Rally racing can be fun, especially when experienced from the comfort of your own home in front of a computer. Digital Illusions does a nice job of transforming the Race of Champions event into a viable and fairly exciting rally simulation. While it's not the absolute best in the genre, it does provide a number of good qualities in its featured cars and varied tracks. Unfortunately, the game doesn't offer a truly realistic feel for the cars themselves, nor does it offer a signature sound for each of the car's exhaust.
Michelin Rally Masters: Race of Champions does, however, offer an enjoyable and easy to play rally racing game. The physics engine is reasonably challenging, but not to the point where it's so realistic you need to be a rally driver to master it. On the other hand, it's not as challenging as it should be, given that one is flinging cars of various sizes and power around tracks filled with dirt, mud, snow, and more.
The featured cars include the famed Lancia Delta Integrale, a dune buggy, Toyota Rav 4 and several others, all of which appear as boxy renditions of the originals and could be better designed. The background is beautiful, as well as free of any strange pop-up or interference and collision issues. The biggest drawback is the uniform sound made by all of the cars, an aspect that definitely detracts from the realism.
The Race of Champions is set up as a two-lane figure-eight style track that's folded in on itself. Basically, you race side-by-side with an opponent who is driving an identical car; at some point during the race, the drivers' switch over to their opponent's side, ensuring that both cars race an equal distance. It's an extremely ambitious setup in that you must use skill and cornering speeds to get the upper hand, which makes the game quite challenging.
While the sound lacks depth and the graphics are somewhat pedestrian, gameplay is truly what makes the game as enjoyable as it is, despite the lack of an outstanding physics engine. The game is limited in scope, but does a very good job of capturing the overall appeal of the event. Hardware acceleration has a positive impact on the look and feel of the game and, without it, the effect is choppy and the game feels unrefined. With it, gameplay is smooth and flawless with only the occasional blip.
Michelin Rally Masters: Race of Champions is a superb game for rally enthusiasts and brings a number of good attributes to the track. However, it falls short in that it doesn't capture the essence of rally racing, especially the technique involved in driving these machines and the physics involved in their operation.
Graphics: While the graphics are good, the cars could be better designed. Damage accrues nicely, but is not specific enough to represent exactly how each impact affects the car.
Sound: All the cars sound the same and there's no noise to differentiate the individual surfaces on which the cars race. Obviously, the sound of tires cornering on snow or ice is different than mud or a dry surface, and the effect is lost here.
Enjoyment: The designers deliver a product made enjoyable through the ease of control and level of difficulty that makes it challenging but not impossible. The game does a good job at capturing the experience of racing within the Race of Champions, but doesn't give you the feeling of actual, realistic rally racing.
Replay Value: The game can be played countless times, but loses value once you've mastered the characteristics of the cars and tracks.
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