Gamestyle Archive Intro: Chris takes us out for a spin in Rally Fusion on the Xbox, which dates from November 2002. This is from an era when racing was going off-road and thankfully so.
In terms of all the types of motor racing available to man, rallying surely is the most fun, aside from motorbiking up oversized Tango cans and hopping onto other oversized drinks cans. I mean what would you prefer to do- go around and around a giant concrete oval circuit a hundred times or speed through the woods of South Wales at a hundred miles an hour?
Having said that, it’s also the most demanding motorsport, aside from driving with women (joke), and thus the range of excellent rallying games are also the most demanding. Concepts like ‘damage’ and ‘braking’, alien to the arcade racer are given pride of place here. As the latest in the Colin McRae and WRC series have appeared to rave reviews, what hope has Rally Fusion?
As it happens, there’s a lot going for it. The Race of Champions, on which most of the game is based, is an annual event held in the Gran Canaria where drivers from different disciplines compete against each other on specially constructed side-by-side tracks. It’s certainly a unique selling point, yet the core of the game doesn’t rest on the license. The bulk of the single player mode is in the Roc Championship mode where you have to prove your driving prowess in a qualifying round before moving onto three tiers of racing- classes A, B and C. The latter contain easy to control vehicles with small engines like the Ford Escourt Mk1 whilst class B uses recent winning cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and the Peugeot 306, and finally the class A’s are the most powerful, and include the Lancia 037 and the snappily-titled Saab 93 Turbo 4×4.
Nineteen cars are there in total, although you start each category with only a couple open and have to unlock the rest. The structure comprises traditional live versus stages mixed with Rally timed stages, special course rules and driving challenges like slalom and parking. No, really, that wasn’t even a joke. The controls are very good and allow some excellent skids despite being a tad lightweight, though they are immensely preferable to the hypersensitive Colin McRae controls. The physics aren’t totally realistic, which reflects the arcadey approach Climax has taken, yet I have to say I like it.
There is a bit of leniency with rock walls (in allowing your wheels on them) but apart from that any knocks you take will translate into car damage. The system known as DYNE is used here. It’s a very clever system that means what part of the car is hit it will be visibly affected. Commonly doors will flap open, gaming shorthand for a warning before flying off after the next incident. As you play, you’ll notice how effective it is, and that the precise parts of a car will be affected by collisions- bumpers, bonnet, and wheels. You can check in the bottom corner for any damage in the time-old yellow/orange/red system.
There are inconsistencies with some objects affecting you less than others but overall it is very impressive. The arcade aspect is really the attitude towards racing. Want to cut a corner? Go on then. You’ll slow down a bit, but you won’t arbitrarily be forced back like the horrible headmistress way MX2002 makes you. However, I could do without seeing the words ‘biggest jump’ and ‘record lap’ appear all over my screen in an incredibly distracting manner at the relevant points. I’d also liked to know how well I’m doing in a stage- on the timed stages if I’m under the qualifying time or how the guy behind me is doing for the racing stages.
Graphically, Rally Fusion is sumptuous. The developers claim 16,000 polygons per car, but in real phraseology it looks good, very good. Sunbeams rain down through rock faces in a Gran Turismo style in a realistic looking sky, an avalanche will blow snow across your path, and a handbrake turn produces a mean skid on the ground. There’s just the merest hint of pop-up in distance but it’s not really noticeable. The only other criticism is of the camera drifting slightly on certain points- the Gran Canaria track over the bridge and the beginning of the first driving challenge, shaking you out of your driving line. The better you do in the main game, the more features are unlocked. Rally Fusion is full of these, such as ‘hill climb’, ‘elimination’, ‘relay’, ‘follow the leader’ and a ‘custom championship’ function. All these are excellent variants although ‘follow the leader’ is biased against you because you start in sixth place (out of six) for every race you have to catch up to first, here anyone who isn’t the leader is punished by energy depletion. As it is the end of class C you have to play it again and again, it isn’t an easy challenge.
Sonically the game contains good use of surround sound and FX and adequate co-driver commentary. Not enough was recorded, and you’ll hear the same things come up again and again (not just ‘easy right’ and ‘medium left’ either) and if you drive really badly he’ll get lairy: “you’ll kill us both”, “you’ll wreck the f*****g car!” which is unnecessary. In terms of tunes you get three from Cornish wailers Reef and no use of the Xbox hard drive.
The multiplayer will allow up to eight friends to take part in the Race of Champions, four to race head to head and two or three to enter the Nations Cup as a team, and try to beat seven other teams. There’s lots that I haven’t mentioned yet, like the real-life drivers you race against or how hard class A is, but what you need to know is that Rally Fusion is an incredibly playable and enjoyable racing game that takes an arcade approach to the rally sub-genre.
The use of the Race of Champions license is an interesting and unobvious choice, and it’s relative unknown status means the pressure isn’t there to make it the centre of the game, yet only the unique Gran Canaria versus track is. The graphics are great, the controls are fine, the racing action packed and the features are full to bursting point. This is the Rallying game for people who don’t like Rallying. Colin who?
Gamestyle Score: 8/10