It’s a natural progression of the series that reflects the late ColinMcRae’s real-life careerwhich had been moving away from familiar point-to-point stages of the WRC and taking in more spectacular off-road disciplines likethe Race of Champions andParis-Dakar Rally.Despite the fact that rallying probably ranks alongside beach volleyball and lawn-mower racing when it comes to television coverage in the US, we’ve seen a steady stream of rally games over the past few years. They’ve ranged in quality from the excellent Mobil 1 British Rally Championship and Rally Championship, to the more mediocre Sega Rally Championship and Boss Rally, to out-and-out silly games like South Park Rally. Now, more than 18 months after its release in Europe, US gamers finally get a chance to put Colin McRae Rally through its paces. Though it’s among the world’s best-selling and most widely played rally sims, you’ll probably come away feeling that it really wasn’t worth the wait after all.
On one side, beautiful graphics, superb notes, great handling and sexually arousing Group B driving. On the other, inconsistent obstacles, inauthentic modern cars, a confused brand and a small evolutionary step means that, to many, it quivers towards Yet Another Rally Game.the game has one of the most streamlined controller calibration systems I’ve yet encountered. Ever since playing Grand Prix 3 with a steering wheel and foot pedals I’ve tried to do the same with every driving game I pick up, and unlike many others (notably 1nsane, the Codies’ other recent racing release), sorting this out took about five seconds. Once I was set up and ready to go, I fired up the game proper and jumped into one of the full championship modes. The full season features loads of locations and stages for each of them, against 16 drivers in total. Messrs McRae and Grist (Nicky), his pace notes partner are of course the centre of attention and it makes perfect sense to pick up with them and a lovely looking Ford Focus, faithfully bedecked with all manner of advertising.
Events are accessed via an inventive front end ‘hub’ – an impressively-rendered and authentically grease-caked motorhome, complete with a TV that shows real music videos. It’s a shame the game forces you to come back to this trailer between races (a simple ‘next event’ option would have been welcome) as the pause for loading is long, though well masked with stats, freeze-frame photo transitions and information on your progress towards achievements.I quickly hurried off to the TouchArcade Command Center to see if anyone had laid claim to this title, thus securing the right to review and again, to my surprise, it had not been assigned. Being a huge Colin McRae series fan, I jumped on it and got to downloading, whilst gibbering away in tongues, all misty-eyed at the familiar screen grabs. Once the digital dirt-racing goodness had been downloaded to my iPad, I eagerly swatted the icon to open up what was, to be honest, a rather half-hearted reboot.For the tinker-happy there’s even the option to adjust the ride height and other vanity-orientated features of the car. Somewhat unfortunately though, when you get onto the track, it’s far too easy to stay on the road. Admittedly I was using the tips of my fingers on the wheel to flick gears, but even if I was wrestling with a gearstick I wouldn’t expect the nose of my car to magically swing back towards the centre of the track whenever I veered slightly under pressure. Niggling. Aside from this though, it’s a very faithful drive.
The trademark gravel and dirt is kicked up behind you, so if you’re low down in an external camera point, make damned sure you watch what’s being kicked up or just ahead. The difference between slidey mudbanks and grit is immeasurable. After plenty of practice, you’ll likely be posting some good times. It didn’t take me long – but during my drive, I never really felt all that threatened by my surroundings. You do occasionally come unstuck and head off into the undergrowth, but the trackside objects don’t exactly stop you dead, they just slow your path.Once upon a time there was a boy called Colin who liked cars. He liked them so much that when he grew up he drove them at high speed under strict competition conditions. Perhaps driven by rage at his unfortunate choice of name, he drove so fast that he was crowned Champion of the World.Rallying is basically a race against the clock over a series of courses known as stages. Opponents don’t race at the same time but instead take off from the start line in one-minute intervals. And the courses are some of the most brutal you’ll find in racing: The routes are riddled with bumps and ditches, they frequently cross streams and creeks, and they are often hemmed in by massive banks or potentially dangerous trees. Add in the vagaries of snow, ice, and rain, and you’ve got the makings of some of the most intense gear-slamming, mud-slinging, power-sliding races ever devised.
As much fun as Colin McRae Rally can be, it’s still disappointing that Codemasters decided to hide so much of what the game has to offer. Colin McRae Rally might be enough to satisfy fans that are moderately interested in rallying, but for those with an appetite for the real thing, it’ll only leave them hungry for more.Much-improved this time around, the only things I can hold against it are the car’s questionable propensity to stick to the track even when you steer it markedly off-course, and the rather sizeable learning curve for newcomers.