Colin McRae Rally 04
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4
Words By:

From the slick new menus through the excellent gameplay to the credits when you win a championship, Colin McRae Rally 04 shows developers everywhere how to take a good game and make it better. Last year's game was certainly good, looking stunning in places and playing well, but the handling was too arcade-oriented for many, and it was surprisingly lacking in the options department.

I jumped straight into Colin's Xsara for a quick look at a selection of stages and was immediately delighted with the much-talked-about 'new handling model'. The cars now feel much more like the real thing and skidding/sliding is now more down to the way you drive, rather than the constant floaty state of the old McRaes. The throttle/brake/handbrake controls can be mapped to the face buttons (which I like better than using the triggers), and I can change gear with the triggers so I was instantly happier than with 3 that lacked options throughout. The buttons give a surprising amount of analog control to the speed/attitude of the car and you soon realise this is the most realistic McRae game yet, heck, it may be the most realistic racing game yet.

   

The cars look superb, and they allow you to make them look absolutely filthy, covered in mud or dust, and the damage modelling allows you to smash, dent or completely remove just about every window, spoiler or body panel in the game. The 3 views (chase, bumper and the smart in-car) should suit every sort of rally game player, and the replays (that were so messed up last year) look like they've had the cameras placed by a real TV director. The scenery has been given an overhaul as well, with what seems like a lot more greenery about the place; grass and trees now wave in the breeze and everything looks more organic. Combine this with some superb new texturing on the roads, tracks, rocks and walls means that the game is occasionally breathtaking to look at - although you're mostly confined to a fairly narrow driveable corridor, the landscapes are so expansive that you really feel like you're racing around just part of a larger, real world. Most of the spectators sadly still look like they're made out of cardboard though - hopefully we'll soon see developers save a few polygons for the crowd before too much longer, as they can spoil the look of a game.

There are eight rallies to compete in (USA, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Greece, Australia, Japan & UK) that all have a genuinely individual feel and look, and there are three levels of difficulty that should suit all standards of driver too; Normal, Advanced and the new 'Extreme' mode that can only be played from the in-car view, with no split times and heavy damage), and should you have Xbox Live you can upload your best times to see how good you really are... You can have 2 players compete in a simultaneous championship and up to 4 can go split-screen rallying head to head against ghosts of the other competitors (if that makes sense).

   

All the visual (lighting, water spray, dust, smoke, sparks) and sound FX (engine/gearbox/turbo/tyre noises) seem to have been redone and look and sound better and are more immersive than ever before (the water splash is a bit feeble though), and for once in a rally game I can't find fault with the pace notes (but I'm sure I will at some point). The car lineup is a varied one and includes the best from this year and last and as usual adds a few classics and curios. The motors come in 4 'classes' : 4WD (Citroen Xsara, Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus, Lancer Evo 7), 2WD (MGZR, Citroen Saxo, Ford Puma, Fiat Punto, VW Golf), Group B (Audi Quattro, Peugeot 205 T16, Ford RS200, Lancia 037) and Bonus (MGC, Lancia Delta Integrale, Ford Escort RS 1600, Mitsubishi Pajero, Subaru Impreza 22B, Ford Transit Van, Citroen 2CV). I was a bit miffed that my favourite Group B car (the Metro 6R4) has been dropped, but there's still something there to appeal to everyone. After every rally you get a chance to test new parts and if you're good enough they get added to your car to improve its performance. The new damage repair and tune up interface is clean, clear and easy to use and for once the adjustments really do matter as you're not given any assistance and the default settings/tyres are rarely the best for the upcoming stage. A 'shakedown' practice mini-stage allows you to get the feel of the surface and scenery before you start in earnest.

I think this game is simply the best Rally game yet made - maybe not the best 'racing game' or 'driving simulator' but there's no other game that combines instinctive handling, smart graphics and top replays to convey the look and sound, the power and fury, and the precision and skill of rallying. A superb game that lays down a real benchmark for future rally games.


Good Points

- Speed, sound, looks, the whole game is slick as heck.

Bad Points

- None really - it could do with a World Rally Championship licence though.



by: Jensen Buttons