If you are of a certain age – old – you will have fond memories of the original PlayStation release of V-Rally. I spent many hours playing the game with my brother and father, who yes did that dad thing of leaning left and right like is was going to help him get round corners. V-Rally is back and it’s just as much fun as I remember.
Kicking things off, you are flung into the test-driving seat as the game assesses your skills and consequently giving advice on the settings and assists you should turn on and off. While not quite fully on the side of a sim, V-Rally is equally far from an arcade racer – I haven’t concentrated this hard on a rally game since playing the first DiRT.
V-Rally 4 does have a rather steep learning curve and one you have to fathom yourself, from what the starred events mean, to driving techniques. It all clicked when I entered my supped-up Cat 4 Fiat into its first championship. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t get close to the target time. Then I found the solution. I simply decided to only brake at the most dire of moments, instead I eased off the accelerator and slowly pumped the pedal, revving the engine to control the car around corners. The first time I tried this technique I came top by a clear six seconds. By the time I worked this out I had no chance of topping the championship, but I had learnt a valuable lesson – who needs brakes anyway!
The main premise of building a career is to steadily climb the car ranks by purchasing better vehicles and build your team with more experienced colleagues. At the end of each week you must pay your team and while simple enough, V-Rally throws in an extra mechanic that I really enjoyed – each event you enter takes a certain number of days.
Balancing the number of days of an event against the potential reward is imperative if you are to get to the end of the week with enough funds to pay your crew. Do you gamble days to get that dollar or play it safe and take an easy event with a smaller payout?
Unfortunately, V-Rally 4 falls victim to the grind. In the beginning, cash rewards are minimal and accumulating enough dollar is a challenge that is steeper than some of the hillclimb events. But – and it’s a big but – I thoroughly enjoyed the racing element of the game. The learning curve may be an uphill struggle but I wasn’t the only one that had fallen victim to over braking. Racing online I can smash the leaderboard score by tens of seconds. Seems I was in the minority that used engine revs to glide around and power out of corners. The sooner you grasp this techinque, the sooner you will enjoy the game and there are lots to enjoy.
Stunning vistas, varying terrain and some challenging bends will have you grinning from ear-to-ear as the dynamic camera accentuates the action on screen. I experienced some truly epic moments as the car weaved and slid around some stunning bends that were punctuated by hazards. Despite some odd design choices, I have to say that this is one of the most enjoyable rally games I have in my collection.
Ok so about those design flaws – and there are quite a few. Firstly, the music sucks. It sucks so much that I had to turn it down to zero in the settings. Don’t get me wrong, I have quite the eclectic taste in tunes, but the same songs over and over began to grate on me. Next up is the physics engine or rather the lack of. At times the car would stop dead on something that was so insignificant, while other times that same insignificant bump or rock would send my car wildly somersaulting in the air.
As for AI, thankfully the only cars you race will be during the V-Rally Cross event. While far from aggressive, instead the AI is absolutely stupid. Rather than alter their racing line to avoid a collision with you, they simply plough into your side or behind, sending you barreling off the track while they simply pootle along like those Sunday drivers we all love so much.
Finally, my biggest annoyance simply the grind, it took forever to make little progress and accumulate some dollar – worse was that online rewards for coming first never actually deposited into my balance despite getting a notification to say I had come first. This seemed to only be an issue if an event ended while I was offline – not exactly ideal – and I’m owed quite a few hundred thousand in unpaid prize money. Oh and those load times… wow. While far from ugly, the game sure does chug away before you actually get to race.
V-Rally 4’s biggest accolade is in offering something for all rally race types. With so many events to get stuck into, what I loved most is that you can solely focus on your favourite – V-Rally Cross being my least favourite and Rally being my favourite. The Extreme Khana mode is also pretty badass with some stunning circuits to drift around and some great set pieces to enjoy.
Despite the enjoyment of racing, there is no clear career path to follow with events appearing randomly on the map and available for a set time or until you enter them. Challenges and contracts offer an additional way to earn money but it’s all in vain if you smash your car too heavily – every bump and scrape will cost you. The money system is all rather neat, it’s just too much of a grind – thankfully, I really like the game and can see myself playing this for months to come, especially if people carry on braking heavily – I do like seeing myself sitting at the top!
V-Rally is a mixed bag but one that I’m sure racing fans will find a loving place for – an event that I hate, you will love and vice versa. Blurring the lines of sim and arcade racer, it’s a game that has won me over even despite its shortcomings.