Wednesday, 09 February 2005
Do you remember those fantastic Christmas mornings as a kid, waking up at 3am, freezing to death, but too excited to feel anything as you wonder if ďheísĒ been yet? Remember that feeling of pure delight as you open your little presents, discard the usual socks from Grandma (no I did not love the socks thank you very much!) and get towards the last few, usually the ones from your parents. Well it sounds silly, but I got the same joyous feeling when Codemasters happily sent me a copy of Colin McRae Rally 04 for review purposes, and it plopped onto my doormat. You see, this is a special game. Oh yes, itís very special indeed.
Lets start with the first thing youíll notice with the game, the menu screens. To be perfectly honest, theyíre the best Iíve ever witnessed. A combination of white background, with simply black text in an amazingly uncluttered screen considering the wealth of information and options available, makes for an enjoyable experience. There are no huge loading times between screens here, with everything quick and very swish, especially when you come to select cars which all look stunning.
On the talk of looks, just look at the screenshots to the right. Stunning arenít they? Well those static screens donít even do the game the remotest bit of justice as this is as good looking a game as Iíve ever witnessed on the PS2. The cars themselves are stunningly detailed. Look closely and youíll even see brake pads light up as they become excruciatingly hot. Weather effects are stunningly re-created. On sunny days expect to see the odd piece of lens flare as the sun creeps into view as you go over a hill, during the gloomy rain, expect to see lightening, and the most stunningly beautiful rain effects ever seen in a game. Snow I admit is a bit of a let down compared to the first two, with it all seeming just that little bit too clean cut, but still, itís a huge step in the right direction compared to some.
Then thereís the tracks themselves. Never before have I seen such detail! Flying along the narrow tracks of Britain youíll see houses, and detailed trees fly past you. In Sweden you even manage to drive alongside a train, and look around at the skyline, and you may even spot the odd aeroplane! Each track has a completely unique feel to it. One track in particular, I think itís one of the later Greek tracks seeís you winding you way up a steep hill through a huge line of long turns. The ability to them look down out of the corner of your eye and see the entire length of track youíve just ploughed your way up is an am amazing experience.
What interests most rally enthusiasts to this game is of course the plethora of cars. Thereís a total of over 20 cars, ranging from two wheel drive cars youíll find on pretty much any street in the country, through four wheel behemoths such as the well known Subaru Impreza and the Ford Focus, and even the banned 1980ís group B cars are unlock able along the way (they even have their own championship) Other cars are unlock able after you meet certain conditions, most of them being Ďcomedyí cars which youíll play with once or twice before returning to the traditional cars. The 2WD cars are the easiest to drive by far, with not too much power under the bonnet, meaning that youíll always find yourself in complete control. The 4WD cars however will see things get a little bit more difficult, as you find yourself grappling with the car to keep it under control at times. The Group B cars however are only controllable by the best of the best. These powerful beasts will challenge even the greatest rally driver, and if you choose to do the group B championship, be ready for a challenge.
The control of the cars is night n perfect, everything feeling as weighty as youíd expect. One gripe many have had with previous Colin McRae Rally titles has been the feeling that the cars are merely floating just above ground. This certainly isnít the case here. Cars feel exactly as youíd expect them to feel. The much publicised move to a four point system (for each wheel) rather than the previously used centre point of the car for physics purposes has made this the most impressive handling model Iíve had the pleasure to use.
But what about when it all goes wrong, eh? What about when you miss your timing for the sharp two left and plough straight into a tree? Well, the damage model is where Codemasters really go their own way. Look at the TOCE series, look at all the previous rally titles and one thing that are always noticeable s the phenomenal damage model. Itís taken just one step-up for this forth title, and what a change it makes. Bumpers tear from the car, wheels burst, engines blow, windscreens shatter, panels crunch and buckle under pressure. Itís all as youíd expect from a rally title, and something that would be fantastic in something like Gran Turismo 4.
Now this is the point of the review I usually have a little whinge about the faults Iíve found with the game. Well Iím sorry, but to be perfectly honest thereís not really any faults with Colin McRae Rally 04 whatsoever. I suppose the multiplayer split screen mode is disappointingly slow, but even that can be combated by utilising the alternate multiplayer option. The handlings perfect, the car physics the best Iíve seen, the tracks superb, and thereís a wealth of hidden cars to unlock, and thatís without mentioning the large amount you have to start with! Itís difficult to see how they can improve the next release of the game, maybe give away a free rally car or something, or a free gizmo that splats mud around your living room while your ploughing your way through the British fieldís? This is my game of the year so far, just piping my previous favourite Hitman 2. Go out and buy this, buy this now and your life shall be completeÖ