If you’re any sort of motorsport fan then you’ll likely agree that rallying is a hugely challenging sport that pushes both drivers and the cars involved to their limits of endurance and even beyond. It’s also often a breathtaking sport to watch (let alone partake in) as rally cars charge through straights and turns on loose-grip terrain surrounded by beautiful but also treacherous scenery. Wonderful.
If you became a fan of the motorsport rallying in the past couple of decades then a factor that likely sealed your interest were the computer games based on the sport.
Sadly these days the sport feels like a shadow of what it was, the pinnacle championship for the sport (the World Rally Championship of course) has startlingly little media presence around it (no TV coverage in the UK). Furthermore the number of manufacturers participating today is very little compared to past decades, and the standard of driver competition has declined to the point one man was able to dominate the championship for nearly a full decade.
It’s sad to see the current state of rallying today, one can only hope that in the future under better economic circumstances the sport can return to a form closer to its best years.
Until then motorsport fans can at least remind themselves as to why they fell in love with rallying in the first place, with the help of some of the great rally computer games that have been made. But which are the best? Which are the most memorable? Which games have really captured the essence of the motorsport? Plus, which are old but nostalgic?
Here for reminiscing purposes, is a compilation of the best and most memorable rally games ever played. If you are a fan of rallying and games then some choices are obligatory and predictable.
However the majority of the classic rally games listed here are from the nineties and even if they really show their age now, or weren’t necessarily the best even back in their day, they’ll still worthy of a mention for the impact they had on rally fans.
Network Q RAC Rally Championship
The first rally game I ever remember playing was this gem for MS-DOS computers. Released in 1996 by publishers Europress, this game is in fact a sequel to the similarly named Network Q RAC Rally from 1993, the main differences laying in details like the number of cars, tracks etc.
The game itself is based solely on Wales Rally GB, one of the most famous and challenging rounds on the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar. On many occasions it has also represented the final round of the WRC championship.
This game features all the stages from the rally, along with a collection of distinct, recognisable rally cars from the time including the Subaru Impreza and the Ford Escort Cosworth. Players could try out a championship mode or time trials through the long, twisty stages or have a go at the Arcade rally-cross style races against three other rally cars.
What’s funny is how the co-driver’s instructions are simplified for identifying each turn as either being ‘easy’, ‘medium’, ‘hard’ or ‘hairpin’. I also like how there’s an alarming announcement made both vocally and on screen whenever there’s a large jump ahead.
Sure the graphics and the physics engine look rather primitive now, but for a certain generation this was a neat intro into the wonders of rallying.
Colin McRae Rally
Ah yes, the big one. Back in the nineties the popularity of rallying in Britain made a tremendous surge, thanks in large part to the exploits of one driver competing at the time, the late, great Colin McRae.
The Scotsman’s brand of fast and spectacular driving in rally won him the 1995 World Championship title and captured the imaginations of many motorsport fans new and old.
However it wasn’t just his on track exploits in the sport which allowed Colin McRae to encourage so many to become rallying fans. His own brand of computer games, developed by Codemasters, became a smash hit series that spawned several sequels and it is in all probability the most successful and recognised example out of all the rally computer games.
The very first entry to the series was released for the Playstation One and PC all the way back in January 1998 for the UK market (coming to America in September 1999).
The game takes real cars, stages and drivers from the 1998 World Rally Championship season, when Colin was competing in his iconic Subaru Impreza 22B. These games were never easy but they offered a lot of fun.
Mobil 1 Rally Championship (PC version)
Part of the same series which gave you Network Q RAC Rally Championship, Europress were just one of the publishers involved in this 1999 title released for the PC.
This game, like its predecessors, focus entirely on the championship round Wales Rally GB. What really makes this game stand out is how far it goes to accurately simulate the difficulties faced and endurance required when taking on a rally stage.
In most rally games you can probably complete a single stage in about five minutes, in reality though the majority of rally stages go on for far, far longer than that.
This PC rally game certainly reflects this realistic challenge more than others, with many of the Wales Rally GB stages accurately portrayed to the point most stages will take you about 10 minutes to finish, and that’s not including any crashes of course.
Technically Mobil 1 Rally Championship was released for the Playstaion One as well in 2000, but that version of the game is vastly different and also a poor rally game. Ignore the console port and stick with the PC version.
The second entry in the V-Rally series featured a custom track option allowing you the chance to make absurdly large jumps for your rally car if you so wish. It’s something pretty much everyone must have done if they played this game.
Sega Rally Championship
A popular feature in game arcades, Sega Rally Championship also arrived to the Sega Saturn (by 1996 in Europe) and other platforms including PC and Game Boy Advance. This is one of the earliest and most fondly remembered examples of rally games out there.
Several sequels have followed since, including Sega Rally 2 which spawned some fairly amusing Japanese TV commercials like the one just below.
WRC (Playstation 2 version)
While the Colin McRae Rally series dominated several platforms including Playstation 2, the console also offered the official World Rally Championship game series, which has since been reincarnated for the current generation of consoles.
The original Playstation 2 series was developed by Evolution Studios, which has since gone on to make the Motorstorm games. The same developer is also working on a new driving game called DriveClub which was revealed during the Playstation 4 announcement conference.
Looking back to the WRC game series, what was appealing was that it offered players the chance to compete through all the real-life championship rallies which had been accurately recreated. Each entry in the series (five for the PS2 in total) also included the real-life cars and drivers which competed in the season during which they were developed (2001-2005).
One exception to the real-life driver line-up is Colin McRae of course, whose licence to be used in a rally game was kept exclusively for his own game franchise.
Richard Burns Rally
While Colin McRae is undoubtedly the most famous rally driver to come out of Britain in the past few decades (if not ever), he was not the only man from the UK who competed for glory during his active years in the World Rally Championship.
One of McRae’s rivals was Richard Burns, the Reading-born racer achieving his own success in the sport of rallying becoming the first and so far only Englishman to win the World Rally Championship title back in 2001.
Sadly like McRae, Richard Burns passed away in his thirties but his legacy partly lives on through a 2004 rally game in his name.
Developed by Warthog Games, who received advice from Burns himself, the Richard Burns Rally game may not have garnered anywhere close to the amount of lucrative success the Colin McRae rally series has, but has received large praise from those who have played it.
Frequently described as one of the most realistic simulations of rallying, thanks in large part to its physic engine, Richard Burns Rally has been subject to many custom mods from players even years after the title was first released.
Written by Stephen Goldasz.