Graveyard: Rallisport Challenge 2

Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.

The original Xbox had some shining lights that never made it out of that console library or were playable only on that hardware. One of the console’s best launch games was Rallisport Challenge, a DICE racing effort that raised the bar for rally racers in terms of offering up an arcade-influenced approach to handling while still having diverse modes. That one is at least playable on the 360, however, while its superior follow-up Rallisport Challenge 2 is locked to the Xbox. It’s a shame too since it offers so much more of what worked before while keeping a lot of dangling carrots in the player’s path with new liveries for the lineup of over forty vehicles.

Comparing the two, the first game very much feels like a proof of concept with its lack of more in-depth mode variety, while the sequel expanded on the concept of having many different kinds of rally racing sub-genres in one game. Long before DIRT was split into several sub-series to suit different needs and wants, Rallisport Challenge 2 offered up a bit of everything alongside a new career mode to keep players engaged in every race type. The original game was my first exposure to things like ice races and hillclimb as before it, my rally gaming was Sega Rally and that’s it. In hindsight, it’s amazing how good a job the RC series did at feeling arcade-like while still offering some simulation-esque features.

The wide variety of cars all do have a slightly different feel to them and thanks to this game’s age, it doesn’t get too bogged down with stats for every vehicle. You have a basic set of stats to consider and trial and error can come in handy. I have had races on ice where going with a grippy vehicle worked, but then another track using that same car was tough because of hairpin turns while another vehicle worked better in that same scenario. Trial and error can sometimes be frustrating, but that isn’t the case here due to the car selection being both plentiful for the task at hand without being overwhelming with too many choices to worry about. Having liveries for each vehicle as a goal is a nice way to reward replaying tracks — so even if you replay them just to get better times, you wind up with more rewards beyond just the increased skill and some of the unlockable liveries are outstanding.

Rallisport 2 manages to be exciting in both races against time, the track and the environment. Modes like hillclimb may not sound exciting, but their execution here in a racing game that is at its core, a lot of fun to play, makes them a blast. Ditto ice racing, a sub-genre of rally racing that I had never seen until this series, and one that should be frustrating — and has its moments. You are literally racing on ice trying to not only avoid oversteering, but still win and it winds up being far more fun than it should be in theory. One area that Rallisport 2 excels at is its rumble, which changes depending on the driving surface you’re on. Racing on ice feels different than racing on dirt, which feels different than racing in mud and that slice of reality is reflected in the force feedback.

DICE has always created great games, but Rallisport is one that I’ve always come back to despite it being stuck on the original Xbox. That controller played wonderfully with it and a lot of work went into small things. Having a lot of liveries may not seem like a big deal, but having them just be rewards for driving vehicles makes you want to find a vehicle that gels with you and then trick it out with the newest liveries. It’s especially fascinating with twenty years of hindsight because now those very same paint schemes would likely be available only as paid DLC or made available as free DLC a year later.

Graphically, Rallisport 2 holds up nicely across the board too. In playing recent games like the WRC games on the Switch in portable mode, it makes me appreciate just how good this looks with things like trackside detail, vehicle detail and a rock-solid framerate in every mode. The sequel adds a cockpit view and thus offers more immersion than the first game. In core concept, Rallisport is more of the same from the original, but with a lot more polish and fine-tuning. The gameplay is smoother, the races are more exciting, and everything about the presentation has been upgraded.

Another area that Rallisport 2 shined in upon release and in some ways stands out even more today is in the accumulation of dirt and snow on the vehicles. At the time, i had never seen a game with so much buildup – let alone so much subtle build-up with a mix of dirt and mud or ice and snow, and even today, it looks impressive because of just how varied the debris is. Beyond it building up on the car’s livery, it also builds up on tires and hubcaps – making for a very immersive experience since it’s so realistic. Many games have done effect better in theory with more graphical power to work with, but I can’t think of any game including the newer DIRT games that did as good a job at showing the progression of the dirt buildup over time.

From a sound design perspective, it’s a mixed bag. The sound effects themselves are fantastic and playing this now with a soundbar and having the impact of collisions between both cars and the environment hit harder now than the TV speakers from back in the day made a big difference. It’s a more immersive experience audio-wise, but the default soundtrack is still bland. Thankfully, it does support custom soundtracks on the OG Xbox and that allows you to make any playlist you want in the game.

Rallisport Challenge 2 is one of the original Xbox’s greatest games and one of the few top-tier ones that’s truly stuck on the hardware. We’ve covered gems like Crazy Taxi 3 and the Outrun 2/2006 games, but this is one that feels even more cruel since the series is largely forgotten with time. People still clamor for something like Crazy Taxi and Outrun today, but the rally market has been so saturated that the demand for a DICE-developed rally game is non-existent despite this being a sterling example of how to mix fun, polished racing with a lot of variety to keep things fresh. It’s not a terribly-expensive game and well-worth picking up if you have an original Xbox.

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