Magnetic Fields are a team with a distinct and proud racing game history, the Lotus Trilogy on the Amiga are particularly memorable to me; so it was with great excitement that I took possession of their new rally game (not their first either.)
I have never been fond of simulation racing games, TOCA and various other "Sim" racers are to me, far too much work, so it was a leap of faith for me to buy this and mainly based on said heritage.
I was not disappointed.
This is a rally simulation. Its not a game for the average wipeout fan, mainly, its time based and the tracks tend to be around 10 mins long (though when you get good, this comes down a bit.) This is a game purely for those of us who have always wanted to hurtle around country lanes at 120mph but have been a bit scared of death, or worse, the speed traps!
As I had said, I am not a great simulation fan, but this is not your average sim. Yes, you can customise every (and I mean EVERY) option in the game, but the defaults it sets for you are perfectly acceptable for a quick blast. Set the game up for a single race, select your car and track and that's it! Just race away.
But for those who are a little more in-depth, you guys are in for a treat. From the way the screen info is laid out, to the type of tyres you use are selectable, as are manual, semi-auto and fully automatic gears. You get a choice of 7 views with the blistering front bumper view, or the "TV Camera over the shoulder" view that you get on television footage of rally events. Its worth watching the replays too because the graphics are so nice, it feels like your watching telly!
With racing games, the most important factors are of course, speed and feel. Well, you won't be disappointed! One of my pet hates is racing games where your car feels like its "Floating" just above the track, a problem many games including Sega Rally 2 experience, and you just don't feel like your driving a car. I'm happy to report this game is possibly the most rugged, solid feeling driving game I've played. Whilst playing in my favourite "bumper" view, the game goes at a blistering pace and you really feel like your driving over every bump and crack on the road/track/mud. The sensation of speed is wonderfully realistic and the physics are finely tuned to handling perfection.
The tracks too are wonderful. If you're a rally fan anyway, you'll be elated, magnetic fields have used ordinance survey maps to accurately map all of the rally events in the UK and have gone on location to take thousands of pictures of houses and pubs, powerlines, fences and walls in fact, if its there in the real world, its in the game. Magnetic Fields have in fact boasted, the entire terrain is accurately mapped to within a square meter of detail! It shows too, the tracks are sumptuously laden with detail and it goes to prove that real life is far more imaginative than almost any track design I have seen in a racing game.
The sound in the game is adequate at best, annoying though mostly. Its not that its bad, just the sound of a finely tuned rally car is actually not too pleasing to the ear, neither are the two co-drivers who at best are just plainly awful. I found that if you turn down the volume a little, just so that you can hear it, then you can put on some (insert favourite music act here) its actually a lot better.
The in-menu music is really, really bad though. Due to the nature of the game, you will spend some time navigating menus and the one music track that plays the whole time is terrible.
The graphics are mostly hit or miss. The menus are well drawn and easy to navigate (apart from the sheer amount of them) and the cars are very nicely modelled as are the tracks. Photo-realistic textures with high amounts of detail, and wonderful lighting make this game graphically very beautiful. The weather effects range from clear day, to dawn & dusk settings rain, snow and night are all very well implemented in the game. The problem is with the trees. Unfortunately, the trees are modelled only from a few polygons and are flat to say the least.
From a distance this is fine, but when you spend so much time wedged up against them (as you invariably do to start with) they do give the game a very disappointing feel, there's just no effort to them. The headlamps too are poorly implemented, giving no really adequate light, but altering the feel enough to spoil the wonderful textures and lighting, for instance in the fog; The tracks look amazing, they're really very beautiful. Ghostly and mysterious, the visible horizon is just enough to let you build up speed with just a tinge of fright when a crest or corner appears, switch the lights on though, and the whole game is spoilt, that wonderful eerie look is destroyed and it feels like your playing any other rally game.
This is a fine racing game and an excellent rally simulation, its wealth of options and varying levels of player interaction allows for a deeply satisfying rally, or if you don't mind the 6-10 minute long tracks, a quick pick up and play. There's a fantastic split screen 2 player mode which is quite thoughtful for a PC game, and with the network settings, I can imagine this becoming popular at LAN parties. The mostly brilliant graphics are only let down by the terrible headlights and trees. Along with the sheer amount of tracks, and their spot-on replication, this game will thrill avid rally fans, and prove to all that nature designs them best.
I can't recommend this game enough! Go and buy it!