gameplay 98 / story 92 / graphics 94 / sound 96
You never forget your first.
*True if the very first rally racing game you ever played was DICE’s RalliSport Challenge 2.
So my first several are long forgotten somewhere in the period 1997-2003. Fuzzy memories of Gran Turismo 2, Colin McRae, V-Rally, Sega Rally… all of them being somewhat fun but not compelling. They were all a bit… weak tea. The genre wasn’t advancing, and interest faded.
Love affairs with PS2’s ATV Offroad Fury 2 and XBox’s Project Gotham Racing 2 came and went. There was even a period of Midtown Madness 3 and Midnight Club to fill the void. Again, nothing too eventful.
Out of the blue, RalliSport Challenge 2 came at me like a spider moneky, literally leaping off the shelf——the guys at the local store knew I’d like this one and slapped it down on the counter. And though the package hinted at the comprehensive experience within (“5 Rally Sports,” “Every important rally car since ’78,” “Signs scrape doors, rocks whiz by, puddles spray”), what really grabbed me was “including Group B cars.”
I’ll be honest, I can’t recall if it had the Ford Escort. But I can damn sure remember that it had the Ford RS200, the Peugeot 205 t16, the Audi Quattro S1 and the crowning achievement of motorsport hubris: the Lancia Delta S4!!
Later, after playing through the fairly tame Australia stages it hit me: Rally GB in Wales. Damp, dark pavement covered in fallen leaves. Leaves which, along with traffic cones, were swept aside as I Scandinavian-flicked my car around a hairpin, back end looking for grip as it wandered off into the berm, then back onto the road. Later the course went all dirt/mud/gravel as cars sped across wet green meadows and over epic crests. Before reaching the next stage, the race often had a tricky 90° bend in the middle of a village or something tricky. Often an unmarked rock lurked just beyond the edge of the gravel, just waiting for someone to challenge the road’s width and puncture their radiator. All of these things together, for prolonged stages, and each day being several stages long, made for a satisfying haul.
And the sounds! The high-pitched whine of the Delta S4’s twin turbo/superchargers, the constant pop-pop of the backfires, the crackle of gravel pelting the car while in a slide.
As if it wasn’t enough… hill climbs! Epic, epic ascents/descents of locales in Canada (tree-lined highways with guardrails), Argentina (loose gravel and washboard dirt roads, 100-foot dropoffs, rain), and others. Awesome rigs like the Saab Viggen, Toyota Celica, etc., were super exciting and overpowered. Multiplayer events revealed awesomeness like seeing a player above you miss a turn and launch his car off of a cliff and sail over your car, with resulting laughing fits.
And the freedom of this game… Say you didn’t like rallycross much but wanted to race that Volvo 240 because it’s awesome? Play an unsanctioned free-for-all race and put those rally xers in a hill climb. Great fun was had as mismatched over/underpowered cars charged or struggled through a stage they weren’t meant for.
That was the fun of this game: the sights/sounds/freedom made for so many _experiences._ By today’s (Dirt) standards, the game doesn’t hold up quite as well graphically of course, but for sheer genius and fun, DICE’s game was lightyears ahead of Codemasters.
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