I was playing DiRT 3 the other day having a jolly good old time, I did some spins and jumps in Gymkhana and I took part in some Land Rushes and drifted my way up and down a little course. I was doing this stuff, yet all the while I was dreaming of what a real rally game should be like.
In my mind was a game which focused on actual rally driving, not the extra multi-vehicle events, but proper point-to-point events. I wanted to play a game which let you cover the same kind of distances that the drivers on the World Rally Championship do. I took a look at my games collection and I came across WRC FIA World Rally Championship from last year, I thought that this might be that magical game I was looking for which would fill me with the joy of a real rally game.
First I had to look past the god-awful handling, I knew it wasn’t great, but I had forgotten how bad it was. Maybe it seemed worse because I have got used to playing games where the cars respond in a livelier manner to my inputs. Regardless, a game based on the Official World Rally Championship, surely that would fulfil my desires?
It didn’t, after giving it another blast I realised that this is a game which is quite happy to skimp on providing you with a variety to your rally. Yes, it does have all thirteen nations that last year’s World Rally Championship visited, but what is the point when each locale only has 6 individual stages? It was then that I noticed that most of the time there were only three original stages per event with the other three stages being reversed. Surely this wasn’t the case for the real Championship.
A quick bit of searching revealed that the shortest rally last year, Bulgaria, had 14 stages whilst the longest, Japan had 26 stages. Some more stats to show how out of tune with the real Championship this game is; the winner of the Finnish rally took 2 and half hours to complete the stages and the winner of the German rally took nearly 4 hours in total to complete the event. With each stage of the game taking around five minutes to complete, it really doesn’t match up to what you find in the real world. I concluded that WRC FIA World Rally Championship was not the answer to my desires. It has nice touches with the inclusion of the junior categories of the WRC, but without a realistic feel to the stages it falls apart.
I decided to skip DiRT 2 in my quest to find a game to fill my desires, a fun game but it most certainly over did the whole ‘extreme sport’ aspect of things with a very limited amount of pure rally stages. The original DiRT on the other hand was a much more enticing prospect; this is perhaps the best game of recent years for those who like their rally stages.
It didn’t fully match up to my desires admittedly; the Championship mode where you can take part in a series of events is slightly hindered by the lack of available cars to race with when you first play the game. The wide range of cars to chose from doesn’t really exist unless you purchase them during the Career mode.
Despite this I was happy enough to pick up a pretty standard car and start some rallying. There are only a handful of nations you can race in, but each has a wider variety of tracks than the WRC game with less reversed stages. It was nice to see damage transferring through the different stages, something entirely missing from the more recent DiRT titles. Yet it still didn’t quite match my desires of giving me a taste of a real rally experience.
I went a bit further back in time to Colin McRae Rally 2005 and found a game which clearly provides a template for where Codemasters would go with their rally games. There wasn’t any of the superfluous rally raid stages, this was all about the real rally, nine different countries to go to, eight stages per nation, all of which are different, I was nearly home. Yet I still found myself wondering where were the long stages that you find in the real World Rally Championship? Why didn’t it have twenty-stages per nation? Surely they could have cut back on the nations in the game and spent more time working on the individual stages?
Having gone back to 2005 without finding what I desired, I decided drastic measures had to be undertaken. I skipped through the earlier Colin McRae games, ignored Richard Burns’ and went back to the 90s.
I did have one last roll of the dice, a game I had seen in the loft, lying there next to an old PC and joystick. The name of the game was Network Q RAC Rally Championship, a game from 1996 which, thanks to some DOSBox magic, I was able to get playing again.
This game recreated the 1996 Rally of Great Britain with a staggering 28 stages broken up into different legs. There were service stops to repair your damaged car, a variety of set-up options, and my personal nightmare. The 36.61 mile long Pundershaw stage. This is a stage etched in my memory as being one of the most brutal racing levels I have ever taken part in. There was no getting away from this monster in the Championship mode, yet it wasn’t the only long stage, The County Durham Stage was 16.92 miles, Kershope was 22.54 miles and these all took place before the Welsh stages. Hafren Sweetlamb was a snowy 15.84 miles and Trawscoed was 22.82 miles.
This is the rally game I had been yearning to play when I was doing my Gymkhana tricks. This, a game from 1996 had everything you needed. A bunch of fast cars, day and night stages, car setup and repairs, short and long stages. Network Q RAC Rally is a true rally game and it still works perfectly in DOSBox and with an Xbox 360 controller.
Fancy graphics and extreme sports, who needs it? I’m going to get back to basics with a proper rally game.