reviews\ Jan 8, 2003 at 7:00 pm

V-Rally 3 - PS2 - Review

With all of the racing games available for PlayStation 2, you might begin to wonder whether or not we really need another one.  But when a racing game is as entertaining as V-Rally 3, you quickly realize that while the genre may be a bit cluttered, there is always room for another unique and entertaining racer.

What's different about V-Rally 3?  What makes it stand out from the dozens of other racing games out there?  A lot.  First off, the different types of terrain realistically affect your steering capabilities.  They don't just slightly alter or hinder your controls, they literally affect how well you are able to maneuver your vehicle.  Mud is extremely slippery, creating a world of problems for the impatient type of player who loves to speed in and out of turns.  Mud also increases your likeliness to spin out, and makes it a lot harder to navigate turns, even when driving at slower speeds.  Snow is even slipperier.  If you veer off course, your tires will be surrounded by deep piles of snow.  Strangely, the snow-covered tracks have less turns, so they're actually easier to beat than those that just have dirt or gravel.

Vehicle damage isn't as visible as it is in other games, but the physical aftermath of a car crash -- weak or severe -- is outstanding.  I'm amazed by how much depth the developers crammed into the physical aspects of the game.  When banged around too much, tires will pop like balloons and fall off.  Without every tire intact, driving is extremely difficult.  Other parts of the vehicle can be damaged as well, in some cases to the point of a total breakdown.  In that event, you'll be kicked out of the course and will not be allowed to finish the remaining races.  Can you imagine what it would be like to make a sharp left turn without having both left tires?  Chances are that whatever you can imagine is what happens in this game.

If you can manage to drive slow enough to make it out of the course, yet fast enough to be one of the top ranking racers, you'll be able to move onto the next course.  But get this -- your vehicle's damage will carry over!  Damaged tires won't be replaced; broken engines will not be fixed; and dented bumpers will be left to continue shaking until they eventually fall off. 

As with any great racing simulator, it'll take you a good 60-90 minutes of practice before you fully get use to the terrain.  The controls themselves are easy to learn, but every course has a unique layout (a major plus), and every locale has a different hazard to conquer (another plus).  Although it could be beaten in a weekend (assuming you have an unlimited amount of time to play it), V-Rally 3 is not the type of game that you're going to finish very quickly.

V-Rally 3 has some of the best track designs I've seen in a long time.  Each one is filled with its own set of twists, turns and dangerous areas, including a large number of cliffs with weak, easily destructible rails.  Fly off a cliff and your car will be totaled.  Period.  There is no such thing as "try again" in this racer.  Twists and turns are commonplace among rally racers, but rarely are they designed with as much care as the courses are here.  The tracks are so good that they almost exceed the stellar designs from RalliSport Challenge!  There's an incredible amount of depth in them, most of which will go unnoticed the first time through (mainly because you'll crash and fail to see the rest of each course).

The only part of the game that fails to really impress is the graphics.  Somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 polygons were used to create every vehicle and it shows.  The sun comes into perfect view in one of the latter courses, and if nothing else, it will blow you away.  However, the rest of the game's visual effects are below the high standards of today's next-generation racing games.  The cars look nice, but where are the real-time reflections?  Clouds barely reflect off the side windows, but that's it.  Trees can be seen popping up out of nowhere in the far off distance, indicating that pop-up has yet to be completely outlawed from the genre.  The intentional fog effects aren't very effective; they tend to distract, not interact with the course.

V-Rally 3 is the best off-road racer you'll find on the PlayStation 2.  Realism is emphasized the most in this game, though not to the extent where it becomes boring or unplayable.  The physics engine is actually better than the one featured in RalliSport Challenge (one of my favorite Xbox games).  It's a difficult, challenging ride, but it is definitely one you'll want to take for a spin.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 8.5
V-Rally 3's racing physics are insanely realistic.  Graphically, V-Rally 3 doesn't show that much realism, but physically it's at the top of its game.  The controls seem a bit too complex at first, and almost come across as being a little unpolished.  That's only because of all the depth that resides within them.  Five minutes with V-Rally 3 will create nothing more than a poor impression, as this game's fun relies heavily on the player's skill.  Even the most hardcore gamers will feel a little overwhelmed at first.  90 minutes into the game, all of that changed.  V-Rally 3 no longer felt clunky or unbalanced.  I began to appreciate the challenge of struggling to avoid even the most minor crashes, as one blown tire could ruin the whole race.

Graphics: 7 
Nice-looking cars aren't enough to make V-Rally 3 a beautiful game.

Sound: 6.5
A usual collection of engine sound effects and typical racing music keep V-Rally 3's sound from standing out from the crowd.

Difficulty: Hard
V-Rally 3 isn't always hard, and it doesn't always feel like an extremely challenging game.  Casual gamers could beat it, but players with the most experience will be the ones to conquer it first.

Concept: 7.8 
V-Rally 3 doesn't do much that hasn't been done just does everything better.

Multiplayer: 7.9
The multiplayer mode is a lot of fun (and allows four players to race simultaneously!), but it's not as spectacular as the single-player V-Rally mode.

Overall: 8.5
Rally fans should not miss this one.  They don't even have to question its quality by renting it first -- it's that good.  Like I said before, a quick test drive is not enough to form an opinion of this game.  It's very time-consuming and takes quite a bit of patience at first.  But it's worth it.


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