Pages: 1 2 3
Graphics: The visuals in Colin McRae Rally were pretty much top notch when the title was released in Europe but are sadly lacking — while not downright awful — by current standards. The cars lack a realistic three-dimensional look, appearing instead like colorful rectangular boxes without much articulation, depth, or texture scooting around the roads: there are no reflections, environmental mapping, or shine to the vehicles at all. The in-car cockpit view is particularly disappointing, with the driver’s hands on the steering wheel looking downright cartoonish. The scenery surrounding the courses is also quite crude and unrealistic, lacking in sharply-rendered foliage or buildings around the roads; the distant backdrops look like still not-quite focused two-dimensional paintings that have little relationship to the settings you are actually driving through, and no matter how far you drive toward them they do not get any closer. None of the few special effects included, such as splashing water or sloshing mud, is impressive at all. The introductory video is quite slick, but that is about it.
Fitting the out-of-date standards of the rest of the offering, the available graphics resolutions range from 320×240 to only 800×600, again well beneath modern standards. The one advantage to the outmoded graphics engine is that the minimum system requirements are low and that on today’s computers the animation is really smooth, with a more than acceptable frame rate.
Interface: While keyboard and joystick/gamepad are supported, Colin McRae Rally more than most racers really needs a steering wheel to handle the quick responses to the tight turns and the sub-optimal road conditions. While the game menu allows you to calibrate game controllers, it flips you to the external Windows controller applet to do so. Using my Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback Steering Wheel, I find the control using default settings to be fine, and the force feedback effects to be reasonably convincing.
Due at least in part to the little hard disk space taken up by the incredibly small (under twenty megabytes) recommended minimum install option, the load times can be way too long both for getting from the menu system to the actual racing and for getting back from the racing to the menus. The menu system itself is bland but relatively easy to use, and in particular (unlike in most racers) the garage is extremely well designed because it explains the exact impact of each alteration.
Gameplay: The driving physics model is very realistic, effectively replicating the hazards and joys of rally car racing. As you corner, you need to slow way down using the handbrake or using adverse changes in the road surface to do so. The differing levels of friction that you encounter on straightaways also rings true. While you drive along the courses, you do get an authentic sense of the speed at which you are traveling.
As to damage, a lot more could have been done with this crucial dimension of the driving experience. You do experience crash damage, though obviously not usually from collisions with other cars because you rarely encounter any of them. While it is possible to get little dents and smashed windows, no body parts fly off or flames shoot out. After every few stages, an awful lot of time — 60 minutes — an option is available to repair your vehicle (more than in comparable rally offerings), in a way negating the pressing need to avoid any kind of crash while attempting to shave seconds off your racing time. While this is not like arcade racers where you can win by bouncing off the fences that line the roads, it is clear that colliding with a lot of objects should have cost you more dearly in the long run than it does here.
Sound FX: Other than the engine sounds, which are acceptable but not superlative, you do not hear much in the way of ambient environmental sounds as you race along. The best part of the sound effects are the extensive co-driver voice messages from Nicky Grist, Colin McRae’s real-life co-driver. The comments are quite specific, accurate and delivered with the perfect unemotional tone, much more useful than the simple directional arrow indicating forthcoming turns on the play screen. Unfortunately, there is no implementation of 3D hardware sound, a feature that would have helped even further with audio cues to let you know what is around the next bend.
Musical Score: As in most racing simulations, there is no music available while you race.
Intelligence & Difficulty: Colin McRae Rally has three difficulty levels — easy, intermediate, and expert. You can win at the lowest level with considerable practice. The highest level of difficulty presents a real challenge, and if you succeed, it will only be because you have become a real rally expert. The key to evaluating the difficulty here is judging whether players not familiar with the sport will have the forbearance to stick with this game long enough to learn the special skills needed to win, and it is quite clear many will not. The impact of the difficulty level on the artificial intelligence of your computer-controlled opponents is virtually impossible to judge because you almost never see them.
The rally school is one of the best features and it is very thorough in teaching you how to drive a rally car, how to understand co-driver messages, and how to set up your car correctly. For each difficulty level, Colin McRae shows you what to do, has you try to do it, and then evaluates your driving using several yardsticks. You learn about moving the car, performing loops, stopping quickly, sliding under control, and driving in darkness and in adverse weather.
Overall: Colin McRae Rally was an excellent game when it first was released, and its deficiencies today are in large part a testimony to how rapidly standards of excellence are advancing in computer gaming. While it takes a definite second place to Mobil 1 Rally Championship, at least the basic driving physics in Colin McRae Rally still hold up well. There are rumors in Europe of a sequel emerging, Colin McRae Rally 2, adding 4-wheel independent suspension, vastly improved graphics, better damage effects, as well as more courses and countries. The American audience might well be best served to wait for that one.
Pages: 1 2 3