I have had a bit of a soft spot for rally games since ‘Lombard RAC Rally’ on the Atari ST. So CRC 2005 seemed like the kind of game that would be right up my street. Well I can say I was not far off the mark. CRC has many aspects of a good rally game, however it lacks a little on experience that other titles have. However being the first serious racing game from Invictus, it’s a very good starting point to produce a series that could take on the likes of Colin McRae. At this stage it does not have the in-depth feel of McRae, however if they keep up this standard and produce CRC 2006 then I’m sure it won’t take them long to reach a competitive standard.
The first thing that hits you about this game is the graphics. Now I’m a bit of a sceptic here usually good graphics in a racing game means it’s going to be an arcade racer with the usual flaws. However this is not the case as I will explain later.
Graphically CRC 2005 steps up the mark of any modern game it pushes your hardware to the limits, and requires quite a hefty setup to get the best out of the graphics engine. I can see this engine with a few tweaks being used for the next few years. However this does not mean you cannot play it on an aging PC, even with the graphics turned right down there is enough there to make the game compete with what other titles your PC will run. However graphics do not make a racing game, but they do help considerably with what many of us call the ‘Oh Shit factor.’ Having a deeper sense of immersion and realistic graphics takes you that one step closer to being there. A number of times I got the ‘Oh Shit factor’ feeling as I nearly hit a tree or wall. The only thing missing was someone rattling my chair when I hit things, oh and the chance of agonising death.
The game makes good use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting; this is something which seems to be getting used more and more in modern games. However not every graphics card on the market can handle HDR. The advantage this gives is more realism and immersion. As I always maintain the one thing that makes games look like games is the lighting, if you can get the lighting realistic then your one step to photorealism. No matter what detail level is in a game good lighting can make it more realistic, than good textures.
However CRC 2005, not only uses HDR, it has some excellent tracks which offer an element of immersion rarely seen in racing games. Again the roadside scenery is spot on though to get the full glory you will need a good PC to have them on while racing. However like many other titles on the market they have not skimped here and made sure that everything looks how it should be.
Now the cars, from the first glance you think ‘Oh no shiny cars I bet they won’t get a mark on them.’ Well I’m glad to say that feeling was wrong, the dirt that collects is representative of the terrain you drive on, not only that the damage modelling seen in the harder difficulty levels is something rarely seen in many of the racing titles on the market. Also the cars interiors has been given the 3D HDR treatment, the lighting that comes through the windows reflects off the driver and dash, offering a most realistic feel to the player. However they have not gone to town on this area because you’re meant to be looking ahead not at how the light shines off the steering wheel.
Over all I’d say the graphical excellence shows in this game and it offers some key components to making this game more immersive and enjoyable.
Gone are the days of hairdryers, well what sounded like them. CRC offers a good strong aural feast, though not the best and most realistic I have seen in a game, it gives you the representation of how your engine is struggling and when you bottoming out on rocks or bumps. However I do not expect the first game in a series to come up with he perfect and realistic sounds straight of the bat, as I can imagine collecting enough sound data for such a task is going to be extremely hard. So rather than going for ultra realism in the sound department they have gone for good solid functionality, the sound offers you what you need to know what’s going on, and that offers another dimension to the experience. The sound is not jarring in any way and maybe only those who are used to this kind of car can tell the difference. Put this together with the graphics it offers, two of the most important aspects of immersion, that make a game feel more like real life.
The music offered within the game comes from SZEG (http://www.szeg.net/), A European metal band. It shows that this music is not developed by programmers and games designers but by musicians. It would be nice to have seen a special edition of the game with the sound track on CD. As it’s rare to see a game with a sound track you can listen to when not playing. However CRC offers a good quality rock soundtrack that will have you hitting the zone quicker than you realise. Even if rally games are not your thing I would say check out SZEG.
Overall the sound is very functional and offers you everything you need to use the element of sound as part of your game play. Though not the best in racing games it is top notch compared to many of the arcade racing games available, but falls short of games like Forza (x-box). The music definitely gives you more bang for you buck, by using SZEG’s soundtrack.
Because I’m lacking in a decent driving setup I was unable to test anything like force feedback and the use of steering wheels. However the game is playable off keyboard, although not the preferred method in my opinion, it’s passable for casual players. However a die hard racing fan will have everything they need to go that step further and take the plunge. I can see that having a good setup will make the game a mite easier to play in the early stages, and later will make completing the courses more intuitive, however if your serious about your driving games and you don’t have a force feedback steering wheel I do recommend it for this game and many other tiles out there, as this will over another dimension of immersion.
Beyond the controllers, everything seems to gel very well the early tracks are a challenge but not impossible. It is recommended to get to know your track first as many of the times I messed up it was due to driver error and not knowing how to take a corner and at what speed. Even the best steering setup in the world would not have helped me here. The progression through the game offers you new cars and upgrades as well and new tracks and courses. Though this area is limited compared to many of the arcade racers it is good for this style of game.
Though I was unable to get a steering wheel, I got a good sense that this game rewards skill over the player with the best car, as the challenges each track has to offer are different and rely on your knowledge of the course and know-how when it comes to driving off road. So if your doing badly, it’s not always the car or the controls, it’s your experience, so get practicing and use the quick race option to get to know the track personally.
With a multitude of multiplayer options rarely seen in this type of game it will keep you and your fiends entrained for a long time. The addition of hot seat mode, gives you the chance to compete in the same race with friend on a single PC, swapping over once you have completed the specified amount of laps.
I do recommend this game to players who are serious about their driving games, although you need a good wheel to get the most out of the CRC experience.
This racing game has everything you need; some games on the market are missing things that don’t affect play or offer more fun for the player. The replay system being the first to hit the trash in many games, I’m glad to say the replay system on CRC is one of the best I have seen in a while; it gives you a number of options and speeds, to view your driving or just marvel at how well you rolled your car.
Everything else in the game is put together well and it’s hard to find a point where you’re frustrated because of lack of programmer insight. If fact I have to take my hats of to the developers, as they seem to have gotten many things right first time where it takes some developers 3 of 4 iterations to get them down. The only thing that frustrated me was my lack of skill on some tracks, so until the developers can plug 6 years of experience in to the brains of players I guess we will all have to live with this.
Over all this is a very strong title for P3i, for the first venture into the serious racing genre, it’s a shining star, that meets many of the goals and standards set by long running titles. Though lacking in some areas overall the game works well and give a player what they want. I would say my only gripe was the lack of cars and tracks. A few more cars would have been nice as well as some good point to point races and different courses. I say this because many of the games on the market boast about how many cars and tracks they have. So to be a serious contender in the numbers game, they need to try and keep up.
So if your are in to rally games then this should be close to the top of your list, though not a die hard simulation it offers some aspects of this as well as a good amount of fun for all involved. Definitely a very strong first step in to this genre, I hope they do a CRC 2006 and offer greater scope of cars and tracks. One thing that did strike me was that this game would also work well on the next generation consoles, a possibility for the future if they do CRC 2006.