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|Setting the Scene:
Several months ago, if anyone dared suggest that you'd soon be tearing around a selection of racing circuits for hours... days... weeks on end in lonely Time Trial mode... well, you would certainly think that they had just fallen out of their tree and sustained a nasty blow to the head. But along came the game that changed our way of thinking.
Codemasters, the makers of the excellent Micro Machines V3 and more recently the equally splendid TOCA Touring Car Championship, have bravely opted to produce a game where the actual sport of cross-country rally car racing is retained in it's purest form. There are no qualifying laps to achieve the best possible placing on the starting grid, nor any jockeying for best position at the first corner. In fact there is not another car to be seen in single player mode. This is rally racing. It's you and your vehicle against the clock. Simple, but effective.
Colin McRae Rally enables players to drive rally cars at speeds of up to 160mph, taking handling right to the edge of control. Competing in gruelling international rally championships and battling against the elements, players must achieve winning times to drive all 48 individual stages over the eight different countries featured.
Colin McRae Rally is the only official game of the champion rally driver and Colin was closely involved with the game's production to ensure it replicates the nerve-wrecking handling of rally cars - including his famous Subaru Impreza WRC.
Sound and Vision:
The opening FMV is brief, but effective. The camera gently draws towards Colin's gleaming metallic blue Subaru as it rests quietly in the confines of the garage. A thrash of 'Shaft' style guitar music and we're into a selection of rally action highlights showing the Subaru power-sliding through muddy terrain and flying through the air like something out of the Duke's of Hazard.
The best way to describe the in-game graphics would be to ask you to think of a higher resolution version of V-Rally. The visual similarities between the two games is astounding leading me to think that both were developed using a similar, if not identical, game engine.
Many of the routes involve racing on a rough and ready terrain past lines of clustered trees and shrubbery such as the rolling hills and farmland of New Zealand where occasionally a sharp left will take you over bog and ditch ridden fields. There's the snow bound mountains of Monte Carlo and the dusty plains of the Australian outback. Tarmac, gravel, snow and dirt are the order of the day as dust, loose chippings, slush and mud are thrown back over the rear end of your car during racing. Sheep can be seen grazing in the fields while spectators shelter beneath the trees but they always manage to look like the cardboard cut-outs they really are. One of the most impressive sights during racing is the use of the lens flare technique which works well in portraying bright sunlight and the occasional rainbow looping over the horizon.
While the racing circuits remind me of V-Rally, the vehicles are very much down to TOCA Touring Car. Colin McRae Rally features four 4-wheel and four 2-wheel drive rally cars plus a further four bonus cars. All are accurately laser-scanned from models and each car's in-game appearance is created from up to 450 polygons to mirror the sleek, curvaceous bodies of the real vehicles.
However, sleek bodies don't last long in the dangerous world of rallying and car damage is inevitable. To illustrate damage, the game utilizes an advanced graphics system whereby the damage shown has a radius of effect from an impact point. The degree of damage shown on a car body mirrors the level of impact and number of impacts on any one spot.
Colin McRae Rally offers players 5 dynamic camera angles to view the action from, including the in-car driver's "Head Cam" view which, with its constant jogging, simulates the relentless - often unforgiving - road surface's effect on the car with dramatic effect.
The sound effects when browsing through the option screen are excellent. There is no blasting rock music but the sound of your mechanics working tirelessly on your vehicle. Perfect, after all we are taking part in a rally not bobbing around at a pop concert.
The car engine effects are quite realistic although when revving up at the start of an event the motor seems to have a high pitched whine rather than a rich throaty roar. During the race every slide and collision appears to have been well captured and duly adds to the overall atmosphere of the game.
To help you negotiate each upcoming corner a color coded arrow is displayed on screen. To further add to the realism Colin McRae's actual co-driver, Nicky Grist, constantly shouts out helpful information on how severe each upcoming ditch, hump or bend is along with the recommended gear required to safely pass through the hazard. The assistance of a co-driver becomes even more important as daylight fades and players embark on night time stages.
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