It’s been over fifteen years (and two console generations), but V-Rally returns with a Kylotonn-developed fourth main entry in the franchise. Out first on Xbox One and PS4 and soon on PC, we put the Xbox version to the test.
As I was typing that opening paragraph, I realized that there are plenty of gamers out there who’ve probably never even heard of (let alone played) any of the previous V-Rally titles. And to further date myself, as well as the franchise – the first game came out in an era where the original Playstation arrived on the scene, and where it wasn’t rare to run into a videogame arcade. And… most of those arcades would have one or more machines running Sega Rally (and of course Daytona USA). Enter V-Rally, which provided a Sega Rally-like experience to gamers at home who didn’t own a Sega console. To this day, I still remember the game more fondly than I do the more sim-oriented Colin McRae titles, as I gravitate more towards arcade-like racers.
The fact that Kylotonn was developing the new V-Rally game was encouraging. They developed the last few WRC racing titles for BigBen, they consistently improved, and finally moved away from trying to compete with Codemasters’ excellent racers by offering a more casual approach to the sport. All good signs for V-Rally 4, but playing it I can’t help but shake the feeling that that promise hasn’t been fulfilled.
V-Rally 4 definitely looks the part, and even though the track designs aren’t always super-inspired (which may just have something to do with the rally sport itself) this is a game that can easily compete even with the likes of Dirt Rally in a visual sense. The shadows and reflections are especially impressive, although you can also see that Kylotonn has benefitted from their work on the WRC series when looking at V-Rally.
My main issue with V-Rally goes back to some of the earlier WRC titles, where it felt like the game was stuck between wanting to be a fun rally racer and competing with the more sim-oriented competition. The result would often not succeed in either, with controls that were too floaty and shaky for an arcade racer and not accurate enough for a sim racer. V-Rally has that exact problem, and it’s almost like it constantly changes its mind as well, as you switch between tracks, surfaces and cars. I get that the experience changes, but certainly there should be more consistency than this? WRC 7 has a similar approach, but it was all about subtle nuances and details – I loved that.
The computer AI in V-Rally 4 also seems a little wacky. Sometimes it’s a field full of amateurs that you can easily beat even while making mistakes, while a restart of the race can result in one of them constantly tailing you and punishing your every false move. The difficulty level during time trails also showed some erratic spikes, which quickly became frustrating – I felt I was being consistent myself, but switching from a podium finish to being dead last, or vice versa.
So in terms of the driving experience, V-Rally 4 feels like a step backwards from Kylotonn’s own WRC 7. To V-Rally’s credit, however, the game has plenty of game modes available – from regular rally trials to rally cross against other opponents and from hillclimb tracks to gymkhana-style challenges similar to what we grew to love in Dirt 3. Another very promising mode is buggy racing, which is more Motorstorm-like and doesn’t suffer from the control issues described above as much – mostly because these buggies touch the ground far less anyway. In its current state, it’s easily my favorite mode in the game.
So unfortunately, V-Rally 4 breaks with Kylotonn’s recent trend of improving with every game they’ve released. The visuals are rock solid, but I wish they had implemented better handling before releasing the game – they certainly know how to do it, because that’s exactly how they improved in between WRC games. Perhaps this one was rushed out the door a little too quickly, and hopefully we’ll get a few patch updates to improve this instead of having to wait for V-Rally 5. This edition’s potential shines through on occasion, but it’s all too inconsistent.