Fasten your Seatbelts - 25 Years of Rally Games
Rally games have always been popular in the videogames world and seen many titles trying to re-create the thrill. Some titles are like a Ferrari, nice looking and handles well, and some are like an old Skoda - ugly and handles like a dog. Probably most gamers first rally game would have been the Colin McRae franchise, as he made rallying popular. But actually there were many great titles before the series. Now let us wheelspin off and take a journey through some of the great titles over the last 25 years.
1988 was the 16-bit era, which saw the Amiga and Atari ST dominate the home console market, with PC's using MS-DOS considered business machines. Red Rat Software developed RAC Lombard Rally, based on the popular rally event that RAC sponsored at the time. The graphics, while look basic by today standard were quite good back then. Sure, the only view was out-the-windscreen, and the scrolling effect used to simulate moving up the track looks odd, but these give gamers a thrill of actually driving a rally car, and having a co-pilot with a clipboard of the track layout added a dimension of reality.
Now onto the console era of the 90's. 1991 was when Human Entertainment released Championship Rally on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). This was an overhead view, much like Spyhunter, so not a rally game in the traditional sense, but addictive none the less. In 1993, Europress decided to dip a toe into the market and released the awesome Network Q Rally for MS-DOS, as now PC's were finding their way into our homes. This was based on the same rally event as Red Rat Software release in 1988, just with a different sponsor. This offered realism as this time you had weather, like rain but going around corners feeling like the car was on rails.
This was the best rally title released until 1996 when Europress decided to release a new, updated MS-DOS version of Network Q Rally but added Championship to the end. This title offered a behind-the-car camera view, as you are offered in racing games these days. The handling got much better and actually felt like a car that could skid out of control, which you had to control to finish stages in good times. This brought some well-known rally cars with it, which actually looked like there real-life counterparts and included a Subrau, Escort Cosworth and Renault Megane. A year later saw a slightly updated version of this same game called International Rally Championship, which added new tracks around the world.
Now we are coming up to the console era of rally games and one of the best is Sega Rally Championship. Released 1995 on PC and Sega Saturn by AM3, this brought an arcade feel to the rally experience, which involved a lot of power sliding and looked cool and spectacular for the time. Infogrames are up next with V-Rally, which was a success on PC, Nintendo 64, and Sony PlayStation in 1997. I thought this title did not offer much difference to Europress's Network Q Rally, in terms of graphics and realism. The titles success was due probably to its release on the PlayStation.
Next up is probably one of the best rally titles, even - the original Colin McRae Rally. This title released in 1998 on PC and PlayStation, and offered an unrivalled rally experience like none other. The graphics might look blocky by today standard, but being in the 32-bit era it was to be expected. This is the title that the majority would have dipped there toes in for rally driving games. The franchise ran until 2005 in this format, with each subsequent title being tweaked and new features added or removed from that game. It was a very popular series for Codemasters. The Dirt Series replaced this title after McRae's tragic passing.
In the period of 1998 and 2005, when the Colin McRae franchise was out there were quite a few other titles released. There was Sega with a sequel to their Sega Rally Championship which offered a few features. Also Infogrames released two other V-Rally games, which again only offered minor tweaks. Europress, with help from Ubisoft, brought Mobil 1 Rally Championship out which was very much like Europress previous Network Q Rally, which brought absolutely nothing new to the table. Ubisoft decided to have an attempt with a rally game called Pro Rally. This looked a lot like Network Q Rally Championship, and played very similarly. The follow up title was not much different and never brought any success to Ubisoft. Two other rally games were released from little known developers, but they were not great, and I didn't recall them until I started this article.
The real rival to Codemasters Colin McRae series was Microsoft own RalliSport Challange series, which had two games in the series. This brought a very realistic rally experience and in my opinion was even better than the McRae series. 2001 saw the birth of the WRC series, with the PS2 version of World Championship Rally. This offered rivalry to Codemasters rally game series and this meant that in early 2000's there were three decent rally titles to choose from, depending on your gaming platform. With the death of Colin McRae, Codemasters renamed the series to Dirt, and brought with it a more arcade feel. This brought newer cars, better graphics and more gaming modes to give more challenges, and is still a popular series.
That is the history of rally games over the last 25 years. The only series of rally games that are still going today is the Dirt and WRC series. I am not a fan of the WRC games these days, as I find that the previous few titles have not been very accurate. The layout of the stages does not follow the actual ones used in a season, and the handlings of the cars is quite unrealistic. And Dirt series seem to have lost focus on rally driving and is leaning towards the acrobatic/precision type of driving. I prefer the older titles in the series, as I believe they were more revolutionary in what they achieved on older PC's and consoles, due to the lack of raw power they had back then to create games with, compared to today powerhouses.