Sliding sideways onto retail and digital stores for consoles and PC some 16 years (!) after the previous installment, V-Rally 4 ($59.99) attempts to capture the spirit of the series’ somewhat floaty control system while adding modern HD visuals and online play. While everything didn’t quite work out as well as it should at launch (the reason this review is later than usual), some recent patching has fixed a number of the game’s issues. That said, expect to do a good deal of car tweaking for the optimal experience. Rally fans who want a game that demands constant fiddling with settings and plenty of pre-race practice just may find a decent to acceptable experience comes with that high level of patience the game asks for.
Developer KT Racing has made a tough off-road game that packs in a ton of content in its single player and online modes using real life cars on fictional tracks set in some very pretty locales across the globe. If you go in expecting a total pick up and play experience out f the gate, the mix of arcade and simulation elements may not quite jibe thanks to the default controls being a bit too loose (requiring the aforementioned fiddling) and the solo mode forcing you to pay to enter some races and then pay your in-game manager and crew for their efforts at keeping your small but growing garage of rides in racing shape.
That said, as with the still mighty V-Rally 3, and the still surprising Dreamcast version of V-Rally 2, at some point the more dedicated players who stick with the game will indeed snap into that zen-like state, get into the game’s squirrely handling and very likely enjoy the ride. Amusingly enough, it seems the developer knew the game would frustrate some players and yep, there’s DLC out that allows a career mode boost as well as a digital guidebook to its cars and tracks. Granted, the former is completely optional and the latter should have been included as part of the price (and seems to have been in a newer update), but these days optional buy-ins seem pretty much unavoidable in some games.
The career mode is a bit of a busy mess despite going for a DIRT Rally-like approach. You get the pleasant-sounding manager guiding you through the basics (Hi, Nancy!) as she sets you on the road to assorted race challenges and increasing sponsorship opportunities. Choosing your starting ride is important in career because it initially limits you to certain events until manufacturer tests and events open things up a bit. Things do indeed open up as you place more in the money or win outright, but if you’re in a rush to see more, just dip into the Quick Race mode to get your groove on and mess around practicing or racing in the assorted events as much as you like. While you need to deal with the fairly long load times while the game builds each course, you can then run endless laps or events with no penalty until you’re as good as you need to be for the actual race. The drawback in practice is your co-driver is silent or absent, so you’ll need to rely on memory and hope that co-driver’s calls are dead on when needed.
Traditional point to point Rallies are of course, the star here, but V-Rally Cross, Hill Climb, Buggy, and Extreme Khana are here for their turns. None of the courses are real, but some are set in some really great-looking environments with a few destructible elements. While cars and courses look fine and the game runs at a rapid pace, there’s a odd shimmery effect to the visuals (on the base PS4 and PS4 Slim, at least) as well as some shadow artifacts (if you choose one of the behind the car views). I’m guessing user feedback killed the steering wheel from one of the inside car views, but I liked it because it added to the driving experience. Then again, I recall the last game had too many cameras to choose from as it attempted to emulate in-car cams as well as a few exterior ones.
As for the handling, it’s better with the patch, but still not as optimized for casual racers. Expect to be fighting your ride on courses with super-sharp hairpins or other spots where you’ll maybe bang your car up considerably. Some tracks give you a little leeway when you go off course, while others zap you back to the track before you can roll too far. The physics are intentionally wacky (go find the ramp on the Canada practice track for some fun), but when you nail a track and don’t crash, it’s almost a different game. Damage initially seems to only cosmetic, but you’ll note indicators that show part condition, which seems to affect handling more than speed.
In Career Mode, you’re able to upgrade your car’s stats and even have your race team (which grows in skills as you can afford to pay better techs) bust out some nice improvements as you get better. There’s even a customization feature where you can paint your car any way you like, but it’s a bit tricky to use (a spoken and text tutorial walking player through the process would have helped a lot). I should mention that the AI ranges from too darn good to “Oh, who just wrecked out if the race?”. Thee were some balance fixes (you can now clock in a better time against the AI in Kenya), visuals have been biffed up in spots and overall, the game just feels better to play, although it’s still demanding when it wants to kick you in the rims.
Of all the disciplines, Buggy and Extreme Khana take the more fanciful approach to their track designs. Buggy tracks are all impossible jumps and suspension busting bumpiness in any reality and seem yanked from some other game like KT’s own
FlatOut 4: Total Insanity or one of Evolution Studios’ MotorStorm series (that team actually did the first five WRC games on the PS2, while KT has done the last three for PC and consoles with developer Milestone handling the series from 2010 – 2013). Don’t get me wrong, though, They’re fun as hell. It’s just a big enough shift away from the other events that they stand out. The Khana courses are less improbable but likely wouldn’t be possible in reality thanks to dead drop (if you miss) jumps and dangerous obstacle placement. If you’re an old coot like me, though, you’ll get a chuckle thinking of Remy Julienne in those wild Fiat ads from the 1970’s.
In the pre-patch release, the music was somewhat oddly generic , but my secret to playing any Rally game is to TURN THE MUSIC OFF by default. I don’t know about you, but trying to sliiiiiide around a track at about 160 or so MPH with tunes blaring seems a bit… distracting. But that’s just me. That said, it seems enough people griped about the game’s one song that a patch offered up a different soundtrack (which I still haven’t heard because of my peculiar way of playing). The cars, road effects and co-driver are fine, by the way. Online play is onboard and works well, although I got smoked like a trout every time I tried to play a match. The game also supports split-screen play for two (nice!), which makes it very fun to play if your opponent gets a decent handle on the controls.
There are a few other things I can yak about, but I’ll close here with this: Thanks to the patches, V-Rally 4 is a good deal more playable (and I hope a few more things can be tweaked). While not quite as spectacular as a few classics, I’m hoping if we see a sequel, it won’t take another 16 years and KT Racing can build on what’s here while adding expected as well as unexpected improvements (such as a track editor and even more cars from more eras). This is that sort of game that finds its niche slowly and will hopefully get a lot more appreciated over time by those willing to go that extra mile and see everything it has to offer.
Score: C+ (75%)
Review code provided by the publisher