Reviewed: January 23, 2003
Released: November 1, 2002
After losing myself for nearly two months to RalliSport Challenge on the Xbox I never dreamed another rally racing game could ever hope to capture my interest. Ubisoft has managed to surprise me with their release of Pro Rally 2002 for the GameCube, and while it doesnít quite measure up to games like RalliSport Challenge or the Colin McRae games on the PC, itís the only rally racing game you can play for the GameCube, and itís not a bad one at that.
Originally announced at the 2001 E3 show, Ubisoft has been sitting on this title for almost two years. Frankly, I had forgotten all about it until it showed up at the office for review. After a few practice laps and a tour through the Championship series I was more than impressed with Pro Rally. Itís not the most technically advanced or realistic racer in the genre, but it does offer a refreshingly approachable game model that stresses fun over realism. While this may turn off ďsimĒ enthusiasts, the casual gamers are going to love it.
Pro Rally 2002 features:
Rally racing is an imprecise sport. Whether you have played games like RalliSport Challenge on the Xbox or the rally modes of Gran Turismo 3 on the PS2 or Sega Rally on the Dreamcast you will know itís all about loose handling and compensating during those treacherous power slides on unpaved tracks. Pro Rally 2002 takes the edge off the seriousness of the sport by offering a forgiving game engine that allows anyone of any age or skill level to play and actually drive well with a bit of practice.
As with most racers there is a good assortment of racing modes including; Driving School, Time Trial, Arcade, Championship, Versus, and Trophy. Much like the licensing tests in the PS2ís Gran Turismo series, you will need to complete the Driving School to obtain the necessary licenses to compete in the Championship series. Then itís off to the races.
Rally racing is a lonely sport, which may turn off a lot of gamers. You simply donít have the thrill of going bumper to bumper with a pack of cars, wedging your way into the lead on tight turns, or passing others on a straightaway. Itís just you and your co-pilot and a stopwatch and some gorgeous scenery.
If you crave that interaction with other drivers then you can fire up the arcade and trophy modes and go up against skilled computer drivers in a variety of special circuit challenges, but these modes must first be unlocked, which is a bit odd considering their obvious wide appeal to first-time gamers. Drivers are forced to jump through a bunch of challenging and often boring ďhoopsĒ before they can play the entire game they have just purchased.
The Versus mode is great fun and lets you race against another human in split-screen on any of the tracks you have previously unlocked. These tracks can also be used in the Time Trial mode, which may prove to be a better alternative to learning the game than the Driving School, although you are still going to need those licenses sooner or later.
Originally released on the PS2, Pro Rally 2002 has undergone some minor cosmetic surgery to give this game a bit of next-gen flair. Unfortunately, the enhanced textures, reflections, and nifty shadows only partially mask the mere average gaming environments that are simply created with too few polygons. The designers have done an admirable job of using the available power inside the GameCube, but short of completely reengineering the entire game, there just wasnít enough quality material to start with.
The menus and the interface are quite nice, easy to navigate and understand and the choice of chase, bumper, and cockpit cams is always a welcome addition. The claustrophobic cockpit view may be a bit intimidating for the casual gamer, but it offers one of the most realistic racing views in console racers, a view that is often overlooked. In fact, if you plan on driving a manual transmission then you are ďforcedĒ to drive from this view.
Pro Rally 2002 offers up the same Euro-techno beats that have become all too popular (and stale) in most contemporary racing games. Youíll either want to turn it down or off eventually in favor of the sound effects, but even those are merely average. Most of the game is raced in solitude so you are left with the droning of your carís engine and not much else. Ambient sounds are minimal and unless you are racing one of the modes that allows for multiple cars, the entire sound presentation is just pretty boring.
What few sounds that are present are all of excellent quality and offered in a Dolby Pro Logic II mix that does a great job of varying the sound levels based on your chosen camera view. Other car sounds are placed in a virtual 3D world appropriate to their location so you can tell someone is trying to pass you on the left, etc.
The biggest part of any racing title is always the championship mode, but in Rally Pro 2002 this is one of the weakest parts of the game. It just simply isnít that long or involved and it never really captures your interest long enough to keep you wanting to play.
There are several cars to unlock and licenses to earn and you will certainly want to unlock the Arcade and Trophy modes. These along with the Time Trial and Versus will help to give this game some added value, but I fear only those that are most desperate for a racing game are going to want to play this much longer than a typical rental period, which is about all I can recommend for this game.
Serious rally racers may be turned off by the floaty physics that allows you to catch exaggerated air or go 0-60 or 60-0 in a nanosecond, but if you enjoy arcade-style racing along the lines of the Sega Rally games then you may want to take this game for a test drive.
Itís not the deepest or the most realistic racer on the block, but itís the only rally racing game the GameCube has got (for now). If you donít have any other consoles and you have that unquenchable thirst for off-road racing then give this one a rental. If you like it you can probably find it for a budget price, but most racers will probably want to hold out for something a bit better.