Rally games have really come into their own in the recent years. Titles such as Sega Rally
and Microsoft Rallisport
have done a great job of pushing the sport into the spotlight, showing gamers just how much fun off-road rallying can be. Through all of this, Codemasters’ own franchise, Colin McRae
, has been on the backburner, looking for the perfect time to strike and gain market supremacy. In the year 2003, it is time, time for third iteration in this franchise to take the rally world by storm and earn its place atop the podium.
When you begin you’ll more than notice the sleek interface. It’s one of the best that we’ve ever seen in a racing game as it is clean, easy to understand and best of all, appealing. The game itself has very few modes featuring time trials, multiplay on any of the game’s stages and the meat and potatoes of the game, the championship mode. The single-race mode allows you to race through all of the tracks that you’ve unlocked. You can go through this mode solo or compete with up to three of your buddies. In the championship mode you’ll assume the role of McRae as he progresses through a few seasons in the race for supremacy.
The championship mode is definitely a nice addition to the game as it adds some structure to a game, not to mention a genre that is so loosely defined. As McRae, you’ll head into dozens of stages alongside his real life navigator, Nicky Grist. Winning races and placing highly in the standings will unlock new goodies such as tires and suspension for your vehicle, as well as new vehicles that can be used in the game’s single-race modes. It’s very refreshing to see the endorser of a game playing such a large role in the title. We really got the feeling that he was involved with many of the game’s processes, lending not only his likeness to the game, but also his years of expertise.
For Gary Coleman, this is the ONLY way to drive.
However, since the spotlight has been placed on McRae, you won’t be able to control the other drivers in the career mode. Perhaps most importantly, this means that you won’t be able to use any of the game’s dozen or so vehicles, thus making their appearance here rather pointless. It would have been nice to have at least been able to sign different sponsorship deals that allowed you to race in different vehicles, driving that Ford Focus does tend to become old hat after awhile.
As you may or may not know, rally racing puts you on the track by your lonesome. The winner of the race isn’t determined by whose better at drafting or who’s better at blocking the competition. Instead the winner is decided by the driver with the fastest time on the course. This puts much more pressure on you to succeed because even the slightest mistake can be the deciding factor between a 1st and 5th place finish. In McRae 3
there’s always a heightened sense of pressure, especially when approaching a precarious turn. The feeling of committing one fatal error and losing the racing always seemed to loom over us making each and every turn in a sweaty palmed, white-knuckle affair.
Racing through the dirt, tarmac, snow etc. feels pretty realistic. The physics seem lean towards the simulation end of the spectrum with a few arcade-like elements thrown in here and there. For instance, colliding with trackside objects will usually allow you to bounce off and continue on your merry way, with very little penalty. However, most of the time the vehicles exhibit an accurate sense of control, pull, weight and perhaps most importantly, inertia. Power sliding through turns lends a very accurate and convincing feeling while wrestling for control of your vehicle over various terrains feels pretty realistic.
To offset these positives are a few suspect inconsistencies. At times it felt almost as if our vehicle were floating on thin air. This was especially noticeable when our vehicle was taking off from a standstill or was thrown into reverse. The car literally floats across the landscape, exhibiting no real weight or mass. It doesn’t deter the game too much but seeing it unfold is rather disconcerting. Colin McRae 3
is one of those cases where it absolutely has to be seen to be believed. This game is gorgeous, just absolutely gorgeous. While the game is named after the driver, the vehicle, the Ford Focus, handily steals the show. This is perhaps, the most realistic vehicle to ever appear in a video game to date. This thing is just amazing, featuring a fully constructed, not to mention destructible, vehicle that just looks superb. We’re not kidding; as soon as we saw this baby our jaws hit the floor. You’ll see every single part of the vehicle when you’re racing, the brake drums, the axles, the suspension, the undercarriage, the interior and of course the exterior, all rendered with painstaking reality. It’s impossible to explain in words just how gorgeous each and every vehicle is. The bar for vehicle models in a racing title has been raised. When it comes to graphics, McRae 3
is in at an entirely different level.
The show doesn’t end there. Each vehicle in the game is fully destructible, right down to the bare chassis. This means that all of the doors, hatches, hoods, fenders and bumpers on each vehicle can be demolished. We have never seen a game that allowed you to so thoroughly destroy the vehicles. Besides, who needs dead weight like doors, windshields and hatches to bog them down anyway?
Dammit John, this is the last time I let you borrow my car!
Objects that fly off your car even exhibit an accurate sense of gravity and reality. For instance, if a tire falls off of your car on a hillside, you can expect it to roll up a bit, stop and then have its momentum pull it back down the hillside, actually gaining more speed as it progresses. Likewise, components that have been damaged, such as doors and hoods, exhibit a realistic sense of momentum as well. It’s pretty cool to see the hood fly up as you accelerate only to fall as you slow down to head into a turn.
Each track looks rather superb as well, most noticeably the latter tricks which feature some excellent weather effects. If you play the game from the cockpit view you’ll even see raindrops strike and bead on your windshield. They’ll even start to slide along your windshield as a result of your vehicle’s movement. Thankfully you’ll have a set of wipers to clear up your visibility before it becomes too congested.
If you plan on getting the full rally experience you’ll want to invest in a decent set of 5.1 speakers. If you’re still stuck with the 2.0 setup you’ll be missing out on one of the best soundtracks to ever appear in a video game. We’re not talking music here; in fact, with the exception of the menu music there are no musical tracks to be found. We’re talking about sounds where it counts, the vehicle and environmental sounds. The effects here are just astonishing, featuring perhaps the best usage of 5.1 in a racing game to date.
From the cockpit view you’ll hear the sounds emit from their real life locations so you can expect to hear an awful lot of traction loss from the rear while the fronts will produce a large amount of engine sounds. The samples aren’t just cheap and generic either, they’re about as clear and as realistic as they come. You’ll even notice little rattling noises from your engine as it wears and tears. Driving on different surfaces yields various results that sound very much like the real thing. Just wait until you lose a wheel, the sound of the metal rim grinding along the pavement sounds amazing.
Where does the game need work? For one the learning curve seems to be exponential. Instead of easing the gamer into the game, Codemasters instead opted to lull them into a false sense of security and then after that, smash their heads into a wall. The first season in the career mode is relatively easy, you can make plenty of mistakes and still expect to finish atop the points standings. However, as soon as you hit the second season you’ll know that you’re in an entirely different ballpark.
Your vehicle has suddenly become much more fragile, to the point where minor crashes will cause major damage to the chassis. While we had no trouble dominating the first season, we were lucky to even make it through a series of races in the second season. Usually we’d accumulate enough damage to our vehicle to force our team to forfeit. It’s a stark contrast to the relatively simple, and forging, first season.
The multiplayer aspect of this game is also fairly weak. Although it can cater to four people total, it’s still pretty boring and mundane. You can choose to go at it one at a time, just like in real life, or you can all race simultaneously. What’s strange about the simultaneous mode is that you can’t see your opponents on the track. It would have been nice to have been able to fight and block your opponents and of course, spin them out as they prepare to head into a turn.
If you’re in the market for a grade A rally game then look no further than Colin McRae Rally 3
. It’s a highly polished and finely tuned piece of video gaming that deserves a spot on any racing fan’s shelf. Sure it’s not perfect, but it’s still a damn fine game.