Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: February 17, 2001
The Test Drive license looked doomed for a while there — the format had become stale and it was painfully obvious that quality had taken a back seat while the series coasted on its track record and highly recognizable name. This trick only works once, or maybe twice at best, though; the gaming public tends to notice sub-par quality fairly quickly. Perhaps realizing the consequences of a sullied reputation, Infogrames decided to expand the series beyond its basic format. One result of this decision was the highly enjoyable Test Drive: Le Mans, which featured the full 24 hours of the Le Mans race for those so inclined. Test Drive: V-Rally was the other product of the new format, and it hopes to do for Rally racing what the previous offering did for the king of endurance circuits.
Those unfamiliar with Rally racing will probably need to spend some serious acclimation time in the Time Trial mode, the first of four offered by Test Drive: V-Rally. Free from the distractions of other cars, new drivers should quickly become accustomed to the unique features of this sport. For one, the tracks are open roads made up of a variety of surfaces ranging from responsive asphalt to the slippery and treacherous layers of snow that blankets some of the twelve count. While it’s not possible to head too far off road due to fencing or natural barricades, there’s still plenty of bumps, hills and grassy shoulders waiting quietly to flip, spin and slide any car that cuts a corner too close or otherwise strays from the ideal path. Unlike many other circuits, Rally tracks are winding, sinuous affairs that unrepentantly mix hairpin turns with more gradual corners, forcing drivers to keep on their toes. Fortunately, each car has a navigator who rides shotgun and provides audio warnings to their driver about the upcoming bends in the course.
Because of the variable road conditions and terrain, novices will also benefit from a quick refresher on their car’s settings: The tires, for example, determine how much grip the vehicle will have on the road. Some wheels are specifically designed for snow or loose gravel, and serve as the default choice for those kinds of tracks, but some racers may prefer tires that aren’t necessarily ideal for the track, but more closely match their driving style. Similar adjustments can be made to the gearbox to adjust the acceleration and speed ratios as well as several elements of the chassis. For paved, smooth roadways, lower the car and tighten up the suspension, while hairpin-filled mountain roads require a vehicle that naturally oversteers in order to compensate. Even the braking strength and front to back balance may be adjusted according to the situation. Depending on track type, the car’s settings receive a slight tweak by default, but hands-on racers will certainly want to adjust their vehicle manually once they’re familiar with the settings.
As noted above, the time trial mode is a simple race against the clock, free of the distractions and the standings that drive the action in the other modes. Arcade mode, by contrast, fills the cramped roadway with three opponents jockeying for position and most likely trading their fair share of paint in the process. Like most arcade modes, the ultimate race is against the clock and towards the next checkpoint, but placing first while still beating the deadline will unlock a bonus trial within the stage. In all, arcade features three stages made up of multiple trials and increasing difficulty as you climb from level one to expert rankings.
The V-Rally trophy adds some more depth to the process by linking the race times to determine overall standings. Place three seconds behind the leader in the first race, and you’ll spend the next few courses trying to overtake his lead. In order to progress beyond the European trophy to the World and Expert levels, the player will have to cross the last course’s finish line with the best overall time; the fact that each of the three competitors maintains their relative skill level from race to race means that every second shaved off your total time is vital. Chances are you’ll constantly be jockeying with one other car for the lead throughout the trophy’s duration.