The rally scene in the 90s was something fierce. SEGA kicked off an era of mud and dirt in the racing scene with SEGA Rally and before long we had Colin McRae and Gran Turismo 2 with their own take on the genre. V-Rally has always been the game trying to match the rest. The highlight for the series appeared in 1999 when V-Rally 2 went head-to-head with the Colin McRae 2 and walked away with pride. V-Rally 4 now returns close to two decades later hoping to drift back in the winning lane, but unfortunately, it finds itself stuck in a 90s time warp.
Beauty is in the eye of a rally driver
I’ve always been under the impression that racing games in the 90s included something many games seem to have trouble matching these days – beautiful fantasy-based tracks set in various countries with levels that have majestic backdrops. That’s what gaming is for, to bring these dreams to life and racing through the wonder that is unrealistic levels. Most racing games are so hellbent on replicating each track pixel-by-pixel, with not even a barrier being out of place, that it’s got to the point that we’ve ended up with a bunch of rally games that look just about identical. This is V-Rally 4’s strength. You’ll move from the desert landscape of the USA, through to death-defying cliff hillclimbs in China through to the twisty and bright coloured stages of Japan. V-Rally 4 is going to take you to some of the best levels you’ve seen in a rally game in ages. There’s only one slight problem, the controls got left in the waste bin.
Rally driving is supposed to be a bumpy ride from beginning to end, but in this case, it comes with cars that are close to uncontrollable.
Rally driving is supposed to be a bumpy ride from beginning to end, but in this case, it comes with cars that are close to uncontrollable. I should perhaps also point out that this is a problem with the entry-level vehicles, where most players will start off in the campaign mode (V-Rally Mode). Instead of earlier vehicles being easier to control at a slower speed early on, you’re tasked at making it through each stage fighting for each split-second while enduring a car that does not want to do what your controller input is relaying to it. There’s no convenient rewind button to fix any mistakes, so make a mistake and it affects your entire race – keeping with its 90s roots. But that’s not all, V-Rally 4 created some of its own problems by being a jack of all trades and master of none.
In total there are five disciplines that must be mastered – Rally, Hillclimb, Buggy, V-Rally Cross and Extreme-Khana. If you buy a game that has ‘Rally’ in the title it’s obvious that it’s the part you’ll enjoy most. As before you’ll race against the clock to finish various stages faster than your opponents. It’s definitely the highlight in the package. I had an enormous amount of fun doing the various Hillclimb events and the Buggy events were good fun too. These events have you racing against five other opponents, which broke the constant ‘race against the clock’ repetition. V-Rally Cross also has you racing five other drivers where you have to take the joker route at least for one lap, otherwise you’re disqualified. The handling of these particular cars was so floaty and just left me with complete frustration. As for Extreme-Khana, well, it feels tacked on and by far my least loved events. Sadly these events include the one single stage in South Africa, Cape Town port. It’s just too much to try to learn in one go and, should you tackle that campaign mode, it’s something you’ll have to get accustomed to.
Your objective is to become the World Champion in all disciplines and to do this you’ll have to employ an agent and a crew made up of researchers and mechanics. Take part in races and every seven days you have to pay your employees. The infoboard – your hub to take care of everything – will also give you the lowdown on your objectives and various sponsorship requirements you might have signed. While at the headquarters you can also upgrade your numerous vehicles. Upgrades are unlocked (to be bought) once meeting the criteria of a particular number of days that have passed (indicated in each race you take part in).
The handling of these particular cars was so floaty and just left me with complete frustration
Upgrades can be made to the engine, chassis, gearbox, radiator, exhaust, brakes, tyres, suspension, electronics and bodywork that in turn affects the various performance specs you would link to a racing game like speed and weight. Those earlier entry levels cars I mentioned? Well, once those are fully upgraded they still drive like a cat with sticky tape stuck to its paws. Persevere and you will eventually earn enough money to buy the upper tier cars like the Citroen DS 3 R5 and Polo R Rally, and suddenly the real game shines through. It’s completely baffling why on earth they would hide the fun so deep within its structure. Most people won’t get that far and when they do they will be far too annoyed to even care. I know I was. It’s all very 90s, as it’s something you would expect from that era.
Killing me softly
One of the first things you’ll do is to turn the audio right down. No, there is no music when racing and listening to the navigator, but the one song repeated on the menu screen will likely see you driving off a cliff in the next race. The good news is that it does come with a vertical split-screen option for you and another player, which actually plays quite well – if you stick to the faster cars. Alas it’s just not the case for the online offering. I tried to play the game online numerous times and all I found were vast lands of emptiness. Everything about it just feels so old school, but not the good old school.
V-Rally 4 could have been so much more. The striking beauty of the level design is completely let down by a broken control system and when the entry levels are tougher than the fast-paced cups later on, then you know there is a serious difficulty balance problem. Hopefully, the mechanics and engineers can repair this problem before time runs out for a sequel.