Rallying is a sport that I have always watched from afar, catching the occasional Beeb broadcast but never really being able to take it all in. The number of races and stages in a season overwhelm, only a small percentage of the action can ever be shown. It's all stage times, statistics, engine failures and the odd spectacular crash over a cliff. But the sport has a mass of hardcore fans and the action was easily pictured as the basis for a computer game. The result has been a bulge of Rally titles for just about every format of which the original Colin McRae was a big part, for both PC and Playstation. Codemasters seemed to get is almost right with great visuals and handling to match. This sequel is more of the same - tweaked, twisted and augmented - with the Playstation version being released late last year to critical acclaim. Now the PC incarnation is out on the market, with the same killer realism and extra '3D card powered' eye-candy to boot. Well the Playstation hardware is a little old hat these days.
The main game is unsurprisingly true to the sport. The Rally Championship season is housed between eight countries each split further into ninety different stages. Drivers tackle the stages individually with the winners being the quickest timekeeper. First place receives 12 hard earned points, second 8 and so on, which are accumulated throughout the season to decide the overall winner. Six cars are available out of the box: the Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Peugeot 206, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza and Seat Corboda. As you progress through the game another twelve will come available including the super cool Mini Cooper. This may seem like quite a choice but they all pretty much feel the same to drive - something in the rules apparently. The levels are just as diverse as the car manufactures with courses spread across the world's of ice, tree and sand making for some very different and perplexing driving conditions.
To help you traverse each stage without too many hiccups your co-driver is ever present, shouting the conditions up ahead, either the direction and angle of the next bend or an upcoming jump. I found the speech sometimes a little hard to understand but luckily helpful icons appear at the top of the screen to clarify what you about to hit. If you do have an upset with a tree be prepared for damage that will affect your car's performance. My advice is take it steady as car maintenance is only allowed every two stages, and then only for a limited time.
Sounds fun, bombing around loads of stages in cool cars but be warned, the learning curve is pretty steep, even more so for the Rally newbie. Rally cars spend most of there time skidding all over the place. Power sliding is definitely order of the day and be able to control such moves can take a while. Be thankful though as I am sure the handling has been dulled down a little from the real thing to make it a least playable. Once mastered you will agree that the cars' physics is all handled excellently and perfecting the controls is quite a fun challenge. Practice makes perfect and all that....
For the more hardcore and well read fan there is even more scope for gameplay. The car's inner workings can all be tweaked around with. Check out the current stage's weather forecast and set your gear ratios, torque split .. err whatever, accordingly. And to test your guile there are several difficulty levels ranging to the extremely hard indeed, make one mistake large enough and it will be all over. To beat the higher levels a lot time and effort must be departed with.
So perhaps it all sounds a little to complicated and time consuming for your liking? Not enough pick up and play value? Well never fear there is a brand new Arcade section that is a little more forgiving on the novice. There are eight different circuits, not stages, split across the different countries from the main game and this time you actually get to race against up to 5 opponents. The cars have also been tweaked to be a little more playable to the newer driver with damage also having been removed. It is definitely be a blast to play and should give you the confidence to step up to the main part of the game.
What the Playstation lacks, the PC has plenty of! And I am talking pure hardware power. The cars are modelled to what seems like perfection - true to their real life counterparts in almost everyway. Likewise the animation is super smooth from the spinning wheels to the independent suspension blocks. Unfortunately the levels, although impressively textured and designed, are let down a little by pop-up cardboard cut-out bushes and trees on the sides of the track - highly noticeable when you smack head on into them. All in the name of frame rate I am sure.
So Codemasters live up to their name yet again. Colin McRae Rally 2.0 has everything going for it. Bucket loads of gameplay and replayability thanks to the numerous stages, cars and options. It's a super sequel to boot with loads of extras, not least the arcade mode. Even the damn interface is so polished! So if driving is your passion (even if its not) this is a title well worth a look.