Available :6/29/04


Richard Burns Rally © SCI Games
Preview by Thomas C.


Marlon Brando and the game industry

Every type of sport has its heroes and though the people at the top change very fast and often there are certain names that ring a bell among people of our time, even if they aren’t interested in sports at all. Muhammad Ali, Tony Hawk, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, David Beckham – don’t tell me you don’t know at least one of them and even can name their discipline. And all these people registered their names as brands (in theory one should add a lot of ©’s and ®’s every time you type one of these names) since they are very well aware that there is money to be made if they resell it to companies for use with their products, but of course also to prevent abuse of it. Because if a celebrity advertises for a product even with only his/her name they should accept a certain responsibility: that the product is as good as their own reputation.

It is (partly) thanks to this “responsibility” that the percentage of games gone bad is much lower among the titles that have a famous godfather (but not necessarily the Mafia) backing them up.

World Rally Champion 2001

But this also means that you simply expect more from a game with a famous name in the title. While I‘m not into racing - not while behind the wheel myself nor when it comes to selecting the evening TV program - Richard Burns of course rings a bell. As former WRC (World Rally Championship) Champion (in 2001, I admit I did have to look that up) I of course encountered his name in the news from time to time and again when reviewing Rally titles from the competition like the WRC titles from Sony Computer Entertainment.

While Richard couldn’t defend his title over the last two years having my hands on an “almost-done” copy of Richard Burns Rally for PS2 let’s see if we at least can free up the gaming genre throne for him...

Rally School

The game claims to be the most realistic Rally game on the market and is subsequently not for the untrained. The most natural thing to do when trying out a new racing game would be going for a quick race but the game has other things in mind for new players. It will suggest attending rally school first and if you are smart you will do so.

How to destroy your Rally car in 2 easy steps:

1) Because you know you are bad at realistic racing games (I checked back with my co-workers, Mario Kart isn’t realistic) you decide to attend rally school
2) Don’t listen to the instructions and be likely the first person ever to blow up the engine in less than 2 minutes in lesson 1 (Objectives: none, fenced in training ground with no obstacles)

Ok I admit it, it was partly on purpose. Call me crazy but the first task on my list was: to what degree can I destroy the car before it gives in? And boy was I fast. From the start I stepped on it and hit the first wall at 110 km/h, reverse gear at maximum speed gave the backside a unique touch as well. Speed up again (the engine noise was already unhealthy) and at a nice one hundred change into first gear – bye, bye Mr. Engine. After roughly 1 minute and 30 seconds the car was fit for the scrapheap. The engine was dead, the co-driver’s door was he held in place by goodwill, the windshield in the back shattered and my evil twin satisfied.

A kid at play? Maybe, but it gave me a good first impression of how realistic the game really is and I admit I was satisfied. While the car took way more than any normal street car could take there are things you simply can’t (or shouldn’t?) do with a car, not even a reinforced rally car and the mentioned brutal shift of gears is a good example.

Of course I asked for it. Normally an (turned on by default) option prevents changing into a gear that will harm the engine but one way or another be warned – you can and likely will damage your car and won’t be able to finish the race in the worst case.

Rally School continued

While Lesson 1 doesn’t hold any objectives the following lessons are not as easy. The one and only Richard Burns himself did not only lend his name to the game but his voice as well and he will take you through the training sessions himself. Every lesson starts with instruction and a video of “how it should be done” then you can try it. Once you completed the training track you can either try it again at once or evaluate your session (the only way to proceed and unlock the next training exercise). Evaluation will take the console a few seconds and after that you will see yourself driving against the shadow car from the training video and see where and why you met or failed your objectives. Some of the training sessions are quiet hard to master and require lots and lots of training and retrying. At some point you might be frustrated and decide to literally drop out of school and ignore all warnings and try out your first race. Well I did – and after the first race the winner had a 7 minute lead over me so I dropped on my knees and crawled back into the school car...

Realism

Though I still have to spend some more time in the school before my results will grow better I took a peak at many of the available tracks and cars for you dear reader. There are a total of 8 cars to choose from and 36 tracks to race from all over the world but also thousands of stones and trees to crash into...

The tracks are highly detailed and very photo realistic only the cars could have been more detailed. While damage you take can be seen a few more different levels of damage would have been nice e.g. I wasn’t able to actually shatter the windshields only damage them. Also – but this is likely platform dependent – we yet again witness the return of the “two-part-trees” – two 2d bitmaps stuck into each other at 90 degrees.

From the distance and at high speed hardly noticeable they are a little uglier to look at when you crash into them. Yes I know that “normally” you shouldn’t be so close to the trees but well I was a few times.

If it is worth the damage you can overrun certain obstacles like signposts but bystanders are a no-no. If you crash into a group of spectators / marshals (on purpose or not) your car will be put back on the track with a time penalty. You can trigger this yourself as well by calling for help from the in-game menu in case you e.g. got stuck or flipped the car over. Local bystanders will be happy to come to your help.

Other obstacles like trees even in their “baby” form are indestructible. In a virtual world you have to draw the line somewhere, I agree with that, but when a tree the thickness of my index finger brings my car to an instant halt I’m somewhat puzzled. But as we all know this is nothing exclusive to this game and that I bitch about such minor details should give you an idea of how good the game performs in general.

Realism vs. Frustration

At the point of this writing I definitely haven’t mastered the game yet nor will I very soon. While I admit that I’m poor at racing games I like to play them every once in a while but Richard Burns is a real teaser for an amateur like me. This isn’t a flaw in game or anything but I’m simply not good enough.

SCi takes Rally racing one step further, no doubt about that. Never was a rally game that realistic but subsequently also unforgiving as Richard Burns Rally. Game developers often recoil from making games that aren’t for the broad masses and if you aren’t willing to spend some time at school again – the in-game rally school that is – this game will most likely be a source of frustration.

Richard Burns Rally will hit stores before a week’s time (for PS2 and Xbox) and hardcore rally freaks who aren’t pleased with the “simplicity” of the other games in the genre will definitely look forward to it. But everyone else be warned and warned again – the game claims to be a very realistic rally simulation and it isn’t joking.

The game will be released on PC, Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox.


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