Review: Top Gear Rally 2 (N64)

In this review, we try not to break our car in the N64 game Top Gear Rally 2. We find out how well this racing game plays.

This game was released in 1999 and is a direct sequel to the the more well known N64 game Top Gear Rally.

We have some familiarity with this seemingly elusive series. We previously played Top Gear 3000. That game got an impressive score here. We also tried Top Gear Overdrive. That game also got a great score. So, we though we’d try another game in the series to see how it plays.

The game starts you off with an introductory set of races. Each race features a series of legs. In the introductory race, you get a car and are forced to take on one of the most challenging terrains right off the bat – farmland.

You’ll be shown how different instruments can break down during the race as you drive. This can include engine coolant, computer chips, suspension, and tires. During the race, tires is about the only thing you can repair part way through the race. The only thing that comes close is the engine cooling itself off.

Your vehicle gets damage depending on what you put your car through. For instance, if you race your car through a river, then you run the risk of parts like the computer chip frying. If your computer chip fries, then you may not have various bits of information you may see on your HUD (Heads Up Display) such as the car radar.

If you skid your tires on surfaces your tires don’t perform well on, then you risk blowing a tire. Should you blow a tire, your steering is severely compromised and you need to conduct a tire repair as quickly as possible. This can be handled in the start menu.

If you push your car through areas that your tires can’t handle, then you are putting stress on your engine. After a while, your engine will overheat. Ironically enough, an overheated engine doesn’t really do anything to your performance. Additionally, there is nothing in the game that helps keep the engine cool.

When you complete the race, you’ll be rewarded with championship points as well a extra credits. Between races, you’ll gain access to the time repair van. While this may sound odd, you’ll figure out quickly that not only do repairs cost money (if you have more expensive parts that is), but time as well. Should you blow a suspension and you repair it in the time van, you’ll be assessed a penalty to repair that part. So, it pays to keep your race as clean as possible in more ways than one.

As you can tell, this game is all about time. Not only does the time van impact how you perform in race, but the races also feature a staggered start. This means that while there are other cars on the road, you are ultimately racing against the clock. The driver of the four that finishes the race with the best time wins the race.

At the end of each championship, you can be rewarded a trophy as well as an additional reward. Winning races means more sponsors will be interested in putting their name on your car. This translates to more credits between each race for good performance.

As you win championship races, you’ll not only unlock new championship races, but also new teams to race with. There are both pros and cons to jumping ship to new teams.

The massive pro is that you’ll have a new car with potentially better base stats. This can include better handling, acceleration, and top speed. The massive con is that all that money you sunk into the previous car will be lost. All of those upgrades will go straight down the tubes. As such, you need to figure out when it is most advantageous to move to another racing team.

As for the races themselves, you’ll encounter a number of different environments. This includes farmland, desert, and mountain environments. Each environment offers its own set of challenges. To make things even more interesting, you can take on different environments as well including day/clear, night, rain, and snow.

CP points are earned for different accomplishments. You can win CP points by beating various races. There is, however, a second way of earning such points. This involves racing through driving school. Winning gold trophies also earns CP points. In the driving school, you’ll learn how to drive more effectively in each race. Knocking down cones will earn you time penalties. Get within the target time and you’ll earn a trophy and potentially unlock more races.

In between each championship race, you’ll get the chance to upgrade your car. While the game isn’t entirely clear what part does what half the time, different parts can improve the performance. Probably the most important part is the tires. You can buy tires that can handle different environments such as pavement, dirt, mud, snow, and rain.

At first, the tire stats seem straight forward. If it is raining, pick a tire that can handle rain. If you are going through dirt roads, pick a tire that can handle dirt. Are you flying through snow? Pick a tire that can handle the snow.

Unfortunately, the benefits are much more limited then you would think. A lot of races feature multiple terrains. An example would be tracks that contain a lot of pavement as well as some long stretches of dirt. Unfortunately, there isn’t really one tire that performs well under these conditions. As such, you might wind up with a tire that handles the pavement no problem, but wind up popping 3 or 4 tires when you hit the dirt stretches. Even with every tire unlocked, there isn’t one tire that will completely smoke those areas. As such, you are reduced to trying to find the better part of both evils.

