While relatively unknown in the States, rally racing is a huge phenomenon in Europe. The concept is simple: Take a bunch of cars that have been slightly modified for racing, stick them on actual roads, and let them have at it. As such, the game has you zooming over African trails, through the center of coastal towns, and past expansive countrysides. But somehow V-Rally Edition '99 fails to capture the exciting elements of rally racing and ends up being mediocre, at best.
V-Rally '99 is split into two separate game modes: arcade and championship. In the arcade mode the physics are less realistic, your vehicle is a bit faster, and you race against other cars. Unfortunately, even at the expert setting, the arcade mode is ridiculously easy. Indeed, you can roll your car any number of times and still place first. With any car on any track the secret to the arcade mode is simple: Hold down the A button to win the race. The championship mode boasts more accurate physics, which in turn make the game a bit more difficult. But even at their best the physics are sorely lacking. Sure, rally cars slide around an awful lot, but the cars in this game slide around far too much. You're almost constantly fighting a fishtail. Your normal brakes are almost useless, and the handbrake is unrealistically superior - a quick speed reduction without any rear tow. The track design itself, while loosely based on real courses, is fairly boring and repetitive. Almost all the tracks toss you a barrage of tight corners and then a huge straightaway, keeping you from obtaining any real speed.
The cars themselves look very nice, but the backgrounds and pop-up keep you from enjoying the graphics for too long. All the cars look true to their real-life counterparts, and there are some simple lighting and shading effects in there. However, the backgrounds are uninspired and look terrible once you get close to them. Easily the most frustrating feature in the game is the ever-present pop-up. Even with your dopey navigator calling out the turns in his quaint British dialect, the pop-up keeps you from seeing an important turn until you're right on top of it, leading to plenty of collisions with the unforgiving borders of the track. If the pop-up doesn't get you, the sheer blandness of the backgrounds will. Most of the track is a similar shade to the background, and as such, turns tend to blend in with the rest of the background, keeping you from noticing a killer turn until you're halfway through it.
Hum a simple tune and stick your head next to a lawnmower, and you'll have the audio for this game in a nutshell. For the complete experience, have a friend periodically scream "hard right" or "easy left" in his best British accent. All the cars make the same horrible engine noises, and the music is lackluster. Even the best element of the audio - your navigator's speech - is lacking. You'll easily be able to see how they separated the sound bites when you hear the unnatural pause as he strings a few turns together.
While the game may not stand out in quality, it certainly does the job with quantity. In fact, there are over 50 tracks in the game and all eleven official rally cars. That's a lot of racing, even for the most hard-core rally fan. Once you've completed a few circuits, you're able to unlock the four special bonus cars. Unfortunately, you may not be compelled to race even half the tracks or get behind the wheel of more than a few different cars in the light of this game's numerous flaws.
Infogrames should have spent less time bogging the game down with every rally track known to mankind and instead channeled that effort into making a better game. Even the most hard-core rally fan should be hesitant around this title, and fans of basic racing games should avoid this one like the plague.