Colin McRae Rally is an off-road racing simulation featuring licensed cars, 3D graphics, and network support for up to eight players. Compete in a championship, rally, or time trial event in either a 2WD or 4WD vehicle. Slip and slide across gravel, ice, tarmac, snow, and mud in courses held in the U.K., Australia, Monte Carlo, Greece, Sweden, Corsica, New Zealand, and more. A total of 52 international stages are included, with vocal feedback from Colin McRae's co-driver, Nicky Grist. While your vehicle will experience dirt and damage while racing, you'll be able to make repairs and purchase upgrades to enhance its performance. The 12 authentic rally cars include models from such manufacturers as Subaru, Ford, Toyota, Renault, and Mitsubishi. View the action from five camera angles, and hone your skills by completing interactive lessons taught by the Scottish driver.
When you think of racing games, you think of fast paced action with lots of twists and screeching turns, extreme speed and tight controls. You also think of other players. Rally racing is different however, as you do not have any physical opponents on the track with you at one time. Instead, it is a race to see who can get the fastest time on an isolated course. Sure it's different but it doesn't offer the same kind of excitement that's found in more traditional American racing games.
Before you make your way to the real races, I strongly advise you to take a crash course in Rally Racing. The tutorial is quite helpful, with Colin McRae himself gives you a guided lesson on the basics of operating a rally car. You're given an overview of each lesson and then graded on your control, braking, speed etc. Colin deducts marks if you don't listen to his advice which can be a problem if you can't really understand his Scottish accent! Although it can be slightly frustrating to finish the entire driving school, it is a must if you want to know what you're doing out on the open road.
After you're all done with the tutorial, you can make your way over to the races. Pick one of the eight cars initially available and choose from 3 different game modes. Championship mode covers an entire season of rally racing while traveling to 8 different countries around the globe, with each country having six "stages". Rally mode lets you play a single rally on any one of the countries you have unlocked while competing in championship mode, with or without a friend. Time Trials let you race on any course and even go head-to-head via split screen.
One interesting aspect of the whole "stages" part of the game is the fact that when you damage your car, you can fix it in between stages. That means that if you royally mess up your car on the first run, you may not have the cash to pay for the repairs when you need it most. I thought this was an excellent addition that adds to the realistic driving. Some of the more hardcore gamers might be upset that there are so few systems that need repairing -- electric components, handling, brakes, engine, and gearbox. And unless you're a really horrible driver, you'll probably be able to repair each of the systems to full operation before the next race starts.
The cars themselves handle quite well but fairly differently. The biggest difference comes between the 2WD and 4WD models. To further customize the handling, you can set the steering, braking and gear box options for each of the cars in the game. To further help you stick to the roads, a turn marker will appear at the top of the screen indicating the direction and degree of the next turns. Whether it be a simple lane change or a hairpin U-turn, it is quite helpful as you are trying to maintain high speeds at all times. You'll also get a codriver whose instructions can be quite valuable.
Visually the biggest strike against the game is its age. Having come out almost two years ago in Europe, Colin McRae Rally looks pretty dated. The 2D trees aren't too pretty to look at, and the draw distance is far too close for comfort. The lens flare looked like it had been done using a home video camera and 12 dollar video editing software. The weather effects were alright, but more care could have been put in. The cars on the other hand looked good...not great but good. Adequate attention paid to detail and accurate and responsive damage modeling are some of the more positive features of the disappointing graphic palette here.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is pretty weak but keep in mind that Rally racing is a solo sport anyway. There is no Internet play, so gameplay is limited to the one computer, or on a local LAN. The split screen mode just isn't practical anymore, as no one really likes crowding around one monitor. But real Rally racing is about position relative to time, rather than relative to other cars. In the end it amounts to the same thing, but most gamers would probably find it more exciting to have real competitors on the same track at the same time. Still there's something relaxing about being the only one on the track.
Since Rally games for the PC are rare in America, you have to take what you can get. Sadly, Mobil Rally 1 does many of the things that Colin McRae Rally does and does most of them better. And with the sport gaining some popularity in the US, we can hope that more titles will be forthcoming. In the meantime, there's little to choose from in this market and room for a lot more competition.
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