For me, this is one of those games that sound great on paper, but wind up being less than desirable in practice. On paper, this game sounds great. You have that realism of different parts breaking down. You can upgrade so many different parts and customize your car as you see fit. The staggered starts and time vans actually make this game sound quite interesting as well as you are trying to find the best way to make your way through the game while causing the least damage to your car.

Unfortunately, on execution, these ideas fall flat on their face. What ended up happening with this game is that you wind up with cars that are seemingly made of sugar and crackers all the while having four balloons slapped on for tires. Everything breaks down way too easily. A simple skid alone can really ruin your race. Heaven forbid you run through a creek and nudge a rock on the way through. Chances are, your car will pretty much completely fall apart and become unusable after. Because of this, the cars in this game probably have some of the worst durability out of any car racing game I’ve ever played.

The handling is highly sensitive, so it does take some getting used to here. The handling winds up making this game even more difficult to enjoy because it is so easy to go off track. Half the time, if you pass another vehicle, you are threading the needle trying to perform the overtake. If you don’t overtake, you run the risk of another car getting a better time. If you nudge your car too far one direction or another, you’ll probably either smash into your opponent or the wall. Either way, you are going to lose a lot of time.

Whats worse is the parts just don’t make the grade half the time. You can save your pennies as best you can and buy the best parts money can buy. This will only sustain you for a few races. Eventually, your competition is going to overtake you sooner or later. As such, changing teams is a must. With the heavy penalties, it makes it almost impossible to make any significant progress without some grinding along the way.

In addition to this, the tracks and opponents get so difficult after a while, this game winds up being a matter of not if you quit playing, but when. It’s not as though the tracks are unpredictable. In fact, far from it. They are basically pre-made blocks of track slapped together like Lego blocks. It’s actually the fact that the terrain is so annoying that nothing you choose for tires is necessarily optimal for the track. This leads to constant spinouts or regular blown out tires.

What’s particularly frustrating for me about this game is that the general concepts are quite sound. I’m sure some tweaking to make things a lot more bearable could have made this one of the more memorable games on the system. It’s so unfortunate that the execution was so bad, this game winds up being a huge wasted opportunity. It really could have been a whole lot more.

Generally speaking, this is a game that sounds great on paper, but executed so poorly, it wound up being a pretty bad experience after a while. The idea of having damage and customizable parts to the degree shown off in this game makes for a very great sounding game. Unfortunately, the durability and poor part selection makes for an annoying an unforgiving play. With parts constantly breaking just minutes into the race thanks to the lightest wear and tear, this game winds up being a test to see how long you can endure before you just stop playing. So, a rather big wasted opportunity.

Graphically speaking, this game is alright. It’s nothing fancy. There are no real special effects outside of the occasional chip on the windshield that fades away after a while. There is some splashing and dirt does get on the car. The cars themselves are decently modelled. While the graphics aren’t terribly poor, there really isn’t much here that offers any kind of “wow” factor. So, decent, but nothing special.

The audio is very hit and miss. The sound effects are certainly reasonable. It’s nothing amazing, but it gets the job done. The music, however, winds up being pretty poor. The menu music is ultimately the only remotely memorable music and it’s decent enough. Everything else is largely forgettable.

Overall, considering how much this series offered me so far, this game is a huge disappointment. The features of parts with limited durability and being able to replace just about everything in a car makes this game sound quite interesting. Unfortunately, the execution is where this game hurts the most. Parts wear out too quickly, the tracks are repetitive with the block model, and the difficulty gets a bit much after a while. Meanwhile, the graphics are decent, but present no “wow” factor. The sound effects are OK, but the music leaves a lot to be desired. So, a pretty big disappointment on a number of fronts.

Furthest point in game: Lost on the International Pro Sport Championship. Completed the World License, but fell 26 CP points short of getting access to the Rally License. Final car driven is the Argon Focal.

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 3/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 54%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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