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January 24, 2003
WRC II Extreme - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
6/12/2002SonyEvolution Studios1-2 (Simul)
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen

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Check out the car detail.
These days, if you walk into your local games store and ask for a PS2 rally game, you'll more than likely be swamped by piles of games, especially with 3 big name titles (V-Rally 3, Colin McRae Rally 3 amd WRC II Extreme) released in the last couple of months alone. Now there must be a big interest in this genre to cause so many releases by different developers. So what exactly is it about Rally games that make them so popular? Is it the scantily-clad racing girls parading around the track? They're not as 'exposed' as the Superbike babes... Or the chance of cars colliding and causing perilous mayhem? A little hard with several minutes between cars... Then perhaps cars flying around scrawny tracks, assisted only by a co-driver reading directions? Getting closer... And varying track surfaces from snow and ice to gravel and tarmac, where races occur regardless of weather conditions? Well... Or perhaps the constant threat of mistiming a corner, clipping a rock, and turning a 1 ton rally car into an out-of-control projectile of doom? Bingo!

WRC II Extreme is officially licensed by the FIA, and is centered on the 2003 World Rally Championship (the WRC). For the uninitiated, the WRC consists of 115 stages, spread over 14 events located around the world, totaling over 800km from start to finish. Cars from 7 leading manufacturers race for the fastest times on each stage, which is then tallied up to determine the winners for each event. The driver (and co-driver) who has won the most points over the course of the WRC calendar is then crowned the winner. Simple concept? Yes. Simple to achieve? Far from it. Not only do the drivers have to master the tracks under varying weather and time, but they must look after their cars; there are no permitted pit stops or repairs between some stages, and during an event the repair time is limited.

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The scenery is spectacular.
The primary game mode is WRC, where you choose a manufacturer and take the role of one of their drivers during the course of the WRC. Depending on the difficulty level selected, the times to beat change, as well as the car's susceptibility to damage and pit stop frequency. On easier difficulties where there is no car damage or penalties for restarting your car on the track, the game isn't overly challenging. Set the difficulty level to expert or professional on the other hand, and the game becomes more like the real WRC, where every fraction of a second counts, and spinning out or crashing can mean the difference between first and last. Other game modes include time trial and 2-player mode split-screen (up to 4 may race alternately), and also the ability to create custom rallies and championships. The 2-player mode is surprisingly smooth and playable; however the lack of co-driver corner calls makes it rather difficult to judge corners (although the corner direction and severity logos are displayed).

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The in-car viewpoint.
High speeds and blind corners make the co-driver calls vital in any rally game, and unfortunately this is a problem spot in WRC II Extreme. The majority of the calls throughout the game are clear and precise (and they are also customizable in the options), however every so often the calls get too close to the corners, or in the wrong direction altogether. Because of the speed and nature of the game, racing lines are important, and if you run wide of a corner and flip on rocks, it's a bit late to hear 'caution rocks' once your car is on its roof. Another problem with the game is the physics engine when it comes to collisions. While driving the cars around the tracks and over jumps, the physics is spot on, and the different surfaces are easily distinguishable. However, sometimes when the car hits an obstacle at high speed, your car is catapulted and flipped countless times as though a low-gravity cheat were enabled. While this draws 'oohs' and 'aahs' the first several times, it soon becomes annoying and eats valuable race time. These two problems don't occur often throughout the game (unless you're trying to obliterate your car), but when they do you can't do anything but cry in anguish as vital seconds tick away.

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Both drivers are animated.
Visually, WRC II Extreme is one of the best looking PS2 games available. From the initial intro movie comprising of rally footage to the sharp, simple menu system (with animated backgrounds), the game is functional and pleasing to the eye. Once playing the game, the eye-candy rollercoaster begins its ride. Before each stage, you get a helicopter flyover of the track, where you can not only see kilometers into the distance, but also the sheer complexity of the tracks, with steep rises and falls like never before. Particularly on stages like Monte-Carlo and Cyprus, with tracks cut into sheer cliffs, the views are picturesque and breathtaking. Trackside scenery such as people and vegetation isn't overly detailed, but all is forgiven as the game runs at a silky smooth 50 fps when driving through massive forests and past crowds of spectators. The cars on the other hand are highly detailed with around 20,000 polygons per car (up from 8,000 in the original WRC), and environmental reflection mapping on the cars. The cars don't stay pristine for long though, with snow, mud and dust accumulating on the car bodies, and all body panels can be partially or fully ripped off if you wander too far from the track (including blown tires).

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Some very nice dust effects.
The sound of WRC II Extreme is a strong point also, with engine sounds and sound effects sampled from the real thing. All the cars sound different from each other (and drive differently too depending on their size and power), and the changing sounds of the car during a race give a good indication as to any problems with the engine or gearbox. The co-driver could be a little clearer and louder by default (volumes are customizable), and the Scottish/English accent may appear a little too 'foreign' for some. A nice touch for the sequel (or for any other rally game) would be to have different voices for the different co-drivers, although it would make the game rather difficult having French or Finnish corner calls. The game also has the option for mono or stereo sound, but no 5.1, which would have further improved the driving experience. For added European touch, several songs from the Chemical Brothers latest album feature in the menus and replays (which may or may not be your cup-of-tea, but I sure love it).

It's a pity that the two letdowns of this game; moon-physics and co-driver calls, which appear so rarely, are so influential on the gameplay in the later stages of the game. Assuming you stick to the track, the moon-physics isn't a problem, but the co-driver calls can completely spoil a rally. If these two problems weren't an issue, this game would be the must-have rally title, however they rear their ugly heads when one least expects it, and cause stray objects to go flying towards your television. Don't get me wrong though, the game is great as-is, and up there with the best rally games out now.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSStriking visuals give you reason to watch and save the stunning replay.
SOUNDTurn up the volume for the car engine and paint-chipping gravel sound.
GAMEPLAYSpot on driving physics, but let down by some gameplay problems.
VALUEGreat 2-player mode, loads of unlockable concept cars and tracks.
OVERALLA great game that improves on its precursor and delivers a great rally experience. Definately worth considering adding to your collection.

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