Another average, boring day at work in leafy Middlesex and what lands on my desk? None other than Colin McRae Rally 2.0, from our pals at the GiN office over in the US. The prospect of a decent driving game did wonders for my productivity that day. I rushed home, fired up the old PlayStation and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed.
Over in the States you may not be too familiar with rally driving, but when it comes to driving games, I’ll take mud and gravel over tarmac any day. That is how we do it in England. Colin McRae is the biggest name in rally driving, so this game has a lot of expectations to live up to. One of which is, how will it compare to the first one? That’s where I step in.
There are a variety of modes, ranging from arcade through to championship. I’ve taken the plunge and opted for championship mode. First stop is choosing your car. There are six cars available initially and other cars can be accessed in the Rally and Arcade Championships at both Intermediate and Expert levels. All the cars you would expect in a rally game are present, such as the Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer and Colin’s own Ford Focus.
The Championship begins in Finland, which is a mud and gravel course. At the beginning of each rally, there is a nice fly over the course, with a commentary describing its characteristics. With random weather selected, you have to make sure you’ve got the right tires for the conditions. I find it quite satisfying to tinker with the suspension and steering before hitting the dirt.
Let’s rally! This is where I start waxing lyrical. How great is this game? Answer: very! Make sure you’ve got your subwoofer on as you feel those tires bounce over chunks of rock and potholes in the road. Use your handbrake to turn into those sharp corners and then accelerate out. There is a substantial learning curve, as you quickly realise that flat out speed is not the way forward. Slide your car round the corners, using speed on the way out, rather than the way in. It didn’t take long before I was under grand delusions regarding my rally driving skills.
To add to that authentic rally experience, you are also provided with a co-driver, who calls the severity of the corner and how far ahead it is. He gives details on jumps and whether there are hazards like rocks on a turn. Lose concentration and forget to heed his advice at your own peril. Believe me, I know. The front end of my car had a few intimate moments with tree trunks. Watch out for those jumps too. Take them too fast and the heavy landing will leave your suspension shot to pieces.
What a great feature damage is. On one of my first turns around the course I thought I was looking at dodgy, jerky graphics, then I realised that a previous collision had left my spoiler flapping in the breeze. I seem to remember finishing that stage with black smoke billowing out of my car – oops. You’ll be pleased to hear that my driving has improved somewhat.
After sustaining damage, which is almost inevitable in a rally, you are given a chance to service your car. The amount of damage on each part of the car is shown on a damage bar. The damage goes from yellow, the least amount, through to a red critical amount. Each part you choose to replace uses up some of the time allotted to the service area, so don’t go crazy fixing every thing.
McRae Rally2.0 is continually challenging, due to the game handling so well. Just because you’ve mastered the mud and gravel of Finland, don’t think you’ll find it plain sailing on the tarmac of the French rally. The handling is so authentic that in France I found my car sticking to the road like glue and had to adjust my driving accordingly. Then it was off to the chalky loose roads of Greece and I had to adjust my style again – fantastic!
On to the sound. "Well-done Codemasters" is all I need to say. You’ve got the roar of the engine, the crumple of your bonnet (sorry, that was me hitting a tree), get the revs up and listen to that turbo whine, then hear the crunch and splash of gravel and mud under your tire. Thank you Codies for not feeling the need to throw in some cheesy rock music!
The graphics are where Codemasters have let us down a bit. The cars are great, nicely detailed with all the sponsorship advertising splashed across them. Some of the lighting effects are gorgeous, especially on the evening stages. Then there are the glitches. The tracks are cursed with much little less detail, as you sail past the most two-dimensional trees seen since, well a long time ago. The other irritating feature was the show-through on supposedly solid objects and fence posts appearing on the wrong side of the car as you drive past. Patchy graphics like these are disappointing in a game that plays this well and are totally unnecessary given PlayStation’s capabilities.
But as we all know, good graphics are not the be all and end all. When it comes down to it, we’re here to play the games, not sit and admire the pretty pictures. When it comes to gameplay, Colin McRae 2.0 more than delivers. Not only do you get to choose from a host of real rally cars, but you get to tour the world in them, complete with different track and weather conditions. The ability to alter your set-up gives you an element of control and engrosses the player. There are three difficulty levels ranging from novice to expert. Test your mettle in the Arcade, or go for a time trial to get your fastest time. Get your mates round and head for the Single Stage to watch them eat your dust.
This is a first for me; Colin McRae Rally2.0 gets 5 GiN Gems. Despite the flaws in the graphics, they have to be forgiven due to the hours of fun I had tearing up rally tracks around the world. You must, must play this game. If you do, you’ll never look back.