Written by: Rik

Date posted: November 19, 2011

This’ll happen quite a lot.

As we’ve mentioned before, there are roughly 10 million rally games available for the PC, the bulk of them released between 2000-2001, a baffling period of over-saturation of what can at best be described as a niche market, during which a largely-indifferent gaming public was bombarded with similar-sounding, similar-looking titles on a regular basis. Rally Trophy is one such title, attempting to stand out from the crowd by coming at the dull world of motorsport from a different angle, offering players the opportunity to return to a bygone era of rallying by driving the low-tech, no-frills cars of the 60s and 70s instead of the luxurious modern 4WD beasts of today that practically drive themselves (probably). So, if you’ve been harbouring a long-held desire to drive a Ford Cortina through Sweden, this is the game for you.

To be fair, the ‘classic’ element, one suspects, is largely there for novelty value, with Rally Trophy‘s commitment to a hardcore, authentic experience limited by an accessible approach favoured by the majority of its competitors (and by me). Despite once owning a Mini, one of the cars featured here, I never did take the opportunity to drive it at high speed through local wooded areas, so I couldn’t really comment in any case.

Tinny engines and some slippery handling are the main concessions to the past here, but in most other respects, Rally Trophy is largely similar to its contemporaries, taking a mixture of arcade and simulation elements to give you a game that’s easy to get into but more difficult to master (review cliché point +1). So on the one hand, it’s playable on the keyboard or a standard joypad and there’s no call to fiddle around with your car’s gear ratios or anything like that, but at the same time, there are no invisible barriers surrounding the track and any mistakes are punished ruthlessly.

Screenshot included due to presence of mildly impressive water effect. Ooooh!

This being a rally game, the main event involves you, your choice from an unglamorous selection of Fiats and Volvos, and several kilometers of mud, trees and rain (or snow). In other words, it’s you against the clock, and although there is a daft arcade mode which allows you drive round and round in circles while bashing into AI opponents, you’d be best advised to ignore it and play one of the many other racers that make that kind of thing their focus (such as Bugbear’s own Flatout series). Yes, the ‘proper’ rally mode is where it’s at, and once you’ve had a chance to practice, you’ll be throwing yourself into the championship proper, driving through a series of stages, set across five different countries, with a variety of track and weather conditions to tackle. Every so often, you’ll have the chance to save your progress and repair your car (within limits) before getting back out there in an attempt to produce a better overall time than your opponents.

And mighty enjoyable it is too. As we’ve already mentioned, the handling can be a little bit slippery and takes some getting used to, but it’s all part of the challenge. Personally, I love the tension created when you know that just one mistake could put you out of contention – it forces you to concentrate, knowing that failure to do so could undo hours of good work – and that’s certainly the case here. Get one corner wrong and you’ll most likely hit a tree and lose seconds before you get back on track. If you seriously go wrong (by, say, driving into a river) then the game’s generous enough to reset you, but the damage to your time (and your vehicle) will be done.

Dusk driving is challenging. There are also stages set in pitch darkness – caution is encouraged.

While the focus of the challenge is the main attraction in a game like this, there’s no doubting the solitary and occasionally repetitive nature of that challenge (and I’ve got 200 candidates for ‘most boring screenshot of all time’ on my hard drive to prove it). Fortunately, Rally Trophy adds a couple of nice touches that add a bit of levity to proceedings. Firstly, races are accompanied by some fairly jolly (and period-appropriate) music that sounds like something lifted from No-One Lives Forever, and secondly, your co-driver, for once, deviates from the “easy left, jump, hard right” script that’s usually standard fare.

Showing symptoms of something approaching a personality disorder, he gives you the usual directions in a focused, monotone voice, switching to a more laid-back persona when you do well (“Sweet! We’re in the lead!”) and then to a sarcastic, embittered one when you crash, as if you and he had been locked in a loveless rally-marriage for 15 years, and the incident is just the latest in a long list of things that you’ve done to really piss him off (“YOU get it from the ditch next time!”). It’s the kind of thing that sounds annoying, but it’s done in such a way that it isn’t – I actually found him quite funny, particularly when, after achieving victory in the Swiss Rally, he unexpectedly announced, “That’s much too quick for me. I need to change my pants.” The only time he got on my nerves was when warning me of wildlife crossing up ahead – I never, ever came close to hitting a deer, but his urgent screams of “WATCH OUT!” did nearly make me crash on more than one occasion.

As always, the in-car view looks best, but produces the worst results.

Some nice scenery is always a plus, too, and Rally Trophy delivers in patches on this front. It’s a shame that the best-looking rally is also the first one – Russia – and everything after that sort of comes as a disappointment. The same could also be said of actually driving the courses, too – after you master the Russian rally, everything else seems like a bit of a breeze in comparison, the odd tricky stage in the snow of Sweden and the faster Swiss rally notwithstanding. It’s also worth noting that choosing a particular front-wheel-drive car reduces the challenge significantly, and while it’s tempting to do so initially, you’ll get more satisfaction from winning if you first get to grips with the more temperamental handling of one of the RWD vehicles.

Even so, securing the championship trophy of the game’s title isn’t too time-consuming, if you’re reasonably proficient at these things, and I personally felt it was all over rather too quickly. There’s little reason to go back, once you’ve done so, unless you want to try and beat all your times (you won’t) or achieve victory with the Mini (you can’t). Still, it’s a fun and well-realised game, with some nice touches, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it over more well-known rally games like the Colin McRae series. Like my favourite rally title, Rally Championship Xtreme, Rally Trophy is about big, wide open spaces, and it’s all the better for it.