Whether you're a fan of rally games or not, you simply can't afford to ignore RalliSport Challenge, which has been developed by Swedish based Dice - the people responsible for the Swedish Touring Car Championship and RallyMasters games.
The first thing you'll notice when you play RalliSport is how amazing the graphics are - it's like you're watching a real rally on the TV, like you're actually in the rally car, hurtling along across the ice, snow, sand, mud, gravel, tarmac, or if you're a particularly bad driver, the nearby field.
And it's in the fields that you'll notice some amazing detail - the grass, weeds and bushes are all picture perfect detail, with each blade of grass and shrub appearing to be lifelike - there's no flat 2D splodges of pixels like you'll find in the Gran Turismo series on the PlayStation 2. We're talking full photo realism here, and it's stunning.
Graphics throughout the game are stunning - and they're not just saved for the replays, unlike other racers which only have the "better" graphics saved for the after-race replays. You get reflections on the bodywork, in puddles, and on the amazingly realistic ice, which really does look like ice. Crowds of people wave as you go past, birds fly up from the track ahead, and everything feels very lifelike, almost as if you could pick up the dirt on the track ahead.
Thanks to Xbox's advanced graphics routines we've not found a single instance of pop-up. Pixel shading also means that instead of just getting a dark patch on the track or your car from a shadow, you're getting proper shadows that are cast across the track from both your own car, that of the competitors cars, and the landscape.
Each of the courses have been designed to keep you on your toes, and ensure that the game will be enjoyed by everyone, from a total novice to a petrol-head of a rally nut, with trees, rocks, ditches and other obstacles placed in just the right places to make sure that if you drift off to the side or cut the corner as you take a bend, you'll come to a somewhat sticky as the camera cuts to show your car going for a flier or wrapping itself around a tree-trunk. Luckily you've got the co-driver reading out pace notes as you go along, and they're very accurate and well described.
The built in rumble in the pads is put to good use too, with every kick of the gear change jarring down your arm, and the thud of your car as it lands after a hump in the road, or as you smack in to a tree from an out of control slide at atleast 100mph. Handling might not be to everyone's taste, and it could be considered a bit light, but we found it was a good balance, with it neither being too arcadey, or too much like hard work, and were pulling off impressive powerslides in no time at all.
Racing takes place in four different modes - traditional Rally, Hill Climb, Ice Racing on specially created ice covered tracks, and Rallycross which takes place on circuits made up of two different surfaces. You can either play in a quick action mode from the start screen, or create a driver profile, and then go for individual races, or a full career mode.
Our only real annoyance with the whole game that we have is that of the criticising voice shouts "get on with it" and "hurry up" when taking a corner slightly slower than you could be, but surely when you're in first place and miles ahead of the rest of the cars, it'd point to the fact that maybe you already are "getting on with it", and in fact driving much better than the computer controlled cars.
The only other factors that prevent RalliSport from getting an illusive 10 out of 10, are the omission of any UK based tracks, and the fact that we feel the addition of a track editor would have been an ideal bonus feature - we'd like to have been able to carve our own courses out of the lush landscapes that are on offer - maybe a sequel will bring these extra features, and if so you'll be looking at a 10/10 title without a doubt.
RalliSport Challenge is quite simply the most impressive rally game that we've ever played - in fact, we'd go as far as to say that it's the most impressive Xbox game we've played, and the four player mode means that you'll be able to enjoy it with your best mates for a long time to come.Overall score: 9 out of 10
Recommended Price: £44.99
Available: NowBuy RalliSport Challenge from Amazon