Tantalus and their 3D engine CRIS isn't new to the
GBA. First with ATV Off Road and recently Monster Truck
Madness, the engine featured 3D graphics which were
very impressive. After a slight update, the CRIS engine
is now able to display car models with 200 polygons
and more realistic tracks. Let's see then how well this
update shows in Top Gear Rally.
When you start the game the first time it will ask
you to create a profile and choose one of the 3 available
battery save spaces. Once your in, your greeted by lots
of little icons to choose your game mode. The modes
are Championship, Time Attack, Quick Race, Practice
and 2 Player. Game options allow you to change the speedometer
to the measurement of your choice. There is also toggles
for the course map radar, the director arrows in the
middle of the screen when driving and the voice of your
co-driver. This menu is very slick to look at and easy
to navigate with quick access to sub-menus by using
the L and R buttons.
Time Attack allows you to take the car of your choice
and drive it on the course of your choice (only for
the vehicles and courses unlocked via championship).
The interesting option available from this game is on
the Kemco Games web site where you can register your
best lap times from the time attack mode and compare
it against other Top Gear Rally drivers around the world.
To register your time you require the password, which
is encoded to insure no cheating or lying of track times.
The passwords of your top 3 attempts at each course
is available on the Time Attack Rankings page. This
is a very interesting idea by Kemco to give the game
a little more longevity.
Practice mode puts you on a test track. On this test
track you have the option of doing a slalom around cones
or signs. You can of course set the distance between
each cone and set it tighter or even randomly. This
is a good way to practice your skills. Quick race allows
you on any track in a single race in a field with 7
opponents. Although true rally racing isn't head to
head, but a comparison of total of times, Kemco has
certainly given Top Gear Rally more of an arcade approach.
There are 3 championships to conquer - Amateur League,
Professional League & Top Gear World Series. In
top gear rally there are a total of 80 tracks, in 10
environments, over 6 different surfaces. There are also
4 types of weather (sun, rain, snow & fog). So far,
I've completed the Amateur League which consisted of
10 rounds featuring 3 stages each. The stages rise in
difficulty as you complete each round, and you are required
to finish at least third in every stage, and second
in one of the 3 stages in each round to make your quota
of points required. If, however, you finish in first
or second consistently, you will unlock new cars, upgrades
and paint jobs as you complete the rounds.
The AI, (even though I don't think should be one
in a “true” rally game) is fairly competitive and you
have to make sure to make very few mistakes or you will
not be finishing first every time out. The championship
is very challenging but rewarding. Even if I was able
to complete the Amateur League first time on each track,
it would have still taken me almost 1 hour of track
time to complete the entire series. Now that's lots
of racing for your money!
The game also includes basic vehicle setup features.
You can for example, choose different tires for different
surfaces or whether you want auto or manual transmission
as well as different steering, braking, exhaust and
gear ratios. I should add, however, that I noticed only
very slight differences when I changed the settings,
even when I chose completely wrong tires for the surface
I was driving on. This was disappointing and another
reason why I'm not a fan of the arcade racer, since
the tune-up options have negligible effects nor does
your car sustain any damage in the game. In V-Rally,
cars actually took on damage and had to be repaired
within the time limits between stages. This feature,
however, is missing in Top Gear Rally.
Top Gear games have always been known as a good fun
arcade racer, and that hasn't been lost here. Although
I am a fan of simulation racers, this game is still
lots of fun, even though the physics don't compare to
the quality of the Colin McRae or V-Rally releases on
the GBA. As for controls, I must say that everything
here is lackluster, mainly because the course layout
themselves are lackluster. One of my main gripes with
the CRIS engine is its inability to create true hairpin
turns which makes nearly every course look similar to
the next. As such, you'll never have to hit the breaks
early, either tap at the start of the corner, or sometimes
when in the corner, and lots of the time not at all.
What's amazing, however, is the car's ability to
jump, bump and roll over. With the CRIS full 3D engine
(cars and tracks in 3D), the developers have succeeded
in giving the cars extra physics like body rolls and
the ability to lift only one or two tires off the ground
when it hits a big rock, or even roll right over on
to its roof (but don't worry, it will right itself automatically).
Overall, as I've said, the controls are lackluster but
consistent and easy to handle, although lacking in realism.
The CRIS engine has come a long way indeed and now
feature cars with 200 polygons each and more possibilities
on track designs, including sheer cliffs and an ocean
side with a following water line (although the water
line didn't look realistic, it still managed quite nicely
to follow all the dips in the road). The car models
and animations all looked just amazing and I have nothing
but good things to say about them. The tracks on the
other hand, aren't the nicest things to look at, and
would have benefited greatly with more variety in scenery.
I'm not sure about you, but I've never seen a 6 kilometer
stretch of city road without any turn offs. On the other
hand, because of the simplicity of the track design,
the developers were able to achieve some highly detailed
car models and great frame rates.
Sound & Music
It took me a while to realize this, because I stuck
with what quickly became my favorite car, but once I
got around to driving all the cars, I noticed that each
car actually has its own distinct engine and turbo sounds.
Most of the other sound effects were also well done,
particularly the drifting sounds. My only sound effect
complaint is that when you do a burn out at the start,
no matter if you are on paved road or sand track, it
still sounds like rubber peeling off pavement. The music
in the menus are very upbeat and nice to listen to.
Unfortunately, there isn't much variety to the
audio tracks so they might become repetitive and boring
after a while.
The CRIS 3D racing engine has taken a step forward
in the right direction with highly detailed car models,
more track design possibilities and all without any
frame rate issues – good stuff indeed and put to good
use too in Top Gear Rally. I must say though that the
game itself is still more “arcade” then I personally
would like, also the lack of car damage and the fact
that it's not "true" rally racing leaves me a little
dissatisfied. I should balance that, however, and say
that I still was entertained while playing this title
and despite my complaints, there's no denying that Top
Gear Rally really is a good 3D racer on the GBA. It looks
good, handles well and has great replay value thanks
to the on-line world challenge feature. So, if you want
a fast and simple rally racer, than Top Gear Rally is
one game I'd recommend.