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V-Rally 4 review: a mixed bag

Gaming: Classic McRae-bothering PlayStation series returns

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This time last year developer Kylotonn was putting the finishing touches on WRC 7, an officially licensed World Rally Championship game. This year we have V-Rally 4 from the same team, out on Xbox One and PS4 now and on PC in a couple of weeks, which has ditched the real-world sport in favour of evoking classic PlayStation title, and Colin McRae Rally rival, V-Rally.

The benefits to the developer of abandoning the license are creative freedom, complete ownership and, presumably, a few more notes in the wallet to spend on the company Christmas party. The results, however, are more of a mixed bag than a packet of Revels.

Freed from the shackles of a championship calendar, some of the stages are stunning. Highlights including slithering between giant redwoods in Sequoia National Park, dune hopping in Niger and haring along the winding route up Tianmen mountain in China, a la Ho Pin Tung in a Range Rover Sport. Other stages, like Kenya, the uninspiring Lydden Hill facsimile or the Romanian hillclimb just feel like the same three trees copied and pasted a few thousand times.

You’ll no longer be lobbing the latest, utterly unhinged breed of WRC machinery into those four-left-over-crest-maybes either, but where Dirt 4 offered up a carefully curated list of alternatives, V-Rally 4’s garage just feels like whatever the developers could get their hands on. More importantly, it’s fair to say none of them handle with the same intuitive, natural feel that Codemasters has achieved with the superlative Dirt series.

Combined with that most tedious of racing game careers, endless email management, it’s difficult to be enthused about embarking upon V-Rally 4’s world tour centrepiece, even with the addition of rallycross, off-road buggies and the ludicrously titled ‘Extreme-khana’. At least everything’s immediately available in quick play mode, meaning if you just want to experience some rally game tunnel vision or melt some tyres on a gymkhana course, you can, and without having to zero your inbox between events.

V-Rally 4 has its moments, but it’s hardly the triumphant, liberated split from the shackles of making WRC games you might have hoped for. Instead it’s a bit like watching someone leave an established band to embark on a slightly underwhelming solo career. V-Rally 4 is the Mark Owen of racing games. And if you have no idea who that is, that sort of proves our point…

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