- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

In a year of sequels, the game that revolutionized racing for the Xbox has returned. RallySport Challenge 2 isn’t as groundbreaking as its predecessor, but the game provides further proof that Microsoft knows its cars.

Two years ago, the first RallySport wowed gamers with its realistic cars, striking backgrounds and fantastic attention to details. None of that has changed. You can see and hear the pitter-patter of the raindrops, the individual leaves on the trees, the shattering glass of your rear window when you drive recklessly. No, it’s not a significant improvement from the original in terms of its beauty, but that almost would have been impossible.

Rallying, of course, involves a driver and a co-driver/navigator racing high-performance cars against opponents and/or the clock over gravel, dirt, ice and other surfaces. RallySport Challenge 2 offers more than 40 cars and more than 90 tracks on which to test your skills.

Four of the five race types return from the first game: rally, a point-to-point race in which you test yourself against the time of your opponents; rallycross, which is lap-based and pits you against three other opponents; ice racing, which is frosted rallycross; and hill racing, which is a rally race with the danger of going off a cliff. The new race, crossover, involves racers going at it in two lanes, then switching sides of the track each lap.

To get started, you need to create a profile, which keeps track of the number of miles and hours you have driven, your license type (E through A) and the number of things you have unlocked (out of 238). Cars, tracks and paint jobs are among the rewards in the game.

You start the process of unlocking them in the heart of the game, career mode, which has four different ladders on which to compete: amateur, pro, champion and superrally. The first two levels are relatively easy, but the tracks and AI get significantly harder as you progress. The controls are fairly responsive, with the thumbstick allowing you to steer and the triggers acting as acceleration and brake. But if you have problems, you can adjust everything from the steering to the tires to the suspension before each race.

Even if you complete career mode (after hours and hours), there’s more to do thanks to Xbox Live. The first RallySport came out before the online service, but this game hooks into XSN Sports. That means, beyond just going online and racing, you can set up tournaments and individual and team seasons. Up to 16 can race at a time, but most of the tracks aren’t big enough for more than four cars. That means the cars turn to ghostly wireframe versions when there are more than four racers, which isn’t exactly optimal.

Still, there’s little else to criticize here. RallySport Challenge 2 isn’t as innovative as the original, but it’s easy to play and there’s plenty to do. All in all, the game joins Midtown Madness and Project Gotham Racing as great entries in a superb racing library from Microsoft that gamers can expect to excel for years to come.

Overall: 3.75

Graphics: 4.0

Sound: 3.5

Playability: 4.0

Realism: 3.5

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