While the other systems have proven to be off-road fan friendly the Cube has yet to get it right. Does Pro Rally 2002 fill the void?
There’s no doubt about it, when it comes to the racing genre the GameCube is the ugly red-headed step-child of the console world. While a title like Wave Race certainly pushes the envelope of what can be considered possible, for the most part, the other offerings on the system leave much to be desired. One of the many sub-genres that the system has been missing out on is off-road racing. With the exception of the handful of stunt-oriented motorcycle racers, none of which are really centered on racing itself, there really hasn’t even been a stab made on the Cube yet. Does Pro Rally finally provide a contender against the likes of RalliSport Challenge on the X-Box or even Rally Fusion on the PS2? In the end it isn’t even close.
The first thing out of the gate that is likely to annoy most people is the fact that as a default so much in the game is locked. Before you can really begin to sink your teeth into the game you’ll have to earn your license. Now, granted, this model has become a sort of standard deal because of the likes of Gran Turismo; the problem is that for a rally racing title this mode really makes no sense at all. So you load the game up, ready to slide your way through mud and over difficult terrain. WRONG! Let’s start this title up by driving through some paces in a freaking parking lot! Even better, if you so much as sneeze at a cone or a barrel, you automatically fail. So, just to be clear, in a game where you’ll be driving by the seat of your pants through tough terrain you begin by hitting a confidence course, on pavement no less, straight out of Drivers’ Ed.
The bigger shame is that once you endure the monotony of being allowed to hit the rally circuit, very little improves. To begin with there is the diversity and feel, or lack thereof, of the cars in the game. While most games will force you to experiment a bit to find the car that suits your driving style, with Pro Rally it is very hard to say that any one car drives significantly different from another. Compound this problem with the fact that every car feels like it weighs less than a razor scooter, going airborne after sliding more than a foot off the road, and drivers who love to get their power slide groove on will get frustrated in a hurry.
So the control isn’t so hot. You’d think with that in mind the design of the tracks could at least take a stab at not pointing that fact out constantly? Nope. Apparently practically every rally you can choose to race has been designed by people who can’t conceive of straight lines. True, racing isn’t all about straight-aways… to win in a rally you’ll have to count on a combination of smart braking, controlled turning, and sometimes a touch of luck. Still, is it too much to ask that you can go more than 15 feet without turning again… and again… and again? What really disappoints in the end with the title in terms of track design is that with so much turning, and with the turning being a bit wonky to begin with, it is hard to honestly have much fun with the game and the challenge of downshifting to keep your hairpin turn from getting ugly is generally removed since you just don’t get a chance to open it up almost ever.
Visually there are some good points, though compared to offerings on other systems it is hard to say it stands out in any particular area. For the most part what you see on the screen is crisp and clean with some nice texture work. Most of the time, there don’t seem to be any issues with slowdown, which is always a positive thing in racing games, but then again most of the time you’ll be playing and racing by yourself… so there should have been some power to spare for detail in general.
Aurally it is hard to give the game more than a golf clap. While nothing sounds particularly awful it is hard to say there is anything inspiring or engrossing about the game in terms of audio. Bland techno matched with satisfactory engine noises do the job, but even with Pro Logic II in effect there isn’t much to impress anyone with here.
In the end it is hard to be at all satisfied with this mediocre to average racing title. The game lacks the pick-up-and-play fun factor some people enjoy but it also fails to hold one’s attention for long if you’re into a meaty and deep racing challenge. Floaty physics and a sore lack of variety in track design are the standout issues that prevent this game from even garnering a rental recommendation. If you’re jonesing for either some fun off-roading or for a solid challenge, you should start saving now because for the moment, the only great titles in this genre still seem to be stuck on other systems.