Christmas 1997 was a big deal for teenage Michael. It marked a major change for me when it came to video games. Previously, I was an exclusive purveyor of Sega products (a Genesis and a Master System). But the Sega Saturn, and more importantly its games, never interested me. When it was finally time to upgrade, I decided to switch teams and give Sony a try.
That morning on December 25th I received a shiny new PlayStation console. Knowing how much I liked cars, my parents had given me a racing game to along with the system. It would be my first ever game for my PlayStation and my first ever console game to come on a CD-ROM. The game was Need for Speed V-Rally.
Authentic World Rally Championship Cars
V-Rally was a dedicated rally game based on the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) that was run in 1997. Being a recent convert to rally racing, I was overly excited to play this game. I turned it on and started to browse my choices of vehicles.
There were eleven cars in total that competed in various classes on the WRC circuit. At the top of the ladder were a mix of Group A and WRC rally cars. These were the all-wheel drive monsters including the Subaru Impreza WRC, Toyota Corolla WRC, Ford Escort WRC and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV.
The was also a selection of FIA 2-Litre World Rally Cup cars. These were all front-wheel drive cars that ranged from small lightweights like the Peugeot 106 Maxi and Citroen Saxo Kit Car to the more powerful, yet heavier Nissan Almera Kit Car and Skoda Felicia Kit Car.
Not as Authentic WRC Gameplay
The game featured a variety of tracks set-in real-world locations, with surfaces covered in asphalt, gravel, dirt, mud, or snow. There were three game-modes available; arcade, championship or split screen.
Arcade mode had three difficulty levels to pass that increased in length as things got tougher. Any car in the game could be used here and the opponents would drive similar vehicles. The Championship mode simulated an entire WRC season where gaining points at each event would eventually determine a winner. Once again, whichever car the player selected would set the opponents vehicle choice.
As a game trying to best emulate rallying, basic pace notes were shouted at the player before each corner. The race itself was not as authentic. Instead of the typical solo drive against the clock on a rally stage, four cars were on track at the same time competing in a race for position. It was like participating in a rallycross while driving through rally stages. The courses themselves were extra wide, circular rally stages that repeated into laps.
Less Need for Speed, More V-Rally
V-Rally was a big departure from the arcade racing games I was used to. This was the first semi-serious racing game I’d experienced. I had to concentrate on my approach angles, cornering speeds and general car placement. I was excited for the challenge, ready to master this game.
But the controls would never let me. They were beyond sensitive and sporadic. The slightest input would dramatically change a car’s direction, or maybe it wouldn’t. It felt like I never knew when, or how much, the car would respond to my inputs. Remember, this was a PS1 game with a PS1 controller that used a non-analog D-pad directional interface. Steering inputs were either on or off and I would be furiously tapping the buttons left and right, trying to keep my car in control.
There were no rally slides and sometimes under hard cornering the car would just start to tip over. It wasn’t consistent or intuitive. The different road surfaces did significantly change how the car performed, so at least there was that nod to realism.
Colin McRae Dreams Crushed
After a while, I did get the hang of the lightweight Kit Cars, having fun and success with them. But that isn’t what interested me in the game. I wanted to be like Colin McRae. The Subaru Impreza WRC was by far my favourite rally car at the time and McRae was my favourite driver.
But try as I may, when ever I got behind the virtual wheel of the Impreza, I would inevitably biff it in a wall or end up pointing backwards. Only when the competition was set to the easiest difficulty would I win, and that usually included a race with me crashing multiple times.
I was too uninformed to know how to properly adjust the car’s tuning back then and I’m sure that could have helped me. But with the Championship mode being so long, the frustration of the controls and general repetitive grind of the game, I was turned off V-Rally in a relative short period of time.
But it will forever be my first foray into PlayStation graphics and more realistic racing games, so I will always remember it for that.