The Colin McRae series of games always manages to push the Rally genre forwards a little bit further. So I was looking for some more excellent innovations in #3 to be honest. As well as the gameplay the series is renowned for - graphics, car realism and models - they all had to be up there. The question was, are they? And what does CMR3 bring to us that makes it much more of a rounded experience than the other previous titles. Well, this is the Xbox version I took a look at and I have to say from what I played of it, it was impressive.

CMR3 stands as a big franchise, for a start the game series itself has shipped almost 5 million copies. This is a pretty big achievement and #3 builds on this winning formula by giving you the chance to play as Colin himself. Ably assisted by his Co-Driver Nicky Grist, this is a game that just screams detail. There are a few minor niggles with it mostly in trackside graphics, but when you're tearing up the gravel in a Ford Focus at 150+ Mph you don't tend to care.

#3 pushes the envelope of the Rally racer by delivering more pulse pounding and heart stopping action than the previous titles, all wrapped around the nerve-wracking championship mode, where the game really comes alive. You must take on a 3-year contract to win a series of championships for the Ford Rallye Sport team. But where #3 really does shine is in the improved handling of the car and the physics - not to mention the damage system that has to be one of the best ones I've seen in a game so far.

In this title you're going to have to learn to drive and pace yourself carefully, because if you drive the car too hard your tires will shred, and you'll be left trying to finish the race on your wheel rims. With sparks coming from the metal, and a horrible grinding sound - your gut tells you that can't be good. You can drive the car from a number of cameras, inside, outside and the bonnet cam - it's all up to personal preference really.

The level of detail on the cars in the game really is staggering and it pushes the envelope of realism to one more notch, there are a number of break away parts on the vehicle as well - so you can lose that nice looking sponsored bumper or wheel arch. Lights break, the windows often spider as the glass takes an impact, cracking and finally shattering with a resounding crunch - you'll watch the wings of the car crumple and there are too many damage zones on your vehicle to list. We spent some time seeing how much damage we could inflict to the car on the single stage part of the game. I'd lost both back tires, no bonnet, my boot was gone and my back bumper was trashed. Smoke was pouring from the engine and the car's handling suffered like a drunken bull in a china shop.

But it's not only the car that's got great detail and animation, the man himself Colin McRae and his Co-Driver are also both smoothly animated and react to every movement and motion of the car. Nicky will hold onto the roll cage and try to steady himself if you take a corner too hard, or hit a big jump. You can watch Colin steer the car, and operate all of the controls, as he would do in real life. This is the kind of detail that rally fans have been after for years. Screeching around the environment also adds to the car's look, you'll get a slow build up of mud or various dust over your vehicle as you race - and it can come out of a Rally looking like a high speed mud pile.

#3 comes loaded with extra cars outside of the main championship and they're just as well implemented as the Focus, I was positively grinning at this insane level of detail. To give you a little list to whet your gamers appetites - we have the Mistsubishi Lancer EVO-7, Subaru Impreza WRX 44S, Citroen Xsara Kit Car, Ford Puma Rally, Citroen Saxo Kit Car, Fiat Punto Super 1600, MG ZR and the Ford RS20. With classic and bonus cars to drive, this adds up to a nice package indeed - and all of these monsters have different and realistic handling.

The main championship mode is a series of testing races over eight international rallies: Japan, Spain, USA, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Australia and the UK. You have a mix of road surfaces from tarmac, gravel dirt to snow. Some of these courses also feature nasty weather conditions - where the rain belts down and causes all sorts of unpredictable handling problems, not to mention obscuring vision as it explodes across your windscreen - only to streak away as you gain speed. Once again, the detail in the weather such as the rain is incredible.

All the tracks and stages have been personally pace-noted by Nicky himself and these have all been designed for the best and intense gameplay you could imagine. I must admit I'm more of a Need for Speed gamer, but I found myself totally hooked on this particular one. But for me, Championship mode is where it's at - now this is a truly stunning way to play the game. #3 is pretty much a fully-fledged Focus simulator and you get small cut-scenes of stage starts, the Focus team attending the car and various other things - you can also spend time fine-tuning and testing your beast. Every aspect of the Focus can be altered from gears to engine. It drags you in and immerses you in the game, you actually feel as though you're doing McRae's job and pushing your driving to the limit to get the best time.

Between each stage you can get detailed feedback on your car's state of play, how damaged is every part and what might be in danger of giving out. I could go on and on about this, but let's just say it's fantastic.

As for the sound, the sound in this game is rich and realistic; you get some great effects from the car, the tracks and the background chatter as the Focus team pokes around your car. Not to mention Nicky as he calls out the various hazards and jumps in perfect detail. Plug in four pads in Stage mode and away you go; split screen or alternate players - just like a real Rally. I love this game and I urge anyone who's into the McRae series to give this a look on the Xbox, if you're not into McRae but like a good Rally game - this is the one to get before #4 comes out, which is inevitable - and if they keep building on the gameplay and graphics as they have done with this title - they'll have a sure fire winner once more.