Full Review: What the hell is the V for, anyway?
The V-Rally series began life on the PlayStation in 1997, under the name Need for Speed: V-Rally. Published by EA, V-Rally was a disappointing rally racer that needed a lot of work, but sold well in part due to the Need for Speed name. On the other hand, V-Rally 2, published by EA for the PlayStation and by Infogrames for the Dreamcast, was a solid, if flawed, rally game from Eden Studios ? with only the insane difficulty and spastic controls hampering it down. V-Rally 2 didn't fare as well as the original, due in part to the release being towards the tail end of the PlayStation era.
Now, Atari and Eden Studios are back again, with the aptly titled V-Rally 3 for the PlayStation 2. It had some high expectations given the quality of the previous title (despite the hassles with it), and for the most part it has lived up to those expectations. However, many of the issues that plagued the 2nd game rear their heads here, creating a solid rally game that becomes somewhat of an acquired taste with extended playtime. While World Rally Championship is a superior rally game, V-Rally 3 is good enough to satisfy racing fans until the Big One, Colin McRae Rally 3, hits US stores.
V-Rally 3 comes with the usual single and multiplayer modes, for single rally races, split screen racing, and time attacks for the fastest times. Where V-Rally 3 stands out is in its Career section of the game. Oddly enough, the mode is somewhat similar to that found in NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona, only it's fleshed out in different ways and some things aren't in the game (like, I don't know, the fact that you don't race around in a circle in a rally race). When you start up, you need to check out your computer for e-mail, because you'll receive a handful of offers to race for one of the different teams in the game. But in order to get the offer, you have to pass a time trial test ? beat the time with their car on a section of a rally track, and you can join that team and compete in the 1.6 litre races. Some give you multiple tries to beat the record, and you don't have to join that team either ? so checking out all the offers is a good idea to see which car adapts best to your style. Tons of real, licensed rally cars are at your disposal ? VW's, Ford's, Toyota's, Citroen's, and the mighty Lancer Evolution from Mitsubishi are available along with about a dozen more.
The 1.6 league consists of 4 different rallies across various world locales ? and while that sounds awfully low, keep in mind that each rally consists of 5 different sections within a rally (along with 2 repair stations along the way for fixing your damaged parts), for a total of 20 different individual races against the clock. With each section taking 2-5 minutes at a time (usually between 3 and 4 minutes on average though), you may have to play a half hour or so per rally ? thus, not so short anymore.
Fare well in the 1.6 league and you can get a shot at the big one, the 2.0 litre league. The cars are faster, the competition is better, and now there's about 6 rallies to compete in for that league per year. As you'd expect you must pass a test to earn a shot at the 2.0 (pretty sure you can just stick with your old 1.6 team if you don't want to go into the big league quite yet). Since this career mode can go on for a long, long time, there's no hurry until you're ready for it.
Throughout the career, you can track your stats as well as your team & rival foes ? watch as your team morale goes up or down on your performance, or see how reliable you are driving your vehicle. Also, checking your e-mail will let you see messages basically kissing your ass if you're racing well, and setting goals for the next race (which consist of ?Surprise us again!? half the time). While not particularly deep, due to a lack of customizing parts and things like that, what's presented is slick, and entertaining. It's not as deep as say, WRC, but for what it's worth, it's very good. Just a warning though ? V-Rally takes 2 MB of your memory card, so if you're a bit short on room, you might want to either pass or buy another card.
The game is far from perfect when you get into the gameplay itself, however ? but it's not all that bad. First off, while the 1.6 races are so easy you can win blindfolded, the 2.0 races are very challenging. It's like going from Kindergarten to College-level Calculus, so be prepared to graduate. The competitors are a lot better, getting a lot better times, thus you have to learn the tracks well and figure out just how smart your co-driver is when it comes to the make or break turns and traps. It doesn't help that the cars are much more beast-like, so controlling them is quite a challenge.
Speaking of control, Eden's trademark Spastic Rally Physics (they oughta trademark this one) return, creating a car that fishtails around on dirt like it was an icy track. This actually adds a bit of terror to driving the cars, because if you don't figure out how to drive them, you'll find yourself in last place a lot, or even worse, you'll be forced to withdraw from a rally. Thankfully, this can be adjusted to tighten the control when you're at a repair station or before a rally, though I didn't notice a whole lot of difference. Some cars are worse than others, but as it is, the learning curve is steep until you can control the beasts and see how well they perform on a track. Fair warning here, the loose controls could turn off some people.
The rest of the game is solid, though rally games are a tough grade. Since you don't race any AI, you just race a clock, the only thing you can state is the computer gives you tough, but manageable times to beat and never cheat you out unless you really are a bad driver. The co-driver is usually pretty good, and doesn't go too crazy barking directions that you get confused and make a mistake (some rally games are victims of this trend). In a rally game though, the most important gameplay element is the control, which is suspect, but something that determined people will get ? and the undetermined will forget.
V-Rally's graphics are definitely top notch ? some of the better graphics for a PS2 racer (oddly, none can match Gran Turismo 3, which is 2 years old. Methinks some people are just not trying anymore). Because only one car is on the screen at a time, you can really flesh things out to make it look good. First and foremost, the cars take visible damage based on your driving, as well as get awfully dirty in dirt, mud, snow, and whatever other elements you could come across in the rally. If you smack your rear bumper hard, you see it dangling off the car, and steam rising from the engine if you do some damage to that. The cars themselves look good and are easily to identify, but the car models aren't the strongest suit here, besides the cool damage model.
Where it stands out though, is the tracks and the detail of them. Each track is littered with hazards like trees, rocks, & ledges, and all are modeled and detailed excellently. Tracks where it snow become disastrous, since you can barely see what's ahead, thus relying on your co-driver becomes very important, and foggy/rainy levels also are a test of your vision. There's other details too, like crowds here and there, and even a pack of deer will cross your path on occasion?you may not hit them, however, you sick bastards.
There isn't a lot to the sound besides sound effects. There is no in-game music, so you can hear your co-pilot better, so it relies on the ambient sounds and other effects to carry it. The co-pilots are good, and they speak actual English, so we can understand what's being said. None of that silly Getaway style of English that makes us Americans look like the dimwits that we are, instead it's highly audible, and if you can't figure it out, just look at the visual clue on the screen.
Engine noises, crowds roaring, and the sounds of the cars rolling across the dirt, and if you're a really bad driver, the cracking sound of your car hitting various foreign objects off the track are somewhat generic, but done well enough to work. If you need music, the jazzy, lounge-ish music that plays in the menu screens is okay, but makes me want to play Monopoly.
V-Rally 3 squarely rests in the ?love it or hate it? category of gaming. Those who master the quirky control will find the game to be challenging and rewarding, while the other set will find the game frustrating and probably stick to the much easier 1.6 races to keep the enjoyment level high. While not the first choice for a rally game (the cheaper, but much harder to find World Rally Championship is the PS2 rally king), V-Rally 3 is a good choice for rally fans looking for a tough game. While Colin McRae 3 is right around the corner, this title should keep you busy until then.