The V-Rally series holds an oddly nostalgic place in my heart. I played the original two games on the N64, something which I’ve later learned was a very bad move indeed. Still, despite being rough as arses it was about as good as rally racing got on a console that sadly never received the excellent Colin McRae Rally.
In terms of franchises to be brought back from the dead though, it’s certainly a surprising one. V-Rally isn’t a brand that carries much cultural cache, superseded as it was by Colin McRae and Rallisport Challenge. Bless their cotton socks though, publisher Bigben Interactive has gone and done it anyway, backed up by the industrious folks at Kylotonn Racing Games.
So what do we have on our hands? Well, V-Rally 4 is rally racing by the numbers. It’s a game that never strays outside the box but delivers and solid if wholly unspectacular package. Unfortunately, V-Rally 4 has all the personality of a paving slab. None of that crazy paving either, but a uniformly square grey slab that you’ll probably only notice when you’re unfortunate enough to trip on it and break your neck.
Perhaps the most important part of a racing game is how it feels. We want to feel like we’re getting behind the wheel of a real car, revving the engine and watching the countryside roar by. On this front, unfortunately, V-Rally 4 feels more like my shopping trips down to Tesco than it does going off-roading around the African savanna. There’s an awkward dead zone to the handling that I could never quite figure out, causing cars to feel loose and unresponsive. Oversteering is common and it can be easy to sleep into the trap of wiggling along the road as you try to realign. Controlling cars effectively can be honed but it never feels quite like mastery, a bit like trying to steer a remote control tin can through a slalom. Poor handling immediately sets alarm bells ringing.
The slightly bewildering intro tutorial sequence doesn’t do much to help matters. Rally racing, at its core, isn’t an overly complex thing to grasp, although this tutorial certainly makes it seem so. Weird bits and bobs were thrown at me in a manner which doesn’t instruct the player particularly well, nor prepare them for an actual rally event.
With that thankfully out of the way though, the bulk of V-Rally 4 is structured around its solo Career mode, and it's a lengthy one at that. There’s plenty for you to seek your teeth into if you’re that way inclined, cramming in a varied list of event types and locales, range from standard V-Rally to rallycross, hill climbs, gymkhanas, and buggy races. The globetrotting tracklist takes in Russia, South America, China, and Romania, looking fantastically varied and oftentimes showcasing a decent level of detail. Some of the locations can be absolutely huge as well, with a massive quantity of potential track combinations formed from the various routes through these landscapes.
Significant depth is afforded to the career mode thanks to being able to hire a team of agents and mechanics, building a team, purchasing cars, tweaking performance, and entering ever more difficult events. It’s standard fare for games of this ilk but it’s no doubt a comprehensive package.
Multiplayer is in the mix but it feels like more of an afterthought than the main event. Harsh though it may be, V-Rally 4 is unlikely to have a bustling multiplayer fanbase at the best of times, so it’s difficult to envisage long legs on this one.
Ultimately, V-Rally 4 is a solid if comprehensively unremarkable rally racing game. It offers neither the simulation depth of Dirt Rally nor the arcade racing hijinks of Dirt, straddling the line somewhere between the two. It can be moderately entertaining despite its dry personality, but up against stiff competition, it’s an all too forgettable entry. Perhaps V-Rally was best left in its nostalgia-fuelled haze.