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Colin McRae Rally
Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Codemasters
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Racing

Graphics & Sound:
In spite of graphics that arenít much to look at, Colin McRae Rally is an incredible game. It manages to overcome its biggest shortcoming of looking bad by playing great. I only found a few instances when seams or draw-in took my eye away from the road, which maybe lost me a few seconds on the track. The in-game sound is minimal, except for music during the main screen and a neat Ďmachine shopí effect in between races. While youíre tuning up the car, getting ready for the next track, there are the sounds of pneumatic wrenches, conversing mechanics, and the throaty rumble of a supercharged engine. Rally racing is unique in that a navigator talks the driver through each course, allowing some speed which would otherwise be impossible. So, the only thing youíll hear during a race is real-life navigator Nicky Grist, telling you whatís coming up.

Gameplay:
Colin McRae Rally embodies the spirit of rally racing, which doesnít include anything but a race against the clock in some crazy conditions. Codemasters has done the best job yet, possibly for all PlayStation racers, but definitely for Rally racing. Thereís a perfect balance here between the Ďrealí challenges of rally racing and the fun things you might imagine about driving a Ford Escort through an Indonesian jungle. Even though rally racing always comes down to beating the clock, thereís a Time Trial Mode for practice on each track, before heading off to either Rally or Championship Mode. Championship Mode will take you through eight different countries, some of which can only be accessed at Intermediate or Expert difficulty levels. Rally Mode lets you go country by country to prove yourself before you tackle the world, and most levels have to be unlocked before theyíre playable.

In all modes, the focus is on tight driving technique and car setup. The setup is crucial, and Colin McRae Rally must be the first game to accurately reflect the different feel each change makes on a car. Some rally games have given us a big list of options, but no difference on the track. In Colin McRae, picking the wrong tire or suspension will have you spinning off every corner or wallowing in mud or sand with no traction. Some of the tracks are specifically built as Ďtechnicalí rallies, meaning itís not about how fast you go, but how well you take the corners. A good setup and a master powerslide will get you by every time. During the Championship and Rally Mode, some countries will include a Super-Special Stage, allowing a race against the computer on a speed track.

Two-Player Modes are nice. For Rally purists, each player can compete alone on full-screen, staying true to the Ďbeat-the-clockí idea. With split screen, you choose between having the other player as more of a pacer, or as a full-blown competitor. The former is for when you just want to beat your buddyís time, the latter for when you want to run him or her off the road. By far, the most creative mode in the game is the Rally School Mode, which walks you through good driving, and is presented as various Ďtestsí which you must pass or fail. Right on to Codemasters for not assuming that everybody knows how to drive! Time Trial can be a nice way to try out the various cars, although there arenít many to choose from. Car choice is broken down between 2- and 4-wheel drive models, and the smaller ones are only available at the Novice level. There are some cars to unlock, of course, and all models in the game feel fairly distinct in handling and performance.


Difficulty:
Thereís enough variety here to keep Colin McRae from just being a simulation, but itís a fairly demanding racer. Those who go through on Novice level will be through pretty quick, but the hardest thing about rally racing in general is that there arenít any other cars on the track. Somehow, itís hard to gauge against the clock, and even though you may feel like youíre pushing it, the clock donít lie... Overall, some of the levels seem easy, and some (Indonesia) feel really hard.

Game Mechanics:
The Rally School Mode does a great job of teaching the controls and basic driving style, so Iíll skip that and get to setup. The biggest challenge to each race is knowing the track and prepping your car accordingly. Each country has a basic style. Sweden and Monte Carlo are snowy or icy, Corsica and the UK have mostly tarmac, while Greece and Indonesia are gravel and mud. Add to this a variety of weather conditions, plus different terrain and street layouts, and thereís a lot to keep track of. Luckily, youíve got plenty of money to buy all the sweet stuff your car needs for top performance. Each modification takes a certain amount of time, and because damage has to be fixed during races, itís important to not trash the car if you want to be able to modify it too. Modifications are simple, but they make a huge difference. Tires can be set for rain, snow, or gravel. Acceleration and speed can be changed depending on the curves, and steering serves the same purpose. Suspension and braking are probably the options that get changed the least, but there are times when your style might require you to change everything. The suggested setup always shows first, and itís easy to reset things if you get confused. This is probably more on the simulation side of Colin McRae, but anyone can take the stock setup and do just fine. Again, Codemasters did a good job finding the balance between reality and pure fun.

Once on the track, one of the most fascinating aspects of rally racing shows itself. When riding through a twisty Greek landscape, itís nice to know what the next corner looks like before you come dashing at it going 87 miles per hour. The co-driver option (which can be turned off, although I wouldnít recommend it) is a necessary evil in Colin McRae. For those used to a more stripped down racer, it will be annoying at first to hear Nicky saying Ď1 Left, donít cut, fence, 2 Right, opens...í The game manual does a good job of explaining what the descriptions mean, and if you approach things with an open mind, youíll find the navigator incredibly helpful. The only way to get top score is to rely on the guy with the map, and modify your driving style to anticipate the next curve. The arrows give a good idea, but itís possible to turn them off and just listen to the voice once you get the idea. Both Colin and Nicky have this heavy Scottish brogue, so sometimes itís a little hard to understand, but itís also quite endearing. If the WipEout3 crew or Digital Polyphony had conspired with Codemasters on this one, Iím guessing Colin McRae Rally would be up for Best PlayStation Racer, hands down. As it is, weíll have to hope for the same tight gameplay on Colin McRae 2, along with some spiffier graphics. Hereís hoping they donít rush a sequel, and take advantage of PS2 for a triumphant return. A game that plays this good should look great as well. Right?


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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