Release Date: September 28, 2004
The peaceful countryside is turned into a high-horsepower playground in Colin McRae 2005, Codemaster’s latest entry into their venerable rally racing series. More of a simulation racer than Rallisport Challenge, McRae ’05 reflects the spirit of a rally car: all function, with no fluff. The difficulty may turn off racing fans looking for quick, cheap thrills, but if you thirst for a rally racer that relies on precision and patience, McRae ’05 is worth the budget price.
The control in McRae ’05 is reminiscent of GT3’s rally segments. The game’s physics really give you the feeling that you’re not driving the cars, but rather doing your best to harness their power over some really awful surfaces. There are over 30 cars in the game, with different horsepower ratings and drivetrain configurations. These differences translate into fairly unique driving characteristics for each car. When controlling a 2WD vehicle, its powersliding manners are noticeably different from a 4WD vehicle. Track conditions also affect control. Ice, snow, gravel, and worn pavement are just a few of the surfaces you’ll deal with. McRae ’05 does an excellent job of communicating sudden changes of road conditions to the player. Driving a car sideways from a loose gravel road to abrasive asphalt requires some seriously rapid adjusting. The precise control you have over the vehicles is McRae 05’s main highlight, and control is what racing games are all about.
The tracks are set in realistic locales including Finland, Germany, Greece and Sweden. Each area has their own unique road conditions, weather, and course layout. There are many roadside obstacles that will bring your car to a smashing halt, such as narrow gates, various posts, concrete bridges, and…trees. Damn the trees of Finland. McRae ’05 will have even the most hardcore environmentalists screaming, “Screw the Finnish wood lark, and log this forest to the ground!” Roadside obstacles cause frustration at times, especially when you’re having a great run, only to be halted by a three-foot-tall rusty post. It’s not that the controls are faulty, rather some of the tracks are just plain difficult (but a shrub shouldn’t stop a 90 mph sedan). At least you have a co-driver at your side to warn you of jumps, turns, and narrow passages. As long as you get a handle on the realistic controls, and tweak your car according to the conditions, you’ll be in powerslide heaven.
Speaking of crashing headlong into stationary objects at 90 mph, Colin McRae ’05 has a damage model that affects both the form and function of your vehicle. Running into objects such as boulders, guardrails, and concrete bridges will crumple your bodywork, bend your wheels, smash your axles, shatter your windows, and eat up your suspension. Significant damage will add seconds onto your time. Between stages, you are given 60 minutes to repair your vehicle in the service area. Here, you get the rundown of your car’s damage. A “life bar” shows how damaged a part is, and how many minutes it will take to fix it. Going over the allotted time results in a time penalty. The interface is quickly managed and simple to use. Hopefully other racing games will follow McRae ‘05’s lead, and allow gamers to smash real-life automobiles into tiny pieces.
The tuning in McRae ’05 isn’t too elaborate, but it gets the job done. Setting up your car with the right tires, ride height, brake balance, and gear ratio will have a significant impact on your performance. Before each stage of a rally, you are able to get a general overview of the course. An info page shows the shape of the stage, and important data such as weather conditions and track surfaces. Setting your car up with a high gear ratio on a track with lots of turns and no straight-aways, will kill your time. The championship mode also includes opportunities to earn special car parts that can enhance performance.
Colin McRae ’05’s modes of play are fairly standard. The career mode is made up of numerous racing series that are unlocked by earning driver points. These points are earned by finishing first, second, or third place overall at the end of a series. New cars become available as you progress. Championship mode actually puts you in Colin McRae’s driving seat, and can be played with one or two players. Time trial modes let you practice on unlocked courses. Rally mode lets you participate in a quick rally event, or create a rally by piecing together stages from different countries. None of the modes are particularly flashy or special in any way, keeping with the game’s “all function” feel. One function that’s missing is a quick restart option. Navigating a couple of menus just to restart a time trial gets annoying real quick.
Multiplayer can be quite fun, as long as you can find worthy opponents. The game supports up to four players split screen, or eight players online. In real-life rallies, multiple drivers do not race head-to-head, but instead race against each other’s times. The online mode follows this realism as closely as possible while still allowing for intense head-to-head play. Your opponents are represented as ghost cars. You can pass through their cars, and they can pass through you without causing a multi-car pileup. Considering the nature of the tracks, having eight normal car models on screen at once would’ve turned out to be more like a destruction derby than a rally race. There were only a couple instances of lag, but overall the online experience was very smooth.
The sounds of Colin ’05 are well done. Each car has a unique growl or “whirr,” crashes sound crunchy, and the sound of your tires grinding on the course surfaces is strangely satisfying. There is no music in Colin ’05, and custom soundtracks aren’t available, so listening to “Jesse’s Girl” while carving through the forest is out of the question. The co-driver is very helpful in warning you of turns and obstacles, although he is a bit difficult to understand at first. After a few hours, your brain will somehow be able to decipher his accent.
Visually, Colin ’05 is striking. Car models are realistically proportioned, effects such as sparks and dust look nice and sharp, tailpipes rattle, and the cars’ bodies rock convincingly upon their chassis. Damage looks excellent, boasting shattered or missing glass, crumpled body panels, and scraped paint. Players can choose from a variety of camera positions, such as bumper, hood, close outside, far outside, and a very cool cockpit view. The tracks look as sharp as the cars, and slowdown is virtually nonexistent. Textures along the side of the road suffer from mild draw-in, but this is only a very small annoyance.
Colin McRae ’05 is an above average, extremely fun rally racer. Well, “fun” is a relative term. If your idea of fun is spending a good hour or two learning how to tame a rally car and getting the feel of tricky courses, by all means, buy McRae ’05 and make some friends on Xbox Live. If you’re hoping for a new Sega Rally, you might want to move on. McRae ’05 is geared more towards hardcore rally fans that love having to work hard at learning the nuances of a vehicle and course. The controls are some of the best you’ll find in a rally racer, the online experience adds smooth replay value, and the visuals are above par. Codemasters has done it again for a budget price. Just watch out for that tree.
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