This past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of power slides, car tunings and an abundance of crashes as I’ve made my way through not one but two driving games on Nintendo Switch. Truth is, the console has been lacking in this department particularly when it comes to a more serious and realistic take. While unfortunately Gear.Club Unlimited 2 failed to impress with its sluggish racing and performance issues, the much loved V-Rally series makes its return after fifteen years in the garage hoping to fill that void for Switch owners. Does it manage to succeed?
Out the gate, V-Rally 4 eases you into its muddy, dusty and wet world by walking you through a simple rally race before then introducing you to its main offering, the rather inspiringly named V-Rally mode. This plays out similarly to a lot of racing campaigns – compete in a series of increasingly tougher single or multi-race events, earn cash and upgrade your collection of cars. Besides managing the customization of your ride you’ll also be required to hire your own team of mechanics, researchers and agents along with landing sponsorships with challenges to complete for big cash bonuses. It’s a pretty meaty package overall with enough to keep you busy for some time.
Spread out across the mode’s world map menu (or playable from the game’s quickplay option) you’ll face off in five different types of races. Rallies are your traditional time trial affair – just you and your co-driver competing for the best time across a point to point track. This is rallying at its purest and most enjoyable. Rally Cross meanwhile sees you competing against other physical cars over multiple laps around a multi-surface circuit. Buggy plays out pretty much the same the only real difference being – as you may have guessed – you’re racing in buggies. Unfortunately, I found these modes to suffer thanks to the poor AI of the other drivers and the fact races tended to drag with so many laps to complete.
Hillclimb falls more in line with the standard rallying style but here you’re making your way up-hill in a super-fast car. This can be both exhilarating when speeding on straights and challenging when tackling tighter turns and more demanding areas of the track. Extreme-Khana is the final type featuring a gymkhana-style obstacle course complete with jumps and plenty of hairpin turns. These are definitely some of the more difficult races to be found in the game but sadly this comes down to the overly light and slippery physics. It’s hard enough just sliding around corners on a regular rally track but in Extreme-Khana that corner now includes two containers with a small gap you need to fit through. It’s not impossible sure but it can be frustrating having to repeat sections time and time again because you clipped another obstacle.
On the subject of the handling, V-Rally 4 is no easy beast to tame with the slightest scrape or mistime of the brake often enough to send your car facing the wrong way. What makes trying to get used to the driving mechanics even more infuriating is a lack of a rewind button (a feature most modern day racers have). While it might offer a more realistic experience for hardcore racers, it’s lead to countless hours wasted where I’ve screwed up a turn on the final lap of a seven or eight-minute race and then ultimately lost the race. Rather than go back and try again this, in fact, has the opposite effect and I simply sought to switch it off. With no safety net and a vehicle I spent more time losing control of than maintaining, I also never wanted to take many risks and as a result, the races felt less exciting.
In terms of content, the Switch version of V-Rally 4 doesn’t lose much in the way of modes nor features (with the exception of online) however the transition over from the PS4 and Xbox One clearly hasn’t been a smooth one. Take the game’s visuals, for instance, a real disappointment whether you’re playing in handheld or docked mode. While the car models look fine, the environments rarely impress with a general lack of detail across the board and objects in the distance a blurry mess. Any trackside features you do come across like rocks or trees literally appear a few feet in front of your car. The same goes for the lighting in the game, shadows materializing as if from nowhere. It’s a jarring effect and while I’ve witnessed pop-in plenty before in games this is some of the most noticeable and obvious. So much so I went back to try out some older Xbox 360 and PS3 racers for comparison’s sake and even these looked better.
The frame rate is another area where the game stumbles especially when it comes to multi-car events. The general rule tends to be the more vehicles battling it out on screen the less smooth the action will be. And while at first it was great to see a two-player split screen option included, we quickly found the performance to hinder what could have been
On paper V-Rally 4 sounds like it should deliver everything you’d want for a rally racer. It has a lengthy single player, plenty of tracks and environments and a decent sized list of cars to tinker with in the garage. Unfortunately what the game does manage to get right is quickly dampened by some rather glaring and unforgivable flaws. It’s a real shame, the Switch has seen two racers make its way to the console in the last month and neither has stood out for positive reasons. Maybe 2019 will fare better.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by BigBen Interactive