Game Review - by James Allen
One of the least popular forms of racing in these United States is rally racing. We crave the excitement and suspense of cars going around in circles in huge numbers, not single vehicles racing the clock on a road course! Nevertheless, Codemasters has delivered Colin McRae Rally 2.0, the next addition in the rally series. There are few games that focus their attention specifically on this type of racing, and few drivers do it better than Colin McRae does. Will version 2.0 prove to be the definitive rally racer on the PC, or will Colin McRae Rally 2.0 limp across the finish line well behind the competition?
Colin McRae Rally 2.0 features the simulation of rally and (new to version 2.0) "arcade" racing. When I heard of a new arcade mode, I assumed it meant a toned-down physics engine for easier racing. Arcade mode is actually racing as we are used to it: six cars on the track at the same time, vying for position side by side. This seems like an attempt to appeal to the American stock car crowd, who probably much rather race other cars than drive several long "qualifying" laps. It does make the racing in Colin McRae Rally 2.0 much more varied, and subsequently extends the longevity of the title.
There are a number of past and present rally cars in Colin McRae Rally 2.0. Featuring the Ford Focus, Lancia Integrale, Subaru Impreza, and Peugeot 205 Turbo 16, there is a total of 14 different cars, with some of them having a number of different paint schemes. The different cars actually do drive slightly differently, especially the older models. Of course, all these cars need tracks to race on, and we have many to choose from: with exotic locations such as Finland, Australia, and the United Kingdom, each of the eight locations has between eight and ten different rally tracks, so you can do the math. Add in the arcade tracks, and we have lots of surfaces to engage with our muscle cars.
You can play the rally modes in single races, single rallies (a series of eight or so races), time trials, or championship seasons. Arcade racing is similar, with single races and a championship mode. In a move that I never understand, you need to play through the arcade and rally championship modes at intermediate or expert difficulty to unlock all the cars and tracks. Smacking of console evil, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 makes the mistake that many consoled PC games make, thinking that the PC crowd are apt to enjoy unlocking levels and extras. You shouldn't need to include the unlocking as an added feature to keep people playing the game: the game itself should do that. Imagine the outcry if NASCAR Racing 4 initially allowed racing only at Talladega with Jeff Gordon, with everything else off limits. Why games such as this get away with this repeatedly is beyond me. Even more exasperating is the fact that you must place sixth or better (out of sixteen) in rally mode to unlock the next track. What is that? Everyone has their offdays, and even players you are not expert drivers will want to play harder tracks such as Italy or the UK without going all the way through Championship mode. Well, enough rambling. There's also network play, by the way. Let's move on.
Sound is very effective. We are presented with the kinds of sounds we expect in a racing title: tires sliding on gravel, the crunch of the body when it impacts a tree, and others. There is a co-driver included in Colin McRae Rally 2.0, which verbally informs you of upcoming jumps and turns, and the appropriate gear to use in them. This is a nice added realistic extra. Possibly the most comforting sound is that when you have the fastest time through a checkpoint. A smile becomes just a little wider during that moment, just before you scream at the scream for going back to 7th.
Gameplay in Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is very difficult, especially if you are not used to rally type racing. The AI is very good, especially on the intermediate and expert difficulty levels. I have quite a time trying to place higher than last in arcade mode even in intermediate difficulty. This probably stems from the fact that driving a rally car is slightly different from a stock car. It's really more akin to a World of Outlaws (seen on Open Wheel Wednesday) car, which slides more than it goes straight on their dirt bullrings. Nevertheless, the AI and the tracks (which get progressively narrower) prove to be quite a challenge. One of the most interesting aspects of Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is the service area, which is available after every second race in a rally. You are allotted 60 minutes to setup and repair you car, and if you are especially damaged (you will be), you have to budget your time, choosing braking or turbo, for instance. This strategy element adds another wrinkle in the interesting amalgam that is Colin McRae Rally 2.0.
The graphics in Colin McRae Rally 2.0 are especially nice. The car models themselves are extraordinary, especially when your bumpers start to fall off: loose items such as spoilers and hoods will bounce up and down while you drive the track. Neat. The environments themselves aren't relegated to low-resolution pixel fests, either. Plus, you'll be flashing by them at speed anyway, so you'll hardly notice. Rain and snow impacting the car exterior is also well done. Everything about the graphics comes off with a polish which is sometimes ignored in games today. Too often we see two extremes in graphics, and those games which do not strive to present ground-breaking graphics tend to cut corners, and its refreshing when you see some attention paid to the pretty pictures in a game such as Colin McRae Rally 2.0.
Although the lengths of the rally stages in Colin McRace Rally 2.0 are very short compared to real life, we are presented with a fairly accurate simulation of rally driving. Featuring a varied selection of cars and loads of tracks, the rally and arcade modes provide enough entertainment for the racing enthusiast. If you are interested in rally racing, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is an easily approachable, but pleasingly difficult, title to consider.