Will the world's greatest rally sim get even better? Click "more" to see killer screens.
The newest version of CodeMasters' Colin McRae 2005 is an interesting amalgamation of the past two games from the series, as well as a clear presentation of an evolution in gameplay and design. Everyone who plays this game comes for the physics and handling, and in the process they've received some numerous bonuses along the way. While Colin McRae 3 was easily one of the best looking racers on PlayStation 2 and Xbox in its day, CM4, and now CM2005 have pushed ahead with specialty graphics, interfaces, and neat additions to the setup, repair, and upgrade departments.
Codemasters has shaken things up from the previous two efforts. With the excellent graphics engine in place and constantly being overhauled with each new iteration, the team can now work on the gameplay details to the fullest extent. For instance, while CM4 was online in spirit (you could post your best times on a leaderboard), this one gives you the chance to compete online with up to seven other drivers on Xbox Live. We haven't actually been online yet, so we'll leave that to another article, but for now, the single-player has turned up aces.
The game modes have been expanded to include Challenges (Time Attack, Multiplayer and System Link), Championship (become Colin McRae and win the Championship), Career (a full-fledged rags to riches career with tons of cars and new courses to drive in and on, respectively), and Xbox Live (play online). The Career is where it all begins, and the beautiful, sleek, white and minimalist interface has been expanded to this region of the game, and Codemasters has packed the mode with 23 different series in which to compete. There are all sorts of races: Gold Cup, 4 WD, specialized car races, and regional challenges, all of which require either specific car classes to enter, or high driver ratings in which to participate. This setup is very different for the series, as you can see all of them, and you can also choose a direction, rather than progressing linearly.
In Career mode, I started out with the VW Polo Super 1600, a souped up Golf-like vehicle that has the classic Colin handling. It's small, light and clearly not the best car in the garage. Though this car is light, it's been tweaked to feel like a "Colin" car, meaning it's got a substantial weight to it, a very particular handling sensation, and it's not all that fast. But whoa, does it have power. The first series I entered was the 2WD Gold Series, which obviously only requires a player rating of 1, and it was quite easy to blaze through all of the courses and take first place against the other AI's times.
Like I said, the Career mode is fat. It's got 23 series, each with several races in each series. You'll actually race in various parts of the world in each series. In even the first series, I raced in Finland, the US, Japan, and Germany to name a just a few regions. There are actually 300-plus courses all together. That's HUGE. The other thing that broadens the experience is that for the first time, Codemasters enables players to race in a wide spectrum of vehicles. You can drive in 2- and 4-wheel cars, 4-wheel classics, Super 2-wheelers, Rear Wheel only cars, Distinctive, and 4X4 classics.
What are the cars? The list includes the VW Polo Super 1600, Ford Escort RS Cosworth, Audi Sport Quattro, Ford RS200, Volkswagon Golf MK5, Toyota Celica VVTLi, Lancia Stratos, the VW Beetle RSi, the M-Sport Freelander Rallye and more.
Handling wise, the cars all feel spectacular. They're heavy yet incredibly responsive, and they're all totally powered up for maximum acceleration, like all good rally games should be. So, do they feel even better than in CM4? That's a tough question, because driving these cars is all about subtleties. I'll have to get deeper into it to explore all of them. Still, you will notice a pretty big difference between cockpit mode and third-person perspectives (there are at least five camera angles to pick from), and the courses start out pretty wide and relatively easy. The new hood cam is actually a great improvement. The camera is shifted ever so slightly to the left, providing you with a substantial view of the road, the dash, and driver movement in the car itself. You'll see finer layers of dirt, dust, mud, rain and snow piling up on your window as you progress, too.
I noticed that the damage to each car has a distinct affect on its performance, and this change is substantially improved over CM3 and CM4. At one point, I heard a continuous rattling of broken metal after I smacked into a tree. I also had my engine go out on me. That's never happened before. I was rolling through a straightaway and it just stopped! It took a few tries to restart it, but I did. Very cool, and very surprising!
On that note, the repair, setup and upgrade section is far better than before. Codemasters has re-designed the area so it's quick and easy to use, and it's smarter than before. Each category of the car is laid out in bars or fields, and the amount of damage is shown in that field using color, green meaning healthy, yellow showing some damage, and red showing serious damage. You'll also see a percentage of damage, to quantify the amount of damage numerically. Each part requiring repair also requires time, so if you have more than one hour's worth of repairs, you'll suffer time penalties. And most likely, you suck too. But you can repair after each race, and now you can actually auto-save at almost any point, so you're not required to leave your system on forever, or just quit in the middle of a series because of some unforeseen circumstance in the real world.
If you haven't already noticed, Colin McRae 2005 is a beautiful she-beast. Already gorgeous in its first current generation appearance (Colin McRae Rally 3 was great looking on PS2), this one outshines them all. The softer hues and distinctions between blurred (far away) and focused (up close) objects brings a great deal of beauty to the courses' overall feel. It brings more mood. The amazing lighting is actually better in this one. You can see it as you race through forests, with lens flares appearing quicker, more variety of light filtering through the trees, and more attention paid to how the light affects every surface. You'll see in the Greece levels how the light affects the course, bringing a slightly washed out, whiter affect, which is what happens to areas that receive intense sun exposure. The snow levels are also amazing, and the leafy, forested areas all provide a surprising amount of new detail.
When trees are hit, they will shudder and leaves will fall; when plastic barriers are run through, they'll stretch, snap and the poles will fall down; and the cars themselves show a marked improvement of detailed damage. Again, watching this through the new cockpit perspective brings new clarity to this effect. Lastly, the sound is so crisp, clear and there are so many samples that each time your car slides into a new surface, you can distinctly hear the gravel, sand, mud, and dirt beneath your wheels. The full effect of the new viewpoint, the sound and the superb graphics gives this game a more distinguished feel and place in rally racing videogame lore.
Colin McRae 2005 is not likely to convert casual or arcade racers to become sim fanatics overnight. But believe me, after playing a substantial amount of RalliSport Challenge 2, this is a step up for all serious rally racing fans. Everything from the ultra-responsive controls, the exquisitely improved graphics and the amazing list of sound effects, not to mention the broadened, variety-packed gameplay, is sure to give fans of the series the best rally experience of their lives. It's coming out in just a few short weeks, too. We can't wait.