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Test Drive V-Rally (DC) Review

Background Info

Screens (8)
First came Sega Rally 2, a launch title here in the US. Sega Rally 2 was a prototypical arcade racer bent on recreating the feel of rally racing. While an excellent racer, it failed to actually capture the true rally experience. A little more than a year later, Infogrames has released Test Drive V-Rally for the Sega Dreamcast.

Billed as the "ultimate open road racing championship," Test Drive V-Rally features 16 officially licensed rally cars and 10 bonus cars. You can get behind the wheel of any of the 26 cars on one of the 80 tracks spanning 21 countries. You heard that right. 80 tracks. All these tracks and cars are meaningless if the racing is bland. So does V-Rally stand the test of time and separate itself from the pack?

Presentation/Graphics : 80
Test Drive V-Rally is a mixture of graphical treats and spoiled food. The first thing that will grab your attention is the intricate detail on each car. The cars are rendered to exact detail, including interior objects (drivers and rollcages), perfectly molded body parts, and realistic advertising decals. To go along with the car graphics, the track graphics maintain the same quality standard. As in Sega Rally 2, the courses are lined with idiots who stand at track's edge and run like headless chickens as cars approach. In addition, the track textures, including snow, dirt, and asphalt lined roads, look real. Finally, foliage, buildings, and rocks which border the course make V-Rally one of the more graphically stunning racers on the Dreamcast.

Perhaps the best aspect of the graphics is the damage model. Depending on the view, as the race progresses you get an accurate account of the health of the car. Headlights and taillights become damaged and go on the blink. As you collide with other cars or obstacles, dents change from minor dings to full blown body damage. On some tracks, you'll even notice that the exteriors get a fine coat of dust or mud. In the evening hours, headlights shine through the dark air. The effect is done perfectly. A small cone brightens the course ahead. If you've ever seen nighttime rally racing on television, the same adrenaline rushing experience is recreated here in totality.

But there are a couple of bad tastes to be left in your mouth after playing V-Rally. First, there is pop-up. The pop-up varies from the near to far field. However, if you stay focused on the racing, the pop-up isn't too noticeable. Next, there are some collision detection problems. An invisible box lies inside your car, and it's not uncommon for objects to penetrate the extreme corners of the car. Shrubs even go through cars unscathed. Another issue that may cause some discomfort is the camera. My personal preference for driving games is to use first-person views. In V-Rally, the cars are somewhat twitchy and turn easily. In the first person view, the tracks rapidly moves side-to-side and navigating hairpins is a challenge. It's a shame, since V-Rally has three first-person views. One is situated on the bumper, a second is position just ahead of the front window, and the final is a driver's perspective with gloved hands and a well-rendered dash. I found I had to play the game with one of the third-person views, which actually turned out to be great. You get a great view of the wonderful car graphics.

During the course of a race, you are kept abreast of your status with a nice HUD. You are kept aware of your standing in the race as well as the time ahead or behind the nearest opponent. Since there is no on- screen map, a stage indicator lets you know what percentage of the course has been completed. If damage is utilized, the health of each system susceptible to damage is noted. As you take on more damage, the indicators turn from white to red.

Presentation/Audio : 76
While the graphics are pretty darn good in the game, the audio is average. Cars pretty much all sound the same. Also, the engines whine with a unnatural shrill. On the positive side, collisions are some of the best in a racer. The clunk as a quarter-panel gets thumped is highly convincing. Equally convincing is the sound created as you drive over brush, which is a gentle swoosh. When you start the game, the audio is preset to have loud music. The music, in a word, sucks. Not only does it fail to establish a convincing environment, it drowns out your co-pilot. Once turned off, your co-pilot's voice barks out the severity of upcoming corners clearly.

Interface/Options : 80
Comprised of 4 modes (time trial, arcade, V-Rally Trophy, and Rally Championship), V-Rally has plenty to keep you occupied. Initially, cycling from mode to mode lacks intuition. When you start a game, you have to choose your driver. If it's your first time playing, enter a name. On subsequent games, you can create a new driver or continue with an existing one. The game keeps track of each driver's total mileage, play time, performance points, and driver code. While the manual is well written and covers most topics, it fails to mention what the purposes of the performance points and driver code are. After the driver selection, you select a car in one of four categories (1.6 liter, 2.0 liter, world rally cars, or bonus cars). Next, you select the type of game you want to play.

The main game options include aesthetic features rather than gameplay options. In the main options screen, you can access the memory card, view your progression, and change the audio and video parameters. The gameplay difficulty is tied to your progress through the game. Once at a track, the game provides ample tuning features. The tuning options are a little more detailed than your simple arcade racer but not as deep as more sim-based racers like Sega GT or Ferrari 355.

Some of the championship seasons are lengthy, and fortunately Test Drive V-Rally allows you to save during a championship. You can save and quit out of the championship after each stage. To continue the championship, you simply select either of the two continue options (for V-Rally Trophy or Rally Championship) at the main screen.

