Genre: Rally Racing
Release Date: 2/18/2003
Rally racing games are a small niche in the racing genre, usually appealing to either those that enjoy watching rally races or those who are looking for some of the more realistic gameplay. Previous rally games like Rallysport Challenge loosely fit into that category, but don’t really bring anything truly exciting on the table. Colin McRae 3 is an exception to that trend with it’s ability to please nearly anyone, familiar to rally style racing or not, with gameplay that should serve as an example of what rally games should be like.
The Colin McRae rally-racing series has came a long way from its humble beginnings as a PSOne game. While the technology the game is presented on has changed significantly the basic idea stays the same. In Colin McRae 3, you are cast into the role of Colin McRae and set out to race your way across continents around the globe, through mud, rain, and snow, to beat out all of your competitors and win the world championship. At a glance CM3 seems to be simple, with each stage consisting of you driving alone along a set track in the wilderness, but no more than a minute in and Colin McRae shows that it’s quite a gem of a game.
CM3’s meat and potatoes is the Championship mode, pitting you and your Co-Driver Nicky Grist against anything Mother Nature can throw at you. In the Championship mode the worldwide rally is divided up into countries such as the USA, Finland, and Japan with two days per country, which are further broken down into 3 to 4 rallies per day. On day one in a country the rally starts off with a shakedown, giving the racing team time to tweak many aspects of the car such as handling, braking, transmission settings, tire types, and various other options. After that the rest of the day is made up of three “Special Stages” that basically puts you against the clock on a set bit of the course, and whatever racing team gets the fastest time wins that stage. On day two the day starts off with a brief repair session followed by three more Special Stages and then a Super Special Stage, which is held in a specialized arena and places you head to head against an opponent. Finally, at the end of the day whoever had the quickest times in all of the country’s stages gets to drive their car onto the podium and receives a trophy, then it all repeats in another country. The top finalists in a country get points added to their score, and after the rally has went around the world and come to a close whoever has the most points is declared to be the champion.
With a rally game that pits cars against the clock one at a time on a track, the game control and physics have to carry it all and CM3 excels in both areas. At first CM3’s controls feel a bit loose and sloppy, with a flick of the stick sending your car slightly fishtail and sliding around. However, given due time (Or about 5-10 minutes) it becomes very natural and power sliding around corners becomes second nature. The terrain that composes each stage varies from track to track and country to country, but can be generalized into dirt, gravel, actual road, and snow with various types and conditions therein. Dirt and gravel roads are what most of the rallies are held on and can be a bit treacherous is one takes a corner too fast or loses control coming out of a turn. Actual roads don’t allow for power sliding very well but the car grips the road better. Snowy and icy roads are some of the hardest, while it is always passable it requires a higher degree of concentration on the road and the way the vehicle is moving, as even the slightest mistake can send your car slamming into a tree with full force.
Various weather conditions can affect the road as well. Rain can come down in various ways, be it a slight drizzle, moderate rainfall, or a full-fledged downpour complete with lightning and thunder. In rainy conditions roads become a bit sloppy and care must be exercised to keep the car on the track. Snow can also fall during the course of the gameplay, which poses a similar risk to the driver who isn’t careful.
Of course, with all this talk of sliding off the road and hitting trees one would think there would be repercussions to it all and CM3 doe not disappoint. CM3 boasts both internal and external damage to the car, which can affect performance and even force you to retire from the race. On the internal side of the cars things such as axles, braking systems, transmissions, and turbo components can all take damage. The parts are fairly hardy and can take a beating, but one crash too many and parts can become a bit sketchy in terms of reliability or even cease to work entirely. When the transmission is damage gears will slip, losing valuable time, while if you break part of your axle you’ll lose a wheel. The external parts of the cars such as the bumpers, windows, and body can also take damage but don’t affect the performance of the car. Glass can either spider-shatter or break completely off, loose hoods will open up and then break off, doors and trunk hatches will swing open and shut, and the overall body of the car can be dented in ways that would make a metalworker cry. Before every section of the rally a damage readout is displayed from your mechanics that shows you the various damage levels and the varying parts, useful to know when you need to baby your car so you can make it through the rally.
Besides having solid gameplay, realistic effects, and a top-notch damage system, CM3 boasts some of the most impressive graphics to date on any platform. The car models and texturing are completely eye-popping; they look so much like their real life counterparts that only a trained eye can spot the differences. The damage and nature effects carry it to the next level, as you drive alone a dusty or snowy road bits of dirt or snow will cling to your car gradually, giving it a genuine rally look. There are multiple viewpoints you can utilize during the game, a chase cam, driver view, and a hood cam. If you drive around in rainy weather using the driver view you’ll actually see the raindrops splatter against the windshield and get swept away by the windshield wipers. The models of the drivers inside the car as well as the people shown around the podium aren’t so hot and are a bit on the blocky side, but are forgivable since it only makes up a small fraction of the gameplay. The tracks that you race on in CM3 all look very nice with the way the tracks can naturally dip, roll, and turn, but even more importantly is the fact that every country and even every individual track has a unique look. Far from the days of tree after tree that look the same, in CM3 if you are racing in Japan you will know you are racing in Japan and won’t mistake it for anywhere else.
Sound in CM3 has a couple nuisances but overall is worthy of the rest of the game that it is attached to. The sound effects of the cars racing along, changing (or slipping) gears, and the occasional crashing sounds from a rampaging rally car all please the ear and represent the on-screen action well. Sound effects however take a back seat to what you really need to be listening to, which is your Co-Driver Nicky Grist. While not actually voiced by Nicky Grist, your Co-Driver always tells you what the road holds ahead and even gives a couple tips to help you navigate them better. A “Long 6 right” means you can just breeze on through with a slight right turn, but a “2 left, don’t cut” means that not only do you have to take it nice and slow around the upcoming left turn, if you cut the corner chances are you are bound to it a rock or other unwelcome obstacle. There is no music in the game, nor is there support for it via the Xbox’s custom soundtrack feature. At first glance this is a letdown, and one would like to blaze a trail listening to their favorite tunes, but on the other hand in the later levels of the game almost all of your attention is focused on watching the road, controlling your car, and listening to your Co-Driver, which more or less means that you would end up not really listening to any music anyway.
Overall, Colin McRae 3 is a very solid rally game that not only delivers to fans of rally racing with tracks and drivers taken from real life but also to the casual racing crowd with its compelling gameplay, awesome graphics, and enjoyable damage system. Fans of the previous Colin McRae racing titles will find themselves at home and will love the newest iteration, and anyone else would do themselves good to introduce themselves to the world of rally racing gaming via this superb title.