Indy Racing League
RAC Rally 1996
by: Mike Laskey and Mark Arnott
Game: Network Q RAC Rally Championship
Available: Out now
Q RAC Rally Championship
enthusiasts all around the world will already
know the significance of the Network Q RAC Rally. For
those who do not, this is the final challenge for the
drivers and manufacturers competing to win the World
The RAC Rally consists of 300 miles of top class racing
action spread over twenty-eight stages around the United
Kingdom, and without doubt this isthe most comprehensive
rally simulation available to the public.
It features six high performance cars, extensive scenery,
variable weather conditions, variable track surfaces and
much, much more examined in detail below.
Championship offers three levels of installation:
2Mb, 50Mb and 90Mb, and may be installed (and played)
under DOS or in a full-screen Windows 95 DOS session.
Installation was simple and flawless, as was the
automatic configuration of the sound card. However, it is
worth noting that only the full installation appears to allow
in-car music, despite the CD "readme" file
which indicates that only the minimum installation
disallows in-car music. Despite the confusion, the music
is of high quality and is well worth pursuing.
Once the game is started, the player is presented with an
attractive introductory sequence displaying various film
clips of rally cars demonstrating their awesome potential.
Immediately it becomes obvious that the player will
receive an unique experience with this game - any road
racing driving techniques may as well be left behind in
game interface is a simple and functional front end
to the driving mode. It is presented as nested layers of icons
offering various options for the player to choose from. Surprisingly,
there is no mouse support, and so navigation of the icon
boxes requires use of the keyboard or joystick.
The various options include settings for damage, weather, automatic
brakes, viewpoints, sizes and resolutions, opponent intelligence
etc. Some of the options, for example the weather, are
only in effect during the game's arcade mode - the player
can sensibly not change such attributes during a
championship season. In addition to the championship and
5 levels of arcade, additional racing modes include
"individual" and "time-trial". Arcade
is against the clock with opponents and checkpoints;
Individual is racing a single stage (user selectable)
with opponents; Time-trial is the player competing for
the best times in the record books, and Championship is
the full and perhaps daunting twenty-eight stage
Also available from the front end is a brief history and
resume of the Rally and also details about the cars the
player can drive. The briefing is given by none other
than TV presenter and former co-driver Tony Mason, who
also features as co-driver in the game - more on that
player has access to a variety of cars ranging
in horse power featuring 4WD, FWD and RWD drive-trains.
They are: the Subaru Impreza Turbo, the Ford Escort
Cosworth 4x4, the Renault Maxi Megane, the Proton Wire,
the VW Golf GTi 16 Valve, and finally the 155BHP Skoda
Each of the cars behave differently as they certainly
should, and it becomes necessary for the player to
consider this when deciding upon a race strategy. For
example, whilst competing inside an overall score table
against the computer opponents, it is perhaps more
important that the player concentrates on performing well
against the other drivers within his or her class.
off, the player is presented with the Leg information screen.
This includes the initial stage number, its location, its
start and stop time (day/night), the length of the stage,
weather and track surface information and a map. Using
the arrow keys, the player can view each stage of the leg
up until the next available service point. It is vital to
plan your race, setting-up the car appropriately for the
The characteristics of the car you may modify depend upon
the vehicle, but for the majority you can change:
suspension height and stiffness, brake balance, steering
response, the gear ratios and tyre choice. Each of these
parameters will be a factor in your success or failure
(note that the options screen has an automatic setting,
and of course you can always accept the defaults). Whilst you
might be tempted to ignore this screen, for obvious
reasons you should at least select the correct tyre
compound for the stage ahead: you can choose between a
variety ranging from tarmac slicks, through to mud, snow
and rain tyres (the stage planning screen gives a
run-down on surface percentages of tarmac, gravel, mud
the car and the count-down is given. Wait for
the GO or do what I did: incur a 1 minute time penalty
straight away for jumping the start! Floor the accelerator
and we're off. Suddenly, good ol' Tony Mason is
screaming, "HAIRPIN LEFT!" Oooh, on the
braaaaaaaaaaaaaakes, crunch... ah ha!
So the first bend wasn't entirely successful, but never
mind! Then, a quick succession of "easy right, easy
left, medium right" is heard. Wow, my PC speakers
are telling me something useful in a driving game - good
stuff, and Tony does an excellent job at it, too. He
warns the player of turns, jumps, water, and in the tight
twisty sections, the player really has to remember
exactly the instructions that have been given because
events occur so quickly, the co-driver has to rattle them
off in advance. Easy you think? Yeah ok... now try doing
it in a night stage on a narrow forest gravel track!
