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Xpand Rally

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Racing
Developer: Techland

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PC Preview - 'Xpand Rally'

by Alanix on June 25, 2004 @ 1:21 a.m. PDT

Genre : Racing
Developer : Techland
Publisher : TBD
Release Date : September 2004

Gentlemen…Start your engines! Ok, so this isn’t about the Indianapolis 500, but I just love saying that.

Racing games usually have a “niche” audience that go along with the genre of the race. Personally, I prefer the ones that require firing machine guns and dropping land mines, but that’s just me. The past few years have seen a number of racers, both great (Gran Turismo 3, NFS: Underground) and not so great (Kinetica, Spy Hunter 2). I had played the Colin McRae Rally once upon a drunken night and had fun with it, but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea (or at that exact point in time, my pint of Guinness). So it was with some hesitation that I accepted the assignment to preview XPand Rally, but I had been reviewing so many FPS’s over the last month or so, I desperately needed a change of pace. (For more FPS fun, see my preview of The Nitro Family next week, right here on WorthPlaying.com [shameless self-promotion over])

The physics of off-road racing has, for the most part, eluded me over the years. I constantly oversteer into an embankment, or understeer over a cliff. I’d rather stick to the road than skate over it. Somehow, however, XPand Rally’s physics engine actually makes sense to me! I was able, after a few short disastrous laps, to take those skidding turns at full speed, and everything “felt” right! That out of the way, let’s take a look at the individual components.

First things first: this game is positively gorgeous! The environments are as near to photorealism as I have seen in a racing game, including the hallowed Gran Turismo 3. The lighting effects are phenomenal, from the glare of the sun on your windshield down to the shadows on the road. Even if you set your graphics settings to “Highest Performance”, which will lower the detail settings across the board, the game still looks phenomenal!

Your headlights are not only fully functional and realistic, they are also mandatory if you are to survive the night courses.

When your car is damaged (and believe me, it will be), the damage is reflected not only in the handling, but is realistically displayed on the vehicle itself. You can watch in horror as your tires shred themselves into oblivion after a few too many slams against rocks, and then try continuing to drive on your rims while sparks fly.

The tracks are extremely diverse, taking you from the tarmac in Poland, to the middle of the Nevada desert. In Single Race mode, these tracks can be further set to differing types of weather, and an exact time of day. Driving through the Nevada desert at sunset is a glorious sight to behold, and a nighttime race in Finland in the rain is an absolute nightmare.

I’ll admit, as a neophyte to the world of Rally racing, I’m not sure if the vehicle types are the real deal or not, but they sure look, race, and sound real. The preview version included multiple variations of six different makes/models. Fiat, Tiny Hooper, Lion, Center Cord, RV Wolf and Flamenco are all represented here. I have a feeling my chain may have been pulled. After all, a Tiny Hooper looks like and rhymes with a Mini Cooper. Maybe I’m naïve. (Did you ever notice that “Evian” spelled backwards is “Naïve”? But I digress…) But I could swear that I have heard of Fiat. How the hell should *I* know? I’m only an automotive technician in the “real” world.

The music is the usual techno-beat-box-jam stuff. It works the pulse, it sounds kinda cool, but in the end, adds nothing to the game. In my opinion, racing games are best served by either licensing songs from established artists, or preferably, allowing user-defined playlists via MP3.

The most involved mode of play is the de rigueur Career Mode. Starting with enough funds to buy one of the El Cheapos, you must amass your fortune to upgrade your car. And, as expected, the upgrades are many and varied.

Over 15 types of tires are available, each with their own pros and cons depending on the terrain of the upcoming race. Exhaust, turbo, engine, suspension, transmission and body upgrades are equally bountiful and there for your buying pleasure. Once the vehicle is outfitted, you can proceed to tweak individual settings. The setup options aren’t as detailed as Gran Turismo, but the ability to change the height and stiffness of your ride, the gear ratios (albeit limited to Max Speed or Max Acceleration), and optional manual transmission all add to the feeling of customization, and properly tuned, can spell the difference between the checkered flag, and being towed home by AAA.

I can honestly say that XPand Rally is one of the most beautiful games I have seen. I can also honestly say that it gave me an enjoyable experience at a type of racing that I usually do not enjoy.

Parenthetically, I bought a copy of the latest “Rednecks in a Bowl” racing sim for the PS2, and I have never been so bored in my entire life! I mean, c’mon, racing in a circle for 200 or more miles?!?!? The only thing worse I could think of is a 24 hour “My Mother the Car” marathon that’s been broadcast on every channel. I just had to, once and for all, state for the record that, in my humble opinion, NASCAR has got to be the most inane “sport” ever invented.

In summation:

PROS:
• AMAZING graphics
• A very comfortable physics engine
• Diverse locations spanning the globe
• Twenty-four hour race times with suitable lighting
• Weather effects change each course to make it unique
• Ability to change major settings to match the current race
• Many bogus car manufacturers (Or I’m still naïve) ?

CONS:
• Innocuous background music
• Many bogus car manufacturers (Or I’m still naïve) ?

In the final analysis, I was very pleasantly surprised with my overall experience with XPand Rally, if you are a fan of the genre, it just doesn’t get much better than this!



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