Race more than 20 accurately modeled off-road vehicles in 30 stages from Paris to Moscow to compete for the Cross-Country Rally World Cup. Master Rallye requires precision driving, skillful short-term driving tactics, and long-term navigation strategy as you slip, slide, bounce, race, and pound your way through seven European countries featuring deserts, mountains, and forest stages based on the real-life Master Rallye event. Aggressive AI-controlled drivers with unique strengths, abilities, and personalities provide fierce competition for unwary rally drivers.
Single-player modes include Quick Race, Rallye Cup, Challenge, Master Rallye, and Invitation, with the latter two available only after winning Rallye Cup races. Vehicle performance is based on speed, acceleration, handling, and endurance, though not all are initially available and must be unlocked by successful completion of races. Car setups focus on adjustable elements including spring stiffness, damper rate, ride height, anti-roll stiffness, brake bias, unlimited slip deferential, and gear ratios.
Multiplayer action for four players on a LAN or the Internet is available, though Internet competition is dependent on connection speed (three players with 128K ISDN, four players with 256K ADSL/cable modems). Practice, standard, checkpoint, and split-screen games are available in both arcade and challenge modes.
For me Rallies and 'arcade' simply don't mix. I mean, what's the point of playing an arcade rally game, when you can play Project Gotham or totally outrageous stuff like Ratbag's Powerslide? Play HALO when and if you can. Now, that's arcade racing with a bang! Rally driving is supposed to be about the course, about the difficult terrain and the physical obstacles. Ultimately, it's about overcoming the mud and dirt, and fine-tuning your engine so that it can survive the race. Arcades are supposed to be about sci-fi cities, fancy cars, and unbelievable spins; well, that's how I see it anyway.
Alas, it seems that the guys from Steel Monkeys definitely thought otherwise as they've spent their valuable time and consequently money on an off-road arcade rally game with little substance and a rather slim budget to boot. The result is a mediocre, at times entertaining arcade rally game with at times outrageous vehicle handling, a few flashy visual features, and a whole lot of receptiveness. Should I go on, or is this all you needed to know?
Visually, Master Rallye is definitely a mixed blessing. The quality of the graphics is very inconsistent, which means that you will constantly keep changing your opinion as you try to come to some sort of sensible conclusion. The car models are plain and unappealing. They're low on polys and the damage model is, well, hardly detectable, even when your car is supposed to be banged up more than Robin Givens in her Tyson years.
The terrain looks barren at first, but later on, you'll start noticing some lovely details that breathe some life into the scenery, like boat marinas, damns, waterfalls, vineyards, and picturesque European villages. The texturing is well done, with vivid sky and ground texture art. The colors are vibrant enough to give the impression you're driving cross-country somewhere in the beautiful Southern France. The settings are predominantly Mediterranean and the developers have successfully managed to convey that atmosphere to the PC.
Now, if I were to form my final opinion about the visuals based on what I've mentioned so far, the impressions would be mildly positive. I could even overlook the fact that there are no spectators and that the shadows are plain and circular. Nevertheless, my opinion drastically changed as I realized that the same scenery keeps repeating on and on (race after race). Either Steel Monkeys didn't have enough time to model a few different maps, or they simply decided that each country in Europe should look like Italy, or the south of France. That boat marina that I've mentioned earlier is real nice, but god damn it, it seems to 'travel' all over Europe, as you'll drive by it in at least five different countries!
The musical score that accompanies the graphics ranges from hard&heavy to some mellow jazzy tunes and it's fairly simple, but it proves rather fitting when the action heats up. The engine sounds however, are about as far off from the real thing as it gets. Simply put, they're weak and cannot compare to the screams and roars of a genuine rally car engine.
But, the graphics and sounds are only half the story. The real meat of any racing game is its gameplay. Usually, the physics engine would play the key role in my assessment of a rally game, but not when I'm writing about an arcade racer. Therefore, I won't go into detail about how a real terrain vehicle would behave in comparison to what I've seen in Master Rallye, as that sort of approach would prove pretty-much pointless. Instead, let's concentrate on the pure fun-factor of this racer. So, is it any fun driving around in Master Rallye? Well, if we disregard the fact that the terrain gets pretty boring and cyclic after a while, one might say that the sense of speed and the entertaining mix of off-road rally driving can hold your attention for a while. The car handles rather poorly at low speeds, but it behaves much better when you kick it in high gear. Usually, this works the other way around, but hey - it's an arcade racer! The slides look much better at high speeds, and the highflying dirt trails and tire marks just add to the experience. In addition to that, the cars slow down considerably when going over steeper slopes, which is a nice touch and it no doubt adds a bit of grittiness to this pseudo off-road racer. However, when the initial satisfaction of off-road driving, high speeds, and nifty terrain details wears off, you'll soon start to have an aversion to your car getting stuck on even the smallest objects on the terrain.
Object interactivity in Master Rallye is virtually non-existent, which almost seems like a contradiction in terms for an off-road rally game. Moreover, I had serious problems with shifting the gear in reverse, as the controls didn't prove nearly as responsive as I hoped they would. Now, just imagine being only narrowly in front and then hitting a small tree. In Master Rallye, that is about the same as hitting a concrete wall. Then you have to wait forever to back up, and oh look! You're in the last place... Needless to say, this routine can get pretty damn frustrating after a while. To make matters worse, the AI isn't at all forgiving either. It will even have enough wits about it to take a slight shortcut when it can. A definite plus code-wise, but you won't look at it like that when you're trying to back up from that horrid tank-stopping bush.
The rest of this game, meaning its various game modes, are standard and they include quick race, rallye cup, master rallye, and challenge and invitation cups. You know the drill: win a few races, unlock a new track, or a vehicle, and so on. All the vehicles in the game handle quite differently and that is certainly another good side to Master Rallye. However, the game didn't deliver the thrill of rally driving the way it was supposed to. When it comes down to shelling some hard-earn cash, I'd give this one a miss. Unless you're simply craving for an arcade rally game. The good things about Master Rallye simply aren't entertaining enough to justify its many flaws.
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