Other features worth noting include a nice track editor. If you somehow bore of the 80 tracks available in the game, you can design your own. Also, the game supports steering wheels, though the standard controller does a great job. An option is included to let you re-map the button scheme. Buttons are laid out nicely with the exception of the rear view button. The default button mapping puts the view change with the Y button and the rear view with the up button on the digital controller. Once you settle on a view, I'd certainly suggest re-mapping the rear view button to a better location. Unfortunately, the game lacks modem support.

Gameplay : 84
As mentioned, there are several modes of play, though the principle modes are the arcade, V-Rally Trophy, and Rally Championship. Each mode has three levels of difficulty, and you have to win each level to open up the next level. In addition, each level is comprised of multiple races. As the levels increase, the number of races within a category also increases.

In the arcade mode, you are on the track against 3 AI-controlled cars. The goal is to complete the series before time runs out. However, to unlock a higher level, you must come in first. Your total time over the series of races determines the winner of the series. It should be noted that the arcade mode is the only mode that prevents you from saving your game in the middle of the challenge. Also, in the arcade mode, while damage is shown on your car, it does not affect its performance.

In the V-Rally Trophy, you race against 3 AI controlled cars where the winner is decided by the total time over the course of the competition. In order to progress to the next level, you must come in first in the cumulative time standings. Thus, you can botch a race or two along the way and make up for it in another race. You can save between stages, but damage is only cosmetic.

The most intriguing mode is the Rally Championship. In this mode, you race solo against 7 other competitors. During a race, you are kept posted on where you stand relative to the other drivers who have already finished. After a stage, which consists of two races, you are awarded points based on your cumulative time. If you have the fastest combined time for the two races, you are awarded 10 points. The top 6 positions earn points for their finishing position. The overall winner is obviously determined by the high point scorer. What sets this mode apart from the others is the damage model. This is the only mode where damage affects the performance of your car.

Damage impairs your engine, brakes, steering, suspension, and transmission. The damage manifests itself in a variety of ways. You steering becomes unresponsive, or you may fail to switch gears effectively. The damage incurred during the first race of a stage can thankfully be repaired to some degree. After the first race, you have 30 minutes to make repairs. Some repairs take longer than others, and if you damage the car too heavily you may not be able to fully repair your car.

On the road, you'll find the cars react differently. Also, setting up the car before a race definitely affects the performance. You can change ride height, overall gearing, suspension stiffness, tires, and more. However, no matter how you set up the car, there are times where the game blows away realistic physics. I've had several occasions where I've actually flipped my car forward. If there is a fault to the handling, it's that the cars are too bouncy. Even with the suspension set to soft, cars will flip forward. Furthermore, they are extremely easy to roll. On the positive side, the cars accelerate so fast a mistake here or there is not too detrimental. In fact, expect 0 to 60 times under 3 seconds. Think of V-Rally as nothing more than an arcade racer. You don't even have to worry too much about braking in the game. Likewise, the response is rooted in the arcade. Cars have excellent control authority and turn on a dime. I liken the handling to Midway's arcade title 4 Wheel Thunder on the Dreamcast.

The tracks are diverse. Some are unchallenging, but most are technical in nature. The track design reflects the sport of rally racing well. The courses are narrow, with many stretches suitable for single file racing. Turns, which are barked out by your navigator, range from gentle curves to hairpins. Depending on your car setup, you'll have to brake or drift through the turn.

The opponent AI subscribes to the unbalanced model. There will also be at least one car which marks the back of the field. This turns the racing into a 2 or 3 car race. The AI cars will hold their lines but pull out when advantageous or obstructed. Furthermore, they do make mistakes and will battle each other for position. Many times even the lead AI car can't keep up with you at the first two difficulty levels. No matter the mode, the racing turns into a time trial mode rather than head-to-head competition.

Replay Value : 82
Some of the racing in Test Drive V-Rally is simple. The competition is weak and you are left alone on the track. As you progress through the game, the competition does improve. However, with the correct setup, you can beat the competition. Despite this, the courses are fun. With the progressive nature of the game, you'll get to test out all 80 tracks if you stick with it.

Whether this game beats its nearest competition, Sega Rally 2, is up for debate. Graphically I'd have to give the slight edge to Sega Rally 2. Likewise, I find the racing in Sega Rally 2 to be more captivating. The championship mode in that game offers up more of a challenge that in V-Rally. V-Rally captures the sport of rally racing much better, however. So it's a toss-up. Personally, I know I'll play the game to the end like I do (or try to) with every racer I get.

Overall : 82
Test Drive V-Rally is a decent arcade racer. It captures the essence of rally racing with its narrow courses. The nighttime driving is intense and challenging. A damage model makes the game more intriguing, although it is available in only one mode. The graphics suffer from pop-up and collision detection miscues, but overall the game looks good. Fans of rally racing will no doubt like the title. Others may want to try it if they are looking for an arcade racer to fill the gap.

By: James Smith 11/22/00

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