Don't be fooled by its name. V-Rally 3 is actually the fifth entry in this driving game series, which at one point fell under both the Test Drive and Need for Speed umbrellas and has spawned games for the PlayStation, Dreamcast, PC, and Nintendo 64 in its five-year existence. Previous V-Rally games included both hard-core simulators and more arcadelike driving games that had greater appeal for casual players. This latest game for the PlayStation 2 certainly contains more qualities of the former group than the latter, and it could have been a great driving sim were it not marred by its poor control.
Like most rally games, V-Rally 3 features a whopping 20 licensed 1.6- and 2.0-liter cars from recognizable rally participants like Mitsubishi, Opel, Hyndai, Subaru, and Citroen, among many others. The game will eventually take you through six different rally events--Africa, Germany, England, Finland, Sweden, and France--each of which is made up of four individual tracks that are raced in both directions, for a total of 48 tracks. As has become the norm in such games, you race against the clock and not other drivers in V-Rally 3, and your ultimate goal in each rally is to have the fastest overall time across all of that event's tracks.
But the most notable aspect of V-Rally 3 isn't what it shares with other rally games, it's what it does differently. Specifically, it's the game's impressive career mode. You'll start out the game by creating an inexperienced driver who will receive offers to test-drive a number of 1.6-liter FWD rally cars from certain racing teams. If you impress these teams with your race times at these test-drive events, you'll be offered a one-year contract that'll get you into the 1.6-liter FWD rally championships. These championships are split up into multiple seasons, with each season spanning four different rally events, and with each rally event consisting of five individual races. The 20 teams in V-Rally 3 are ranked in staff morale, car reliability, season performance, and budget. Obviously, you'll attract offers only from teams with low-ranking characteristics at first, but if you perform well in any given season, your team's ranking will increase accordingly. Changes to your team's rank will have a noticeable effect in the game, too. A higher budget, for example, means that you'll have access to a wider variety of tires and tuning options, while a higher staff morale means that crucial repairs can be performed more quickly at the service areas, where you're given only 30 minutes to fix any damage your car has sustained.
If you've met the goal requirements of a team at the end of the season, you'll be offered a contract renewal. At first, these requirements are easy--place in the top 13, for example--but as your team's stature improves, its demands on you will increase. Your character will also improve from season to season. You have ratings in four unique traits--velocity, experience, consistency, and goals--that will increase or decrease depending on your performance at the end of each season. As these four ratings increase, you'll be approached by better 1.6-liter teams with higher rankings, better cars, and more stringent demands. When you place first overall in the 1.6-liter championships, which can be accomplished in a single season, you'll start receiving offers from 2.0-liter AWD teams. The 2.0-liter championships are made up of six rally events, not four, and they're generally a lot tougher than the 1.6-liter championships. Again, the better you do here, the higher your team's ranking gets, the more your personal ratings will increase, and the more offers you'll receive from better teams.
While it's technically possible to finish the 2.0-liter championships--and the game--in a single season, you'll realistically be able to do so in two or three. That's because V-Rally 3 sports a realistic damage-modeling system that'll have your car looking and driving like a jalopy if you're careless. Driving off the main road or hitting peripheral objects like trees or rocks will cause extensive damage to your car--damage you won't be able to repair until you reach a service area. Most rally events force you to race two courses in between each service area, meaning that you'll have to make do until you can limp across the finish line. What's more, since your technicians are given only 30 minutes to repair your vehicle, you might have to opt to leave parts of your car damaged while the crew fixes other critical and time-consuming components. And since V-Rally 3 uses an autosave feature and doesn't let you restart any race, mistakes you make in a given rally will haunt you for the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, this robust and appealing career mode is hampered by somewhat poor controls. Simply put, the steering in the game is way too sensitive, and your car never seems to have enough traction. The end result is races that'll have you struggling to keep your car pointed in the right direction, and you'll constantly find yourself compensating and overcompensating for the frictionless steering. It's like driving your car on ice, on the moon, while drunk. And while you're able to adjust your car's tire compound, tire pressure, ride height, stabilizer stiffness, suspension stiffness, gearbox ratio, differential torque transfer, and brake strength, no amount of fiddling will remedy these problems. Experienced players will probably be able to grin and bear it, but it'll take the novice gamer several hours to get used to the awkward behavior of the cars in V-Rally 3.
The graphics can be gorgeous at one point, and mediocre at another. The car models, for the most part, look fantastic, especially when you see them gradually accumulate dirt, mud, and ice throughout a race. Any damage you sustain is clearly evident on your car's model, and you'll be able to spot loose bumpers, broken taillights, and bent body panels after a bad spill. Some of the environmental effects are great too. This is especially true of Sweden, where the sun will reflect brightly off the snow-covered surroundings, leaving you struggling to see the road ahead of you. England, too, has downpours and thick fog that will make racing at high speeds extremely treacherous. Other courses aren't so glamorous to behold, though. A lot of the textures, particularly those for gravel, look extremely grainy and washed-out. Likewise, the game uses lots of sprites to draw objects like trees and crowds, and since V-Rally 3's sense of speed isn't all that great, these objects are quite evident. The sound, too, is a mix of good and bad. There's no music in the racing portion of the game, and your navigator's frequently repeated instructions get old quickly. The cars, however, sound different from each other, and their engine noises, though a little whiny and tinny, sound fairly real. Different driving surfaces make different sounds too. Gravel, for instance, sounds like a thousand marbles in a dryer, while snow makes a distinct crunching sound.
V-Rally 3 has support for Logitech's USB wheel-and-pedal combo, and it will also let four players compete at once. You can unlock four unique cars by finishing first in the two championships, and you can use these cars in the game's time attack mode. Add V-Rally 3's deep career mode to all this, and it becomes clear that there's a lot of game to be had here. Ultimately, the only glaring mark against V-Rally 3 is its problematic control, but if you can see past this issue, then you'll likely enjoy this game. However, with so many other rally games on the horizon, you might want to consider waiting and weighing your options.