Colin McRae Rally
As with those T-shirts that went purple if you had an embarrassing perspiration problem, you have to wonder which bright spark came up with the idea of mudflaps. We're talking here of those dangly rubber things that grace the backside of wheel arches, by the way. Put your mind to task, and the only possible benefit of having them is to stop water spraying the car behind. They don't protect the pedestrian - ask anyone who's taken a stroll after a heavy downpour, only to be targeted by an impotent motorist with a cartographic memory for roadside ponds.
Thankfully, in the sport of rallying, apart from a few masochistic roadside spectators, the cars definitely get their come-uppance. With vehicles caked in mud, it's each driver's aim to get around the course as quickly as possible without ploughing into a tree. For a car-hating pedestrian, apart from destruction derby, rally driving is a great one to watch. It also makes for a great game to play. Rally games on the PC have been uncommonly good, if a little thin on the ground. The best so far has to be Screamer Rally, though for simulation fans, the top dog is the now ageing Network RAC Rally which was only mildly bettered graphically by the sequel, International Rally Championship.
It's time, therefore, for a new contender to make itself known. Time to introduce Colin McRae Rally and the man behind it - Guy Wilday, producer at Codemasters, the guys also responsible for the excellent TOCA Touring Car Championship.
Right. So far, all we know is that Colin McRae is a rally game. Apart from driving through a number of undulating landscapes in various weather conditions, what else can we hope to see? uColin McRae Rally is the first rally game that truly represents the nature of the real-life sport," says Guy Wilday. The key to the game's playability is the realistic handling, which uses real-life manufacturers' telemetry data to replicate real-life handling. There will be no comparison between Colin McRae Rally and any other racing game." Fighting talk indeed. But how many people really know how a rally car actually handles? It would therefore appear to us that Codies are on pretty safe ground. From the off, it's pretty obvious that Codemasters see their rally game as the only rally game.
"Of course," says Guy. "In our opinion, the overall feel of driving a rally car has never - really never -been properly achieved by previous rally games. We've gone to extraordinary lengths to get the feel just right. That element - the feel - is the first thing anyone who plays the game comments on."
So, how do you get the 'feel'just right? Well, you simply enlist the help of the UK's top rally driver, that's how. "Colin McRae and his co-driver Nicky Grist have been actively involved from the beginning right through to the final stages. Both Colin and Nicky's recommendations have been incorporated into the game. The UK version includes actual codriver messages delivered by Nicky Grist," Guy continues. "We've also looked to Colin for advice on how car set-up affects driving - it's a crucial part of the game. Each car has its own individual performance and handling characteristics that can be tweaked before you start a stage. For example, selecting the correct tyres for the conditions is crucial, and the wrong selection could prove critical."
All this grease monkey stuff might make Colin McRae Rally sound like a heavy-going, full-on simulation, but this didn't seem to be the case in the early version we played. True enough, there should be enough to keep simulation fans happy. But for the all-important arcade vote, there arc loads of goodies to keep the Screamer fan occupied. For instance, by the end of any given race, your car will probably not only have lost its tail lights, but will also look like it's been driven through a hedge backwards -which, in all honesty, it probably would have been. "We've put a lot of time and effort into getting the special effects to look just right," says Guy. "When you drive on mud, the wheels will kick up sludge which will stick to the car. Similar effects are produced when you drive on snowy or dusty tracks."
Another welcome feature of the gameplay is the amount of freedom drivers have. No longer arc you limited to the narrow confines of the road and bounced back to the centre should you stray onto the grass, as you were in IRC. What's more, there arc numerous hidden short-cuts through trees and ditches that can seriously affect your steering. It's still not Carmageddon by any means, but by tweaking the TOCA engine Codemasters have seamlessly mixed elements of both simulation and arcade.
"Colin McRae Rally is based on the second-generation development of the TOCA game engine," Guy chips in. "Major enhancements include a more complex car physics model to realistically replicate rally car handling. The cars are laser-scanned to within 0.025mm accuracy against the real model. Once this data is captured we reduce the meshes down to 450 polygons for texture mapping and inclusion in the game. Also, we currently have the game running on Voodoo 2 and it looks very impressive. We intend to include software support for 200MHz machines and above. But the game looks its very best with a 3D card, of course."
Blood, Sweat And Gears
Finally, we asked Guy what he would say to those people who might think Colin McRae Rally is just another driving game. "Play it, experience it, compare it," he responds. "We've sweated blood over this game. To date there have been 30 man-years spent on the development. We're incredibly proud of what we've achieved."
From what we've been privy to so far, Codemasters certainly have good reason to be puffy-chested. As it stands at the moment, the game looks visually impressive, especially with all the effects switched on. The way in which the cars handle is also pretty impressive, and the cars seem to powerslide and fishtail their way around the track just as you'd expect them to. Just don't ask us if it's realistic - none of us can drive.
It's no wonder Colin McRae Rally caused such a stir when it was released last summer, achieving enormous sales figures as well as critical praise. A year later, it's still the best rally simulation available and one of the finest racing games of all time. With news of the forthcoming sequel making all armchair drivers clap their sweaty little paws in anticipation, it's the perfect moment to release the first title on budget. It's true that the only reason we know anything about rally racing is because there's a Brit that's good at it, and it has nowhere near the same popularity or media coverage as Formula One. But what would you rather do - go round in circles over a grey tarmac like some idiotic wind-up toy, or race around the world, through jungles, snowy landscapes and craggy mountains? Exactly.
If you're new to the world of frenetic steering wheel swinging and last-minute corner handbraking, there's a useful rally school taught by the big man himself. It goes all the way from driving in a straight line (well, you try doing it after a few pints) to advanced driving techniques. Once you hit the championship proper, there are eight cars to drive over 50 wortd stages, and they're all exceedingly good-looking. The backgrounds are detailed and the cars move smoothly and gradually get covered in mud. Each vehicle handles so beautifully you'll wonder how driving could ever be this much fun, even if you're on your own every inch of the way.
Instead of bashing into other cars, you are kept up to date on your position in the overall race every time you pass an invisible checkpoint. This works surprisingly well, and at no stage do you feel as if there is something missing, especially since you are aided by co-driver Nicky Grist at all times, who advises you of what kind of turns to expect ahead.
If you don't have Colin McRae Rally, get it now. We promise you the drive of your life.
Download Colin McRae Rally
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
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