Still in control? Ok, picture this: it's a
night stage and you're driving an Escort Cosworth 4x4,
the headlights point the way, but they're not particularly
effective because it's hammering down with rain. The windscreen
wipers are thumping back and forth, and visibility
overall is pretty horrendous. You're powering your way
out of a medium right turn, the back end hanging out, hundreds
of loose gravel chips thrown up by each of the wheels.
Mason calls out, "easy right", and somewhere in
the dark, a group of intrepid, rain sodden spectators
flash by as they stand out at the side of the track.
Mason calls out more instructions but by now the rain is
falling even harder and you can hardly see a thing - it's
virtually impossible to see the road ahead. "HAIRPIN
RIGHT!!!" You're looking out for the turn, but you
must brake before you see it, so anticipation and
insanity is required, and suddenly the heavens groan and
a crash of thunder rapidly followed by several seconds of sheet
lightning blind your way. Of course now you're hard on
the brakes, but still you can't see anything, but finally
the lightning fades... where is the turn, where is the
turn? And if you haven't hit anything, you're ok. If you
have, you know it is essential that your car lasts
several more stages of the leg before a service is possible...
what damage has been done? And is it terminal?
By this stage of the review, I hope you appreciate that
Rally Championshipis a considerably detailed game. It
features a great deal of audio, from the rain, wipers and
the gear clunk to what sounds like a turbo/dump valve
effect on the Cosworth. Each of the track surfaces has a
different sound effect, and there's a nice round of
applause when the car finally reaches the finishing post.
The graphics are very nicely rendered indeed - each of
the stages mapped out with stunning track-side scenery.
The horizon graphics are detailed with spectators, bushes
and rocks populating the edges of the tracks, and one aspect
that impressed me in particular were the transitions from
one road surface to another. For example, near the end of
a gravel section, tiny sections of tarmac would start to
become apparent between the gravel, and the sounds from
the tyres would also reflect the changing environment.
The twenty-eight rounds of the championship are basically
structured into four legs, with a number of stages and
servicing/repair points within each leg.
Once proficient at the game, the player will appreciate
that during a long stage (sometimes taking up to around
25 minutes), it is essential to take great care of the
car and not to throw it into the barriers at every
opportunity. This is because damage is carried across
stages and may only be repaired when a service point is
reached. Typically, the available time for repairs will
be between 15 and 45 minutes, and each section of the car
that has acquired damage, and/or general wear and tear,
will be assessed and assigned a repair time. The player
will then make decisions on what are the highest priority
components to fix before driving the upcoming stages. For
example, there would be no point wasting time fixing headlamps
and wipers for a day time stage in sunny weather; fixing
the engine, exhaust or clutch, for example, would be far
more strategically beneficial.
Rally Championship is good honest attempt at
what is a difficult sport to simulate to a high standard.
There are a few aspects of the game that I feel could be
improved: for example, the presence of what I would describe
as invisible barriers alongside the track is frustrating
and somewhat disappointing - the ability to slap the car
into a ditch or through a fence and into a lake would
certainly moderate the driving style of the player!
Ok, a word about the driving physics. Generally not bad -
it's fun to brake and slide the car through the medium
bends and catch it as the accelerator is floored on the
drive out of the turns. The physics models are affected
by road camber and gradients (for example, put the car in
neutral and it will slowly accelerate down a hill) which
is all very encouraging, but on the negative side (and
this really depends on how much emphasis you place on
having a realistic physics model), when the car is thrown
into the air, it seems to maintain suspiciously static
roll and pitch angles. I would also have enjoyed the
facility of a hand-brake, the effect of locking the
wheels under braking, and to experience severe understeer
out from a turn as a FWD car struggles for grip under
rapid acceleration, particularly when driving in rain and
snow. One other point is that traction appears to be
calculated all-round rather than by each individual tyre contact
patch. For example, placing the left side of the car on
the grass and the right side of the car on tarmac and
slamming on the brakes results in a perfectly straight
pull-up. This is clearly an inadequacy of the driving
model and if improved, would have made an incredible
rally experience as each tyre experienced differing
levels of grip.
But, the game is extremely enjoyable and a most worthy
addition to any gamer's collection. And an added bonus as
that the game also supports link-up and an eight player
IPX mode! Good fun and well recommended.
to Game-Over! for letting us have this review for Speed.
The full review, including a second opinion on the game
will appear in December's Game-Over!
Review © 1996 Game-Over!