Another year and another Colin McRae Rally comes along which, so far, has been no bad thing. This year, Codemasters are bringing 3 to the Xbox for the first time and luckily it got passed my way. I have worked for the organizers of the British Rally, been to a rally and played every previous incarnation of Colin McRae Rally, so I reckon I’m qualified to judge. The question is, can Codies produce a game that a) surpasses their previous successes and b) survives my expert scrutiny?
The Colin McRae titles are renowned for looking gorgeous and CMR 3 is no exception. The presentation is absolutely top notch, with every second of the game bringing you elements of the world of rallying. In the garage you’re presented with a groovy wire frame model of your car. And in between stages, the loading screen shows your car being transported to the start point on a map of the rally stages.
Once you’re racing, the quality of the graphics really hits you. The environments feel totally solid, especially those pesky trees – oops. All the stages look fantastic, particularly the moment when I drove through a wind farm, somewhere along a Swedish stage"cool. And, and, then there’s the drive through the American desert when a helicopter flies real low overhead and leaves a huge cloud of dust for you to drive through. That bit was really awesome, but my advice is, don’t point and go wow to your pals because you will crash and you will finish that stage having lost a place.
But the piece de resistance has to be, in the rain, switch to the windscreen view and watch the pretty water droplets trickle and run off the glass according to your speed. This is best as an onlooker because as a player you can see feck all, quite frankly. Rain effects aside, I was thoroughly disappointed that I didn’t create a huge wake when I drove through water. I hardly even got a ripple, but at least the rain drops look good I guess.
When it comes to sound Colin 3.0 takes full advantage of the Xbox’s 5.1 sound capabilities. Hear Nicky Grist (your co-driver) issuing instructions over the roar and whine of the engine. Listen to the car rumble over every rock and bump, kicking up little stones. Even in between races you can hear the rally teams repairing the cars and talking amongst themselves, which is a great addition for rally fans.
As always, the physics is superb and driving takes the utmost concentration, but not so much so that you can’t make up time, or hop a few places ahead after a good run. There really is no better feeling than being in the zone and completely ripping up a stage. With only your co-driver as a guide along the thick, wooded stages of the UK or the rocky, desert stages of America, it’s real seat of your pants driving.
I know this is Colin McRae Rally 3, but why can’t I play as anyone other than the grumpy old Scott.? What if I wanted to compete in the championship as Richard Burns, in a Subaru Imprezza, which I think we’ll all agree is a much cooler car than Colin’s Ford Focus? Well the simple answer from Codies is, you can’t, which seems a bit of a shame. You can of course drive the cars in single races and multi-player, but that’s not the point.
One of my favourite things about Colin 2.0 was going into the garage and choosing what parts of the car you were going to fix. With only a limited time, repairs became strategic. In 3.0 you begin the championship with only a limited number of parts and then you win new ones as you go along. Playing as Colin McRae, you’d think he’d have enough money to buy every kind of suspension, brake pad and tire combination you can imagine, not have to win them. If I was playing Joe Shmoe Just Starting Out Rally 3, I’d understand, but I’m playing as Colin bloomin McRae!!
Okay, so you have to win parts, that’s fine. But it also makes the cool addition of the shakedown (when you get to test drive the course and tune the car accordingly), completely defunct until you’ve won all the parts and can fiddle with your set up properly.
There is some fun to be had in multi-player mode, especially if you unlock the novelty vehicles. Although, racing in remote control hovercraft can take a while to get round a stage. Unfortunately you can’t see the other player, so there’s no chance of trying to bump each other off, which is a shame.
All in all, Colin McCrae 3 is a worthy successor to the previous incarnations. It even manages to cram in more rally-type experience stuff, which means I can forgive it its shortcomings. There isn’t much in the way of real added value "fun" outside of Championship mode to keep anyone other than hardcore rally fans coming back for more, which is something I hope Codemasters fix for 4.0. But it still gets 4 GiN gems for being one of the best driving games around.