Review by Shurikane

Reviewed: 12/09/05

A title that's well on the right track.

WHO?
You are a professional rally racer - or, if you wish, Colin McRae himself if that suits your fancy.

WHAT?
It's rally racing at its best. You'll be not only be driving the usual world-class 4WD cars but also offroad SUVs, RWDs, 2WDs, classic cars, and even some of the legendary Group B cars.

WHY?
You're in it for the money and fame.

HOW?
By clearing each stage quicker than your opponents.

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GRAPHICS
The game looks and feels real. The world is highly detailed, the cars beautifully rendered, down to even the movements of the pilots inside (you can even see the driver shifting and turning the wheel if you pay attention.) The sense of immersion is total, and the features are easy to see and spot. Rain courses are especially well done, from the windshield wipers to the semi-distance fog. Damage on the cars is beautifully done, making it seem like real-time damage mapping - quite strong for what is simply classic damage handling in the game. There are so many things to actually break on your car that no two crashes will seem to leave your car the same. The crowd consists of purely 2D figurines, which aren't that noticeable during the race, but the winning animations clearly show the true nature of these folks, and their movements are all but subtle, brutally reminding you that it's a computer game after all.

SOUNDS & MUSIC
There isn't much music to talk about, except from a definitely European techno theme that plays through the menus. There is unfortunately no music during the race. While this means nothing to the hardcore simulation lovers targeted by the game, it's a gizmo to think about in the next incarnation of the game (I can recall times in Europress' International Rally Championship where the music really upped the fun.) The engine noises are satisfying, and the real candy lies in the various sound effects of the car and the environment. Take a good jump and the crash sound will definitely make you feel the weight of the car. Weaknesses lie in poor environmental handling (crossing rivers will usually cause its appropriate sound effect to shift left and right madly) and the inability to adjust the volume of specific sound types in the game.

NAVIGATION
The menus are easy to navigate and fairly quick. Options are well-explained, and the Career Mode layout is definitely nice.

OFFLINE GAMEPLAY
This is the meat and potatoes of the game, and it shows. The Championship Mode is nothing but a tour of each stage, leaving the spotlight to the Career Mode: a quest that is guaranteed to take well over twenty hours of play to get through. The Career Mode is special in the way that it forces the player to use a specific car or type of car for the rallies, and winning the different challenges and cups unlock new cars and the ability to upgrade some parts of the cars through simple and fun tests (the Dampers Test alone is a good testimonial of sound effects and car feel.) The physics engine is beautifully done, and cars behave as expected, 4WDs crisply hanging to the corners while RWDs will lose speed if they let a rear wheel stray off the road. The experience is very intense, the turns coming quite quickly and the sensation of speed is perfect. The co-driver (at least the English one) is very intelligible and gives directions loud and clear, even mentionning some special cautions and reasons for them. A little example: "Turn 2 left stay out, rocks." There is also a possibility to tune the car in its basic form (ride height, tires, acceleration/top speed ratio, anti-roll bars, etc.) by giving each of them the ability to be adjusted over five levels, though this feature is only in Career Mode, forcing the player to race stock in all other modes. Damage, is far from realistic even on the hardest setting, as the game will sometimes not even register damage despite making full contact against a fence. The effects of damage are almost symbolic, as a completely broken axle does nothing but crook the steering slightly. In fact, it is impossible to wreck the car in this game.

ONLINE GAMEPLAY
The online part lacks quite a bit. Instead of head-to-head racing, players race alone on each stage, with the optional ability to see colorful but very distracting ghosts of their opponents, and the game ends when all players have either finished the stage or timed out. This is all about online: nothing but a single-stage mode. No championship or rally mode of any sort, though it is possible to restrict the chosen car over a specific type so that not everyone takes the Citroen Xsara or Subaru WRX. This weak online mode is symbolized by the fact that the player will usually see only one or two games going on at any given time. However, players can race a stage offline and then submit their best times to the Codemasters website to see how they rack up against other players around the world.

DIFFICULTY
There is no AI, but rather a set of times to beat, which are usually pretty easy for even a casual player. The nature of the game pushes the player to beat himself. The cars themselves are nicely balanced and their individual difficulty will vary depending on the driving style and the stage. Some cars will work exceptionally well on off-road stages while others will work better on tarmac.

REPLAY VALUE
The game contains about eight countries, each with eight or nine stages, making for more than 64 courses to race on. This number, however, is toned down by the fact that each stage is relatively short and takes little more than three minutes to complete (some expert players manage to do them in half the time.) Therefore, to fully experience the game, one must play through a complete rally. It's a bit disappointing, knowing that there exists some stages in real life that take well over a half-hour to complete. The Career Mode, however, has plenty to offer and plenty to unlock - and if that isn't satisfying, one can unlock everything instantly inside the game by retrieving some special access codes via a quick call to Codemasters or a visit to their website - and a fee of about four dollars.

NO NIGHT RACING?
Colin McRae Rally 2005, despite its sophistication, feature nothing that'll allow us players to put the famous "rally lights" to use. This is regularly seen on other rally games, so why not here?...

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GOOD
-The graphics and visuals are top-notch.
-A career mode that truly takes a while to go through.
-Widely varied stages.
-A varied and extensive assortment of cars.

BAD
-The sound could use a bit more polishing.
-The real-time online mode is a true disappointment.
-No night racing!

SO WHY A NINE?
Codemasters has only little left to do before turning great into perfect. While the game itself is among the best - if not the best racing simulation out there, the fact remains that there are some things that can be fixed or added before it gets the perfect ten. Otherwise, it's a solid title, easy to pick up and play, and a reference in its genre.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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