Review: Power Drive Rally (Jaguar)

Power Drive Rally is an Atari Jaguar exclusive racing title. Developed by Rage Software, it is the sequel to the Genesis title, Power Drive (European exclusive). The action takes place in an overhead two-dimensional perspective.

Power Drive Rally simulates a season of rally racing. Your season starts on Week 1 Day 1. After Day 5 you begin the second week. The final race is Week 7 Day 4, for a grand total of 34 events. The events span across 8 environments, including England, Arizona, Italy, Finland, Kenya, France, Corsica, and Sweden. Rather than racing England 5 days in a row, the game mixes everything up, so you never know what is coming up next.

The game starts out simple enough, giving you $28,000 and the choice between a Mini Cooper S and a Fiat Cinquecento, Group N cars, and then your off. Week 3 unlocks the Group 2 cars, the Vauxhall Astra 16V GTi or a Renault Clio Turbo, though you have to have at least $10,000 on hand. Lastly, the Group 1 cars are unlocked in week 6. To drive the Ford RS Cosworth or Toyota Celica CT-4 you need at least $14,000 on hand.

Throughout a season of Power Drive Rally you will encounter 3 event types. The special stage is just you versus the clock. You will need to complete between 2 and 5 laps around a track before the time runs out to progress to the next event. Rally Cross pits you against a computer controlled opponent. This is also a race against the clock, though you will get a $1,000 bonus for finishing first.

Lastly, there is the skill test event. This event is sort of like a driving test. First, you must stop at a designated stop line. Then, you will have to reverse into a parking stall. Third, you you have to travel through cones that spiral towards a center stopping point. Hitting a cone will result in a 10 second penalty. Last, you must make you way towards, and stop in, the exit box.

After successfully completing an event, you win money. This money is used to repair the damage your car obtained from the event (Engine, Suspension, Tyres, Brakes, and Lights). During the race, your engine will lose power, reducing acceleration and top speed. I never really noticed much handling change. Lastly, when you crash into things, your headlights will begin to flicker.

You also need money to pay the entrance fee for the next race. If you do not have enough money to pay the entrance fee, your season is done and you are treated to the Game Over screen. If you do not complete a race, you have to pay the entrance fee and start again. Thankfully, you can save your progress between events (3 save slots), so you don't have to start your season over every time you run out of cash.

The balance of the season is a bit off. Most events are of average difficulty requiring 1 or 2 attempts to pass. Other events are absolutely mad. One event in particular (Week 3 Day 1) took me over 10 attempts to pass. It requires a perfect run, never letting off the gas, and never bumping into any obstacles. The last event, which is five laps around a brutal course took me over 20 attempts. The fact that you have to pay an entrance fee with each attempt meant a lot of game over screens and reloading a save file.

The controls are very responsive and it doesn't take long to master the steering inputs. While the action isn't as fast as other games of this style, it can be difficult to tell what is coming next. You have a co-driver that barks out what is coming up next ("hairpin left") as well as an arrow. It is effective for the most part, but it can still be tough when a lot of consecutive turns all come up at once. The snow levels are particularly satisfying as your car slides around rather convincingly.

The tracks themselves are very detailed and each environment has it's own look and feel. This game blows away the Genesis title in every way, and really showcases the Jaguar's sprite power. In addition to all the little details, the game also features transparency effects. Trees cast a shadows, and actually cast them onto the cars, a nice touch. There are some night levels as well, with some neat headlight effects that illuminate the track in fornt of your car. The front tires even rotate left and right as you steer. Power Drive Rally is a great looking 2D title. Is this a 64-bit game? Not really. The Neo Geo racers look as good, and feature sprite scaling to simulate camera zoom.

Power Drive Rally features a very generic soundtrack that sounds no better than 16-bit games. In fact, it sounds a bit cheesy, and would be better suited with a Disney platformer. The engine noise is also a generic hum. The highlight of the games sound is the excellent co-driver. The voice samples are crisp, matching modern games well.

I would have liked to see some more game options. The practice mode only allows you to race around in a sandbox like environment, which is all but useless. A time trial mode would have been helpful for the tougher tracks, rather than wasting money and continues. The 6 licensed cars are nice, but you can really only drive 3 during a season. A more mature garage feature would have been nice, so you could select an appropriate car depending on the tracks demands. Neo Drift Out remains my favorite 2D rally racer, but this is still pretty good.

Overall, Power Drive Rally is a satisfying experience. The difficulty can be extreme at times, but leaves you satisfied when it's all said and done. The 34 race events will keep you busy for many hours. The graphics are sharp and detailed, and feature some slick transparency effects. In a sea of average Jaguar games, Power Drive Rally sticks out above the rest.

Graphics 6/10 - Slow, but detailed
Sound 5/10 - Average soundtrack
Game play 8/10 - Addictive game play, long season
Overall 7/10 - Great fun, but does not push the envelope