At the end of 2004 we saw the release of Xpand Rally from Techland, a very solid rally game that was only for the lucky European market. Finally, the US market is seeing this great rally game come to the shelves. The US version saw a few upgrades since the EU launch. These upgrades include better graphics, better voice over work, tweaked gameplay, fixed flaws, and a variety of improvements across the board.
Rally gaming has been around for quite a while and Xpand Rally does an excellent job at expanding upon it. The level design is one of the best, the graphics are incredible, there are tons of performance upgrades, and a lot of competitive driving. Practice and strategy is needed if you want to grab the gold.
You start off with nothing in your garage and just enough cash to buy a decent car. The races pick up in difficulty and you will often be replaying previous races in order to get some money to buy better parts. There are different tracks that require different types of tires, which you will need or you will not have any chance of winning. The tracks include dust, gravel, tarmac, snow, and a few others and many include mixes of them.
When you select a race you can setup your car before the race starts. This will allow you to change tires, set the suspension, brake power, steering power, and many more options to give you a better chance of winning. Going into a dust track with low suspension will cause your car to bottom out all of the time, which will not only damage the car but also slow you down. The carâ€™s damage system is one of the best in any game. The tires wear out over time, windows smash, and parts fly off realistically. The car can take a lot of damage and still go on, but with your chances of winning are slim because of the slow down and if the parts take too much damage their performance is hindered. Xpand Rally really requires you to make few mistakes and the AI proves this. In the game you donâ€™t see any opponents except for a ghost car of the driver in first place and yourself. Once the first ranked player pulls ahead of you, you can see a ghost of that car and it solidifies as it gets further away. You can drive right through that car without worrying about colliding which is a great feature given the narrowness of the levels. You can disable this and not see any cars; this can be more challenging since you cannot see where your opponent is or how he is doing.
The levels have checkpoints on them all over the place and will tell you how far ahead or behind you are. You must pass these checkpoints in order to continue, if you skip one you will have to go back and pass through it or come within a certain proximity of it. You donâ€™t always have to follow the course and you wonâ€™t be penalized if you cut some corners. If you go too far out of the course or stay off of it for too long then you will be returned to the track.
There are different types of races that sometimes require a specific type of car, you may be required to drive a Tiny Hooper, the game has no licensing for names, and nothing else in order to compete. The races are at different times of the day, only a few are pitch black, and with a variety of weather. You will find yourself racing on the same levels but in different routes so it doesnâ€™t get old but there are familiar parts.
Almost every object in the game can be physically moved. Large rocks will roll if you ram them too hard, large sand dunes will explode if you plow through them, tapes that line the track will flap in the wind and spread out over the track if you hit them. Itâ€™s pretty fun to hit objects like posts and boards and watch them fly. The opponents do hit these objects on occasion and will be slowed down by them. Itâ€™s good to know that the AI driver isnâ€™t flawless. You will slip and slide in the rain or snow, which you will have to get used to if you plan on staying in one piece. If your car gets too damaged parts will start flying off of it and the body will get all messed up. If you run into a solid post too fast your driver can take damage and become disoriented for a few seconds thus blurring the screen. Damage is only kept to your car if you finish a race, if you start over you get the same car you had before.
The voice in Xpand Rally telling you where to go is a great help, especially on darker levels. The view distance is very long and you can see the track coming up ahead, but there are times when you just donâ€™t know whatâ€™s around the bend. He tells you things like, â€œ20 hairpin left,â€ and â€œ302 long right donâ€™t cut.â€ The voice does not get annoying at all and is an absolute necessity to some tracks. He will tell you if there are rocks inside of a corner or if thereâ€™s a post to the left or right.
The graphics, as stated before, are incredible. The US version takes advantage of pixel shading which adds lifelike detail to the cars and tracks. The different tracks are incredibly detailed and the cars are as well; there are even pedestrians watching the race that will run off the track as you come flying by. On tracks that take place during clear days have clouds moving across overhead. You can see their shadows on the ground as well as shadows from trees and other objects. Sparks fly from the spiked snow tires, exhaust smoke pours from the back of your car, and tires leave peel out marks when you gun it. Everything about this game reeks of perfection. Driving through a pool of water will cause water droplets to fly everywhere and with the different camera angles to choose from it never gets old. If youâ€™re a fan of the dashboard cam then fret not, itâ€™s included. Thereâ€™s also the bumper cam and the chase cam.
You can watch and save replays of your races and when you unlock tracks in career mode you can go back and play them in single player or online. Since this is an unreleased version of the game, multiplayer modes could not be tested but the generic modes are there and it will definitely be a blast once this game goes live. Also included is an editor that will allow you to create new tracks to enhance online and single player experiences. The Xpand Rally website also offers community made cars and tracks for everyone to download and try. Check out the popular forum here for more information.
Xpand Rally is what every game should be, fun. It offers a lot of challenges, but nothing impossible, great visuals, and a ton of variety. Even if youâ€™re not a racing or rally fan like myself, you can and probably will enjoy this title. Itâ€™s so easy to get hooked and even after playing for 4 hours youâ€™ll never want to quit. If thereâ€™s a game to buy this year itâ€™s definitely Xpand Rally. Itâ€™s not just another cookie cutter game; itâ€™s one of the most polished games Iâ€™ve ever played.
A video of a tarmac stage can be found here.
A video of a dust stage can be found here.
A video of a freestyle stage can be found here.