cross) after they splintered off from Sony Interactive Studios America. At a glance, Rally Cross 2 may bear more than just a passing resemblance to its predecessor. As a sequel however, Rally Cross 2 improves upon almost every aspect of the original.
The premise of Rally Cross 2 is very simple - place first in three seasons of rally racing while unlocking all of the tracks and cars. You have the opportunity before each race to fine-tune your machines for the punishment dished out from each of the tracks. The option to customize your vehicle's performance was conspicuously missing from the first Rally Cross, resulting in complaints from gamers that the game was too cookie-cutter and bland. While the amount of tweaking in Rally Cross 2 isn't nearly as detailed as Gran Turismo, it still allows for quite a bit of control over how the car will react on any given terrain. There is a total of ten different car types, while only three are available at the start of the game. You will need to unlock them as you progress through the seasons. The aesthetics of the cars have moved away from the original mock rally designs to more contemporary models that mirror real-life counterparts (BMW, Audi, Jeep, Subaru, etc.). There are varying chassis types, which affect performance according to their weight and build. Lastly, you can customize the intensity of your cars with a flexible palette of colors. At its inception, Idol Minds' goal was to make Rally Cross 2 a less frustrating game to master and learn. The first Rally Cross was notorious for cars that were frighteningly top-heavy and rolled at the first sign of an ill-timed drift. This time around, cars have been stabilized enough so that most players can concentrate on pacing and racing, rather than worry about constantly flipping over. In a way, this modification to the game's physics engine makes Rally Cross 2 immanently more playable. But for someone who's had a taste of Rally Cross' challenge may find the sequel to be stripped of the charm that made the first game so unique. With that in mind, the gameplay in Rally Cross 2 still retains that feeling of getting behind a rally workhorse and conquering the terrain ahead. Each bump and mogul causes your vehicle to react the way it would in real life. Equally realistic is the terrain, which varies from track to track and affects how well your car controls on snow, gravel, dirt, and asphalt. Altogether, Rally Cross 2 has a total of ten tracks, with two of them being secret tracks. The track designs are thoughtful and visually appealing. Each track contains plenty of alternate routes you can discover (which may or may not always save time). Lastly, there is the now requisite track editor, which allows you to build and save the tracks of your own design. The track designer has an easy-to-use interface and is flexible enough to create some fun and outrageous races for Rally Cross 2's multiplayer split-screen mode. The addition of a track editor really helps to increase the replay value of Rally Cross 2 and makes it a title worth owning. One of the major problems with the first Rally Cross was its inconsistent not-quite-30-frames-per-second experience. Rally Cross 2 fixes this problem, delivering a smooth frame rate. As a result, Rally Cross 2's controls are tight and responsive. Shock implementation in Rally Cross 2 really enhances the overall experience. Unfortunately, the actual analog control of the cars is much too sensitive, and you may find yourself constantly oversteering and losing momentum. Thankfully, Idol Minds left the digital controls intact so not all is lost.
Rally Cross 2's minor face-lift updates the Rally Cross engine for 1998. All the eye candy one would expect from a late-generation 32-bit racer helps make Rally Cross 2 a looker on the PlayStation, second only to Gran Turismo and Rage Racer. Although pixelated, Rally Cross 2's textures are colorful and vibrant, helping to create a rich visual environment for each track. The blocky textures tend to give the game a strange impressionistic quality. With the boost in frame rate however, one tends not to nitpick if the game can push those polygons fast enough. There is plenty of graphical detail in Rally Cross 2 to heighten the level of enjoyment for any racing aficionado: drifting snow that sticks to your car, reflections on your windshield, mud and water, vehicular damage, skid marks that remain through the duration of the race, and other graphical bonuses. The look and feel of the new tracks is a definite departure from the previous sets. Each track is now longer and more elaborate, not to mention notably harder to master too. As a bonus, Idol Minds included two of its favorite tracks from the original in the sequel. You can unlock these tracks after seizing first place in all the seasons. The sound effects in Rally Cross 2 need to be turned up a few notches to really feel the oomph of crunching metal, but most will find them satisfactory just because they seem to convey impact so well. Detailed sound effects are present for each terrain as well as the occasional crowd chatter when players pass. A lofty jump or a vicious accident will cause the audience to cheer or gasp in suspense. Unfortunately, the music in Rally Cross 2 sounds like it was recycled from the first game. Repetitive power chords and heavy metal guitar solos monopolize the soundtrack and hit you over the head with their unsubtle qualities. Luckily, like all of the other configurable settings in Rally Cross 2, you have the option to control both sound and music volume.
While Rally Cross 2 seems to have all the ingredients needed to be a worthy successor to the original classic, the game on the whole seemed to have lost some of the novelty captured by the first Rally Cross. Veterans of Rally Cross may come away with mixed feelings about the modified physics system as it makes Rally Cross 2 a lot easier to master. But the longer and more difficult tracks will present a different challenge to newcomers and veterans alike. No matter what, the Rally Cross series will always stand as two of the most playable and unique off-road racers the PlayStation has ever seen.