Sliding sidways into a game shop near you and getting mud all over the Gran Turismo 2 display, comes Colin McRae Rally, the best off-road racer on the Playstation to date. The game itself is a port of an older PC game, which was a big hit on the PS in Europe and Japan well over a year ago. For the longest time, it seems as if Sony would simply ignore this one, instead force-feedbacking us more sad games in the Test Drive Off-Road and Rally Cross series.If you either loved or hated these games, This one will surprise you with what it's got under its simple-looking cover art. Instead of racing against a pack of other cars on the same tracks, Colin McRae is all about driving against the clock, pure rally racing with super-tight physics and dead-on control.
On one hand, it's hard to play the game without comparing it up against Gran Turismo 2's rally racing sections, but when you do, you'll find the edge goes to the guys at Codemasters. GT2 is fantastic, but actually loses a few points with some folks with it's super steep learning curve, and overly complex car modification screens, especially when it comes to rally racing. CMcRR has a simple, yet intensive Rally School mode, with helpful voiceovers from the man himself, in regards to proper driving techniques. This adds a personal touch not felt in GT2 (something that should be considered for future installments in the series), and makes you want to keep going, no matter how hard a time you're having learning how to use the handbrake, or steer into a spin. The developers know that some parts of rally racing can be quite tedious, especially the strict time limit racers have to make repairs, change tires and such, so in this game, all that stuff is condensed to 2 screens- one in which you check out the next track's conditions, and the setup screen, where you make any and all changes to your ride.
The actual racing itself is nothing short of superb. You actually FEEL the road under your car, if you're using the Dual Shock controller, and if you STILL don't have one, this is an excellent game in which to learn how to use the darn thing! But no matter what controller you use, it's all about the handbrake. There's nothing like the feeling of handbraking into a square right turn, then sliding out of it sideways and perfectly into the straightaway. Everything about this game just feels so great! The inertia from turning and sliding sends the game camera swinging about quite realistically, something missing from other racers out there, and it adds the best feeling of motion i've experienced since TOCA 2, the other great racer by Codemasters! Even the true driver's viewpoint (inside the car, behind the wheel) is a big plus over GT2's bumper-cam. Even though the game has only a handful of cars compared to the staggering amount in GT2, you'll want to spend a great deal of time with each one, and learn how to push them to the limit. Just like in TOCA, you car can (and will) get damaged if (and when) you hit stuff, or roll over, so try to stay ON the course, OK?
Some may complain about the lack of other actual drivers in the game, or the fact that there's no music while you're bumping about the excellently designed courses, but this is the sort of game that doesn't need all that nonsense. In fact, Colin McRae simplifies some aspects of rally racing in order to make the game more accessible to novice drivers, the rewards them with bonuses, like extra tracks and cars, as well as the necessary skill to go back and do better at other racing games! The sound design is amazing, especially the subtle, and not so subtle environmental effects, like the pebbles hitting your undercarriage as you bounce along a gravel road, or the sounds of studded tires spinning out on an icy road! After a couple of hours playing, I was able to complete the time trials in two different countries while holding the controller behind my back- the control is THAT good! There may not seem to be as much going on here as there is in GT2, but trust me, you'll not be finishing, nor growing tired of this game in a few days! Yes, the backgrounds are not so hot at times, and there is a tiny bit of pop-up, but you'll be so caught up in the racing that you won't even notice!
In the end, it's all about pure racing excitement, and if you love rally racing, want to try it out, or are looking for something different, challenging and just plain fun- give Colin McRae Rally a spin in your Playstation. You'll most likely never look at or play racing games the same way again. Hopefully, Codemasters will do another rally game for the Playstation 2 that pushes that system to its limits, and hopefully, Sony won't wait as long to localize it!
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