Last year, I had the opportunity to review Kylotonn Games' latest entry in the rally genre, WRC 7. Despite a rocky career mode, loading up the game to actually drive a rally car was an absolute blast. When Kylotonn announced this year they'd be working on V-Rally 4 instead of WRC 8, that sparked promise — perhaps the ability to break away from a standard rally career would be the fuel the developer needed to move from good to great. After playing the finished product for a week, I can safely confirm Kylotonn has succeeded with flying colors, crafting what's quite possibly the best rally game of the generation.
V-Rally 4 takes its late 90s, early aughts roots seriously, with game design clearly inspired by the era from the bottom up. Like many titles from that time, variety is the spice of life. Accordingly, there are five different disciplines you can choose from in the game. Rally races will see you spinning your wheels in the dirt in point-to-point time trial races. Hillclimbs are basically the same thing except uphill and in specialized cars you don’t select, as is Extreme Khana except it focuses on drifting in courses crafted within urban environments. Rally Cross events are lap-based exercises with multiple cars on the track at once in mainly dirt tracks. Buggy rounds out the list and is similar to Rally Cross, except, you guessed it, in buggies.
It’s true that these aren’t astronomically different styles of driving — in fact, there’s really only two different things you can be doing and both of these still share connective tissue. But while they do seem similar on paper, the disciplines play out with more than enough distinction to merit calling the game’s variety a success. That’s due to a combination of the game’s physics model, which feels unique in each discipline, and its track design, both of which come together to create a memorable experience.
The game’s physics and handling model is, bar none, the best in any rally game I’ve ever played. Focused on a simcade style somewhat similar to Forza Horizon without any traction control, the physics of the game are intuitive, account for surface type and capture the pure adrenaline-fueled frenzy of rally driving. As you work your way through a track, your car will be thrown around all over the place as you drive at stressfully high speeds that seem almost impossible to handle. In fact, when you first start the game it probably is nearly impossible to handle — as a rally game veteran, it took me quite a few races to come to grips with the handling of the cars on different surfaces. Once I did, everything clicked and the thrill of the game opened up.
There’s nothing like barrelling down a curvy mountainside without the comforts of a driving line or a rewind feature as the anxiety builds up in your throat at the idea your perfect seven-minute run might come to an end just before the finish line. But you’ll make it to the bottom, slide around gravel corners at speeds that would make your curl in a ball and cry in reality, and finally come out on top of the world when you win the event. V-Rally 4 captures that over, and over, and over again, and it’s awesome.
The fun driving comes perfectly paired with exceptional track design that shows off all of the game’s strengths. Each rally track is filled with twists and turns that are unexpected and absolutely thrilling to tackle, with only the pace notes of your co-driver to guide the way. Whipping around these tracks just feels good and refreshing, always surprising and never unfair. This is true of every discipline, with each track having multiple variations to ensure dozens of possible tracks on which you can test your skills. Creating tracks of this quality is an art that most racing games don't come close to, so to succeed here in this way is impressive.
The locations for the tracks are likewise a nice surprise for racing veterans. Gone is the traditional FIA WRC circuit that includes familiar locations to anyone who’s ever played a rally game. Instead, we’re going to new places that are out of the ordinary, sometimes even impossible to rally drive in reality. It’s obvious the team at Kylotonn created a bucket list for cool rally locations across six continents and had a blast designing these tracks. You’ll brave the cold of Siberia. You’ll kick up red dust in Kenya. You’ll travel through the fields and rainforest of Malaysia. You’ll drive through the redwoods in Sequoia National Forest and see geologic wonders of Utah’s Monument Valley. I can’t stress enough how cool it is to see these sights depicted in this game as you race across the terrain, but anyone who’s driven through the likes of V-Rally 4’s Japanese town only to open up to the beautiful countryside will know what I mean. The environments are different, sometimes even fantastical, and they give you a setting quite unlike any other rally game.
It’s clear that Kylotonn is beginning to master the racing experience, but unfortunately the backend systems still need some work. The career mode was a sore point for WRC 7 in my review, and while V-Rally’s is completely different, it’s still not particularly good. It sees you completing event after event, with wildly different difficulties, to earn money for the sake of buying upgrades and competing in more races. It’s a bit charitable to even call it a career mode as it feels more like quick play with limited options. Kylotonn did add a team to recruit who’ll help you upgrade your vehicle and repair it, as well as obtain an agent to get you other benefits, but these elements are just fluff that add nothing to the overall career experience, which serves as poor motivation to continue. That motivation of a career mode is important as it keeps you playing even after the new wears off the tracks.
The only negative of the gameplay is the game’s pace notes. Pace notes are used in rally races to give you a heads up on the twists and turns ahead of you, since rally racing doesn’t have the glowing arrows many racing games have made us accustomed to which guide us and show us how the track moves. In many of the tracks, the pace notes are perfectly serviceable and useful, but in a few, they seem off and certainly don’t account for your speed. It seems the game will spit out pace note instructions in clumps when you get to checkpoints along the track. This makes your co-pilot give instructions too late or so early that you’ve forgotten the information since it was given to you three turns prior. This was a problem for many in WRC 7, so it’s disappointing to see it rear its ugly head here once again.
Online play is slightly improved over Kylotonn’s previous game. Xbox rally players are likely familiar with the fact that, while rally games always have multiplayer, it’s nearly always dead and so they might as well not. Online play with matchmaking is still in if you want to test your luck, but Kylotonn has developed asymmetrical multiplayer as an alternative. Each day the game will offer a few events you can tackle, with an entry fee of in-game currency, and compete for the best times against other Xbox players. If there is an active community, this could be a great way to generate some competition that will aid the longevity of the game.
The achievements are standard fare for Kylotonn’s games. You’ll need to play and complete championships in each of the five disciplines, which will require quite a bit of playing. There are a multitude of miscellaneous achievements as well. You’ll need to own all the cars, which will likely require even more grinding and then you’ll need to boost some multiplayer, assuming you won’t find anyone in matchmaking. This boosting would be quite easy with two Xboxes or a single friend. Overall, I’d estimate the completion to be somewhere around 30-40 hours, though it’s possible an unforeseen difficulty could increase that.
SummarySince they took over the WRC series four years ago, Kylotonn Games has been an underdog in the rally genre, constantly chasing the success and quality of the DiRT series. It's been a rocky road, but with V-Rally 4 it's clear they've created what is undoubtedly the best rally game of this generation. The handling and physics model is sublime, offering a simcade experience that is intuitive yet still capable of capturing the rush and thrill that only rally driving can bring. The tracks are expertly designed to ensure you're always on your toes and always challenged when driving any track, and those tracks themselves are absolutely beautiful and a refreshing experience after years of the same locations from the FIA rally championship tour. There are sore spots, namely the lackluster career mode and an issue with pace notes, but overall this is an unrivaled experience in the rally genre. V-Rally 4 is a game worth experiencing and Kylotonn Games should be on every racing fan's radar after this release.
- Sublime handling and physics model captures a perfect simcade feel
- Track design is excellent
- Environments are exciting and different from standard rally fare
- Five racing disciplines add further variety to the gameplay
- Asymmetrical multiplayer might help with lack of large userbase
- Career mode is still a mess
- Pace notes aren't always accurate
EthicsThe reviewer spent 13 hours touring many different countries among different racing disciplines, kicking up dirt and mud along the way in single player. 14 of the game's 49 achievements were unlocked along the way. The game was played on an Xbox One X. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for this review.
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