[11 August 2004]
For those of you who regularly read my reviews (there has to be one other person beside my father), you have become accustomed to my focus on race and video games. With rarity, I use these reviews to explore the ways race and other social issues infect and affect virtual culture and other forms of popular culture. The prospect of reviewing RalliSport Challenge 2 represents a new challenge; notwithstanding my critical gaze there is little connection between race, hegemony and rally sport. That being said, this game is “not just a game,” reflecting widespread discourses in around video games.
RalliSport Challenge 2 plays to your competitive desire to drive fast through all terrains. While other racing games—NASCAR and Poll Position—emphasizes the competitive battle between you and the clock or you and an opponent, the focus of RalliSport Challenge 2 lies with your ability to conquer mother nature. Offering “rough, rugged, and untamed back roads,” this game brings together extreme and racing sports under the larger virtual project of destruction and mayhem.
This game possesses all the traditional elements of racing games: sharp turns, gear shifting, the ability to upgrade your car (beyond the Hyundai available during round #1), and time trials. Yet, RalliSport Challenge 2 is very different from the rest with its focus on conquering space and obstacles. This game is truly a test between your virtual self and the terrain of the course. Whether rain or snow, curves or bumps, sun or complete darkness, the challenges of this game are unseen in other virtual racing games.
The unique elements of RalliSport Challenge 2 are not limited to its all-terrain battle of driver versus nature, but with emphasis on violence, destruction and mayhem.
Within the discourse concerning video games, there is much debate about their affects on children, with particular emphasis on violence. Children’s advocacy groups, like Children’s Now, have thoroughly investigated the violent content of games, while others theorize on whether or not playing games contributes to violent behavior amongst children. Interestingly, both commentators and academics relegate their focus to karate, wrestling and sports games, thereby ignoring the violent aesthetics and narratives of war and driving games. This erasure always surprised me give the adrenaline rushes generated by games like Crazy Taxi and RalliSport Challenge 2.
After playing RalliSport Challenge 2 I always have to wait one hour to drive to the market or to workout because of fears of an accident. In the past, the excitement of driving fast within virtual reality, and its encouragement to drive fast without regard for others, carried over into my own driving. RalliSport Challenge 2 virtually grounds me for an entire day because of its violent orientation. Surely, you do not want to see me on the road after a lengthy game-playing session.
Along these same lines, I must offer some critique concerning the lack of realism within “the violent elements of the game.” Within its own promotional materials, it sells the realism as its homage to violence. “Watch how reckless driving affects your car, as glass shatters, bumpers drag, hoods pop open, and doors simply fall off.” Yet, you cannot destroy your car or that of others. Given my lack of skills in avoiding trees and walls (the game is very difficult), I experienced first hand the truth in advertising as I often tore up my car, from windows to the hood, all without destroying the car.
RalliSport Challenge 2 avoids the ultimate driving failure: crashes resulting in death and/or explosion. No matter how many times I drove my Hyundai off a cliff, my car (and virtual self) remained unscathed beyond a few scratches. Worse, such a crash does not even result in an end to the game or a failure at the race, allowing you to continue as you magically return to the road as if nothing happened. Given the game’s emphasis on realism, conquering “untamed roads,” danger and violent driving, this sanitized version of off-road driving leaves something to be desired.
While I felt unfulfilled with the erasure of crashes and violent car explosions, RalliSport Challenge 2 met my needs in other ways. As a Californian living on the frozen tundra of the Pacific Northwest, I especially appreciate the ice-racing mode available in this game. As other games offer racing in the fog or the rain, RalliSport Challenge 2 offers the unique opportunity to drive on ice. For two winters, I have passively avoided icy roads, rarely driving at normal speed, scarred to skid off the road. RalliSport Challenge 2 offers me the opportunity to hone my own diving skills 365 days/yeas so that I too can master mother nature.
As an avid game player, I am always searching for games that challenge me along a number of lines. I yearn for games that sustain my interest, whether offering new scenarios or difficult situations. RalliSport Challenge 2 is difficult, warranting an ample amount of practice toward mastery. In a couple weeks time, I have yet to break the 11th place barrier. Fulfilling these needs, RalliSport Challenge 2 merits play because it provides a virtual space of thought concerning discourses on violence and destruction within virtual reality. While driving and driving games tend not to inspire me, RalliSport Challenge 2 remains fixed in my Xbox—at least until winter.