V-Rally… now that’s a name we haven’t heard for some time.
In fact the last time we were able to go hands on with the classic arcade rally series was all the way back in 2002. That was when V-Rally 3 arrived to bring us a rather exhilarating experience. Now though, rally games have changed.
Realism has proved to be king of the racing genre in recent years, but with veteran racing developer Kylotonn of WRC fame at the helm, does V-Rally 4 maintain those same levels of brilliance we’ve come to expect, or has the time away meant it’s slipped behind the crowd?
As with most modern Rally titles, V-Rally 4 kicks into action with an introductory tutorial stage and after racing through the dusty mountain roads, performing a mid-stage donut as requested and hurtling through some hair-raising ‘left-three-over-crest’ calls, I was certainly excited. Unfortunately, that excitement was rather short lived as the overall experience with V-Rally 4 is too much of a mixed bag to allow it to produce unwavering enjoyment for anything more than a short period of time. That’s a shame too, because there are some exciting moments in there that show the true potential of just what the V-Rally series could be.
From the main menu players have the option of three game modes – V-Rally Mode, Quick Game and Multiplayer. The former is the place most will spend their time – what with it being the game’s main mode – but just how well you get on with this will depend on how well you cope with the awkward grind to progression, the oddly unpredictable handling and the unbalanced A.I..
The V-Rally Mode isn’t like your typical rally career. There’s no defined calendar, there is no pre-set progression route and there are no track licenses tying the game down to specific layouts or locations. Sadly, there’s also no easy way to understand just how close you are to achieving your overall goal of becoming World Champion across all disciplines; Rally, Buggy, Hillclimb, Extreme-Khana, and V-Rally Cross.
To progress through V-Rally mode, players must choose an event from the Activity Hub with the easiest options consisting of a one or two-day event with little cost and a minimal payout, and the more intense ones covering several days and tracks whilst dropping bigger payouts. Perform well in these and you’ll be given the opportunity to pick up a contract with manufacturers which give specific tasks for you to achieve; winning four activities in a row and so on. Doing this for long enough will ultimately see you progressing towards becoming the champion of each specific discipline, although there is nothing to state just how long that takes besides chalking off a win in every event that pops up across the Activity Hub screen.
You won’t immediately be given the opportunity to jump in with the best cars however, and to get hands on with some of the finer machines out there, you’ll need to keep back some savings earnt from race day to put towards that new ride. Not every penny can go towards the flashy new vehicles though, as you’ll also have to fork out for your crew, the guys behind the maintenance of your car and the various upgrades for it, along with their weekly wages and the repairs needed for your vehicle. You’ll also need to buy your way through Classes 1 to 7 rather than simply saving up for one of the better cars straight away.
Whilst that won’t sound bad to most, and there will be some who even wish to applaud the realism in that respect, it is entirely possible to be stuck in a loop of having nothing but basic events offering minimal pay to choose from; having the majority of that pay go out to your crew staff and vehicle maintenance should you finish anywhere besides first in each race, increases the frustration. See, the problem with that is the fact that finishing first isn’t all so simple, even on the easiest of difficulties. A big reason for that comes down to the unpredictable handling and the unbalanced A.I.. As someone who has put plenty of time into nearly every racing game from the last several years, I feel pretty comfortable in saying it’s not my ability that’s causing the issue either.
Whether you use a steering wheel or a controller the handling results are the same in that you’re going to end up losing control of your car at some point, mostly through no fault of your own. Even by fiddling with the sensitivity options, there’s no way of changing the fact that hurtling down straight roads often results in zigzagging, whilst on other occasions you can find the vehicles becoming far too stiff for their own good causing a brutal brush with the bushes and making sticking to that ideal driving line seem more like a hardcore bet that you’re never going to achieve.
The confusion in this comes from the fact that whilst V-Rally is very much an arcade series, and V-Rally 4 has that arcade feel, it’s almost like Kylotonn have tried to infuse an element of simulation to the handling. The idea of an arcade/simulation hybrid sounds exciting, but in V-Rally 4 it simply doesn’t work as intended, instead resulting in unpredictable racing and more forced event restarts than many will want to admit.
If you don’t like the idea of grinding your way through tedious events however and just want to get straight in there with the more exciting cars, letting rip on the rather beautifully designed locations and stages, then moving away from the V-Rally Mode and on to Quick Game is the way to find enjoyment. Here players can jump straight in to any event across any discipline and for me, the one that makes it most enjoyable is in the Extreme-Khana events. These are unlike much of what we see in typical rally games, and whilst we had DiRT 3 bring us a teasing Gymkhana experience through its Jam Session modes, the Extreme-Khana option in V-Rally 4 is what we’ve been looking for all along.
First of it all it feels different to the rest of V-Rally 4. For a start the handling doesn’t seem to have the same issues, the weight of the car feels right and the gameplay is genuinely the most fun I’ve had playing the entire game. After jumping in to a modified Mazda RX8, I’d have been more than happy to see the entire game based around Gymkhana than what we’ve actually got as there is something highly exciting and tension-building about putting your car through its paces, as you drift around a stunt focused course in the fastest time possible.
Another positive is delivered via the game’s damage modelling and it is this that can see bends in the bodywork appear from a poorly landed jump. When put with the rather beautiful visuals – that oddly seem a lot more beautiful from cockpit or bonnet cam – it becomes obvious that V-Rally 4 isn’t all a swing and a miss.
Unfortunately though, the Multiplayer doesn’t exactly provide much more to shout about. Sure, it works as intended, but it doesn’t bring the same levels of enjoyment as that seen in the Extreme-Khana events. Even the surprisingly satisfying buggy racing fails to live up to expectations, and that’s because once more those damn handling issues present themselves again.
One final feature worth mentioning is the fact that there are also some online featured events available courtesy of the Online Hub in V-Rally mode. These events are time limited and provided you can finish amongst the best times you’ll be in for a chance at winning some ideal prize rewards.
But other than that, there’s not enough here to keep the V-Rally mode from feeling like a chore rather than an enjoyable and fulfilling career mode, and unfortunately that feeling drips down to the overall V-Rally 4 experience. It’s an unfulfilling experience with no clear idea of what it’s trying to achieve.