Colin McRae Rally 3
As we all know from watching TV and reading the daily papers, the nation is gripped at the moment by a strange new phenomenon, dubbed by one high-profile social critic as 'rally-mania'. Everyone, young and old alike, seems to be playing these new 'rally games', in which the aim is to navigate a man, usually named Colin, around a virtual race track strewn with either mud or snow. It's got to the point where you can't walk down your local high street without seeing a bunch of youngsters decked out in 'Colin Fever' T-shirts and back-packs, tapping their feet to the strains of popular rock 'n' roll tunes such as 'Do the Colin' and munching on 'Big McRaes'.
Amid this unstoppable wave of rally fever, it's difficult to recall a time before rally... before Colin. It all started back in early 2000, with the release of Colin McRae Rally, a revolutionary game that made earlier games such as Space Invaders look positively primitive The adventures of Colin were enhanced by the introduction of his wisecracking marsupial side-kick Nicky, who took punters by surprise with one-liners such 'easy left, maybe' and the hilarious 'whoa!' - soon to become a popular catch-phrase among keen rallyites and even used once on the BBC World Service.
While parental groups have rallied hard against the rising tide of rally-mania, pointing to a sharp rise in sideways action on country roads, the phenomenon shows no sign of stopping. Fans are now gearing up for Colin McRae Rally 3, the best-looking and most authentic rally game ever. So come on everybody, get ready to 'Do the Colin' one more time!
Download Colin McRae Rally 3
With The console version of Colin McRae Rally 04 fully playable at this year's E3, it seems a bit odd to be only now reviewing the third incarnation of the series. Historically though, the PC release has always lagged some way behind its console counterparts, and it's a formula that has thus far proven successful. Better to wait for a decent game than put up with a sloppy conversion. However, the delay is even more pertinent this time round, as yer man Colin has since parted company with Ford, and indeed his longstanding codriver, Nicky Grist.
In the real world, McRae is now in the employ of Citroen, and at the time of writing is still searching for somebody else to sit next to him and bark instructions, presumably desperate for a change after years of listening to Grist's Welsh whine. Said nasal tones are still present in Colin McRae 3 though, along with the Ford Focus, a fact that is particularly significant given the game's new format.
The big deal with CMR3 is that it enables you to actually be Colin McRae. By that we don't mean you have to transform into a dour Scotsman, joylessly fulfilling contractual obligations while your career draws to an undignified end. Instead, you embark on a three-year contract with Ford, hammering the Focus around a variety of dangerous roads in an attempt to win a spurious championship against unheard of drivers.
Location-wise, it's a diverse mix, with 56 made-up stages spread over Japan, Spain, USA, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Australia and the UK. There are also a host of different cars to unlock, but you can't drive them in the championship mode because you are Colin McRae, and you drive a Ford Focus. Get used to it.
It's a contentious decision, and one that split the pretend rally community when the game first appeared. You can understand Codemasters feeling the need to attempt something different, as simply updating the graphics and phoning in a 'Colin McRae 2.5' would have probably received equal amounts of criticism. And in fairness, the Focus is upgraded between seasons.
The visuals certainly haven't been ignored, and geometry fans will be pleased to learn that the polygon count for the Ford Focus now hovers around the 14,000 mark, as opposed to the pitiful 800 of the previous game. This is best reflected in the damage model, which is almost too extensive, with doors, windows, bonnets, and even wheels detaching themselves, often leaving you crawling round to the checkpoint like some redneck demolition derby driver. And damage is even more crucial than in CMR2, as repairs can only be made after three stages (as opposed to two previously), meaning that if you break the car doors early you're looking at a serious setback, although they do at least give you one spare wheel. Various components are also unlocked throughout the season, enabling you to modify your car between rallies.
What CMR3 gains in looks, it loses in modes, as the circuit racing of CMR2 is completely gone. You never actually race against another car, the closest being the Super Special Stages, the glorified Scalextric tracks that complete each rally. Plus, there are now only three camera views: external, bonnet and cockpit, the latter boasting some superb rain effects on the windscreen. The career mode aside, all of the available cars can be driven on all of the stages, although they are effectively nothing more than time trials, as the only thing to aim for is the fastest record. This is made slightly more exciting by a new-fangled graphical representation of the time and distance remaining, which at least gives you something to race against.
Get A Grip
On paper, it may sound like a backward step, but the fact remains that it is still an utterly gripping driving experience, either as Colin in the Focus, or in any of the other featured 1 cars. This is performance gaming at its best, requiring Zen-like levels of concentration to shave crucial seconds off your time. Dullards may complain about the arcade handling (guess what, it's a game), and yes, you can bounce off the odd tree, but what's the alternative? To have the game over in three seconds? The cars may occasionally feel like they're rotating about a fixed axis (something that is being rectified in 04), but when you're tearing down a country lane, clinging onto the road by the skin of your arse, it doesn't really matter, and hours can simply slip away.
So, is it a massive leap forward from CMR2? No. But have I got eyes like piss-holes in the snow from playing it nonstop for a week? Yes. Yes I believe I have.
As part of the new-fangled career mode, a lot of emphasis is placed on tweaking the car. Between rallies, adjustments can be made to tyres, gearbox, chassis, engine and so forth, and the modifications tested over a short stretch of track, with the results shown on a special graph. For those who don't know a camshaft from a camisole, it's not that daunting, and if all else fails, the default set-ups generally work fine. But if you do find a particular set-up that produces a faster time, it can be used in the actual rally at the press of a button.
Join up with Colin McRae, Nicky Grist, and the rest of the Ford Rallye Team and get ready to get that nice shiny car dirty, muddy, and full of dents. If you liked Rallisport Challenge then you're going to love Colin McRae Rally 3.
Aside from the cool music, the first thing I noticed when starting this game is the simplicity of options and gameplay. Usually these types of games have a ton of features for tweaking your car and seem to expect you to know how to do this. That's fine if you customize rally cars for a living but can be annoying for the rest of us. It was nice to just be able to hop in and race without having to mess with configurations. If you're into customizing, don't fret ' you can still modify to your heart's content in the Championship mode. The Championship mode and Stages mode play more or less the same except in the Championship mode you can customize your car, any damage inflicted will carry over to the next leg of the course, and you can unlock new tracks, cars, and items. The gameplay itself and the controls are great. I found the game to be a little more forgiving than Rallisport Challenge and it seemed like I had better control. I also really liked that the different courses are on different types of roads ' some are dirt, some paved, some are ice, etc. I didn't notice much realistic damage to the car unless you really did a number on it (say goodbye to your hood). The pace notes were written and recorded in the game by Colin's navigator and co-driver, Nicky Grist. If you don't understand what Nicky means when he says something like 'three right into four left over crest'?, the manual will set you straight and may make you a better driver for it. You can also use the visual on-screen cues to alert you to what kind of turns are coming up. The multiplayer comes in the form of either split-screen or turn based depending on the type of course you run.
The graphics seemed pretty standard for an Xbox title. Nothing jaw-dropping or eye-popping and there aren't many effects aside from your car getting real dirty and the brake lights. The video cut scenes did look a bit blurry to me. I liked the music, but there isn't much of it except on the menu screens and during the videos.
Bottom line here is if you like rally or really any type of racing games you're sure to enjoy this one. I found very little wrong with the game unless you're really a realism- or graphics-snob. I can see this game being totally awesome with a steering wheel if you have one. Even if you aren't much of a racing fan but are in the mood to race, I'd definitely recommend Colin McRae Rally 3 as a rental.