Friday, November 28, 2008

Xpand Rally Xtreme Review

Xpand Rally Xtreme, developed by Techland and published on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Precarious new locations, irregular road surfaces, new XTREME cars, special stage and track races
The Not So Good: Still have to unlock content, AI driver difficulty is sporadic
What say you? This half-sim, half-arcade rally racing sequel adds some minor content: 5/8

If you’re a regular visitor to the site (and who is?), you’ll know that I have quite a fondness for rally racing. I mention it when I do my yearly review of a rally game, as evidenced by the following reviews: DiRT and, the prequel to this game, Xpand Rally. So here we go again with the perpetually misspelled Xpand Rally Xtreme. It's like Xpand Rally, only XTREME. You know, XTREME locations. XTREME cars. XTREME XTREMEness. I think I've made my point, whatever that may be. Let's move on.

Xpand Rally Xtreme is almost visually identical to its predecessor, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, Xpand Rally was released in Europe four years ago, but the graphics still hold up pretty good. Everything has a fuzzy sheen to it, but the environments are still pretty detailed in addition to the cars. The new settings don't really add anything to the game: it doesn't matter that races set in Malaysia look like Malaysia or northern England as you are whipping by at 150 mph. The graphics aren't cutting edge like you would find in more recent racing games, but they are surely good enough. The audio is along the same lines: the same spotter returns along with plausible engine noises and campy background music. For a game that features essentially the same graphics four years after they were initially used, Xpand Rally Xtreme holds up well.

Xpand Rally Xtreme is, not surprisingly, a lot like its predecessor. You must still unlock additional cars, tracks, and upgrades through the career mode. You get money for finishing in last, though, so eventually you'll be able to upgrade your car enough to make yourself competitive since the AI difficulty cannot be adjusted (it seems to be appropriate). The AI times are appropriate for the most part, closely mirroring the upgrades you should be able to afford. Every one in a while you'll run into some tough times that will take several trials to beat and the AI times are unrealistically very close together, but overall it's not that much of a pain. The upgrades are identical to before; I understand why they use the process, making your vehicles progressively faster (and subsequently harder to drive), but I don't fully embrace it. While you are given more control over how your car drives by choosing which upgrades to purchase, I would also like just getting some pre-upgraded cars as well. Multiplayer is back, although I was never able to find anyone to play against so I cannot evaluate if the net code got any better. In this title, you'll go way too fast in exotic locations like Malaysia, China, Monte Carlo, and the United Kingdom. All of the locations from the previous game are missing, a decision that doesn't seem necessary and makes Xpand Rally Xtreme less approachable to beginners since the courses are much more difficult (some would say XTREME) this time around. The game comes with the same editor as before, so if you are inclined to making your own devilish creations you can.

Only a wuss would choose arcade mode, so we're mainly going to talk about how Xpand Rally Xtreme stacks up as a simulation. The damage model is very unforgiving: jumps are deadly, even ones that cars on TV can make with ease. Each system in your car (brakes, transmission, tires, et cetera) can be damaged independently, although you might not notice the subtleties as your vehicle goes from “good” to “suck.” The tracks in Xpand Rally Xtreme now have very uneven roads with potholes, grooves, and gaps; this makes the driving a whole lot more interesting and the simulation handles the uneven road surfaces well. Not only do you have to worry about objects outside the track like before, but you'll need to pay attention to things in the track as well. In additon to the more traditional rally cars from games past, Xpand Rally Xtreme comes with some GT vehicles, dirt buggies, off-road 4x4 trucks, and monster trucks. This adds some variety to the game, although the career mode still puts the focus on classic rally racing. To complement these new vehicles, Xpand Rally Xtreme also adds special stage races (where two people compete against each other on a looped course), off-road checkpoint races (which can be very interesting), and normal track races. I do like how Xpand Rally Xtreme has expanded (ha ha) upon the usual rally game and introduced some changes of pace. Still, is this enough to upgrade or even purchase outright?

Almost. I would feel a lot better if Xpand Rally Xtreme included all of the content of the original game, but four years is a lot of time for the same graphics and a handful of new vehicles and locations. It should not warrant a high score based solely on the new material, but Xpand Rally Xtreme is still quite enjoyable and the additions alter the gameplay in the right direction. Overall, Xpand Rally Xtreme strikes a good balanced between the arcade racing of DiRT and the pure simulation of Richard Burns Rally. The inclusion of a variety of cars (including monster trucks and GT vehicles) and new locations with varied road surface conditions makes Xpand Rally Xtreme certainly have more variety than before. It’s not completely different from Xpand Rally, but for an expansion-like price of $20, owners of the previous game won’t feel too cheated switching over. It might not be much new content, but it’s certainly more than some other stand-alone sequels. The amount of new stuff is borderline O.K., so drivers who have, and have not, experienced this series in the past can look at the content included herein (new cars and tracks) and decide whether Xpand Rally Xtreme is right for you. Side effects may include running head-on into trees and dry mouth.