It has been quite a year
for Codemasters, not only have they managed to pull out a number of stellar
racing games for the Xbox (ToCa Race Driver 2, anyone?) out their hat but have
also managed to hit upon gold with Colin McRae Rally 2005. While the series
just kept getting better and better, it was hard to imagine the series reach a
point of true excellence–that is, until now. That’s right, 2005 sees the best
Colin McRae rally game that gives RalliSport Challenge 2 a run for its money.
Colin McRae might not be a
household name here in the US since the many followers of rally racing is
European. Yet judging by the success of the RalliSport Challenge games and the
critical acclaim the Colin McRae Rally games have received since it was
introduced to the Xbox, it’s becoming a favorite of those many fans–like
myself–that enjoy a great deal of variety when it comes to motorsport video
games. Yes, rally racing is the motorsport to turn to when illegal street
racing and NASCAR don’t leave you completely satisfied.
The 2005 edition of the
Colin McRae rally series sees a large number of improvements that range from its
already gorgeous visuals to the Career mode that is larger and more fulfilling.
The list of vehicles will continue to astonish. The choices between 2WD, 4WD,
4X4 and Group B cars (e.g. Peugeot 205 and the Ford R S200 to name a few) are
better this year than last year. You’ll even have a choice of special cars like
the new Mini Cooper. Yet what really stands out is the number of changes made
to the game modes, particularly Career mode.
Career mode takes you and
your co-pilot across several stages across the world whether it is Japan,
Australia, Germany and the US. Gamers now must clear the stages each country
showcases before moving on to the next country. This progression makes for
quite a lengthy journey but in the end it works perfectly since it adds depth to
the Career modes of the 2004 game. Career actually now lets you monitor your
chosen vehicle’s status and allows you to go into your virtual garage and either
repair damaged vehicles or prepare things like the breaks, tires and suspension
to match the weather and the road conditions. This doesn’t mean, however, that
you’ll have full control to make complete changes to your vehicles but this new
feature is a wonderful addition.
Those who have played past
Colin McRae rally games will find that nothing has changed in terms of the
game’s controls. For those new to the series, you’ll notice that while the game
is a serious and realistic simulation of the rally racing experience, the
controls are not extremely complex. They’re not easy to pick up and play
either, but at least this will give gamers a good challenge. Believe me when I
say that the more you play the game the better you will be at making sharp
hairpin turns and responding to your navigator’s directions. The roads, of
course, are the main challenge. There are plenty of rough terrains to really
sink your teeth into this year and the weather conditions also play a hand in
putting gamers through some tough maneuvering.
There are also other game
modes available as well. Time Trial has you setting a record time and then has
you attempting to beat that time as you race against a “ghost” that represents
your first try. Stages allow you to take any car and choose the options for
each race (e.g. weather and county) . . . it’s quite similar to Rally mode.
Championship mode places you in the shoes of Colin McRae himself as he races to
win the world championship. There’s even Multiplay mode that allows up to four
players using a single Xbox and up to eight players using System Link. And,
like last year, there’s Xbox Live support only this time you can go up against
eight players simultaneously (all seen as ghosts, though). Online, the game
flows wonderfully and the use of the Xbox Communicator allows you to speak with
other gamers during the races. It’s a major change in the right direction.
As for the game’s
graphics, Codemasters has somehow taken last year’s beautifully detailed game
and made it a gorgeously detailed game. The racing environments are spectacular
both during the gameplay and during replays. It makes everything seem alive and
by alive I mean trees sway, dust flies and distant birds take flight. Even the
rally fans cheering behind barriers look wonderful. As for the cars, they are
beyond spectacular. We’re talking photo-realistic in every possible way. They
take realistic damage (fenders bend realistically and quiver on the point of
breaking off and smash the side of your vehicle against a tree and watch as the
window shatters and the paint chips. And the replays . . . a thing of beauty.
What can be said about a
racing game’s sound that hasn’t been said a dozen times before? The engines
roar and echo when you‘re passing a tunnel, the wheels crunch against the dusty
or snowy roads and the awful grinding of metal when your heavily damaged vehicle
slammed into one too many trees. There’s techno dance club music that’s
actually quite good and your navigator never gets irritating even after having
told you to make a hard right twenty-five times in a single race.
When all is said and done,
Colin McRae Rally 2005 stands as the rally racing games fans of the genre have
been waiting to get their hands on. We’ve seen the series evolve with each
passing year but this is closest to rally racing heaven . . . if you think
that’s too high a praise to give a game that’s a strict simulating then I highly
suggest you pick it up for yourself and play through one race. I guarantee
you’ll be more than hooked before the race is even over. At a bargain price,
missing out on this one would be a real shame.
One of the things that have not
changed in the series is the controls and you can thank Codemasters for that.
While each vehicle handles differently the perfect control scheme does not
hinder the slides and sharp turns you’ll be making throughout the game. The
fact that you can now tweak your car depending on the road and other driving
condition makes this one solid rally game.
The environments and the cars are
simply gorgeous on the Xbox. We’re talking locales so beautifully rendered that
you wish you can stop and admire the green valleys of Germany, the dusty
flatlands of Australia and the majestic snow-capped mountains of Sweden. The
cars are photo-real and take damage so realistically that it will put tears in
Never mind the good techno music,
it’s the sounds of the powerful engines in your Ford Focus that will win your
heart. Listen as the tires screech on wet pavement and listen to horrible
crunch of metal as your vehicle hits the side of a tree. Your co-pilot is
always on his toes but this year he seems to want to give turning directions way
before you even reach them.
The courses are winding and
treacherous and oh-so satisfying but it’s the timeframe that will have you
driving hard. There are plenty of challenges this year and qualifying isn’t
going to be very easy. Fortunately, you can tune your car to adapt to any stage
and test your engines and breaks before every race.
With so many cars you’ll be quite
busy putting them all to use in the various race modes. The courses are
plentiful and challenging. The career mode makes a lot of sense now and the
Xbox Live multiplayer mode is finally the way it should have been last year.
Last year fans could go online and
race against “ghost” cars that represent the timed run of other gamers out
there. This year is only slightly different. You’ll be up against up to eight
other gamers on the Xbox Live but this time the ghosts you‘ll be racing against
are live racers that can talk to you back. It’s not bad, really, but it would
have been great to see a physical representation of the vehicles. Either way
you slice and dice it, this was the online mode Colin McRae Rally 04 should have
had but didn’t.
Simply put: Colin McRae Rally 2005
is the most complete rally racing game you’ll find on the Xbox. This is the
Colin McRae Rally game that defines the very essence of the sport and thus
making this the Must Have title to own. Trust me on this, you will not be