STAFF REVIEW of Colin Mcrae Rally 04 (Xbox)

Friday, March 26, 2004.
by RichVGS

Colin Mcrae Rally 04 Box art Finally, the day is over. After being stuck behind a desk for eight mind-numbing hours, you want nothing more then to sit back and relax. The only problem is that you?re trapped behind miles of cars driven by people who just want the same thing as you. While you move inch by inch, visions of video games dance in your head. Its times like this that you begin to wish you could push a button, sprout wings and fly far away from reality. After you start hitting your steering wheel like it was a pair of conga drums, you begin to make race car noises and dream of running the final laps of some major race. The bad news is I can?t do much about the traffic problems, but I can help satisfy that craving for racing by prescribing you a copy of Colin McRae Rally 04.

Colin McRae is to the world of rally car racing what Tony Hawk is to pro skateboarding. And much like Tony Hawk, Colin McRae has once again teamed with Codemasters to bring you one of the most realistic rally sport racing games to date. Besides the fact that racing occurs both off-road and on the streets, all dimensions of racing are covered, including the often overlooked element of vehicle damage and how it affects your car?s racing ability. With three different race modes to choose from, you can decide if you wish to run a series of single races or start a whole career which will send you all over the world in search of the next big challenge. Not sure if you can handle the world of rally driving? Don?t worry, you?re not alone. No matter which mode of racing you chose, you can depend on your co-driver for advice on how to handle the next set of turns and when is a good time to drop the hammer and blaze your way to glory. Now the question is what mode is right for you?

For a true racing enthusiast, there is nothing quite like championship mode. Much like any young, hopeful racer, you begin your journey by selecting the car that will help secure you a place in rally racing history. In addition to selecting the car itself, you can choose from different vehicle groups (2WD, 4WD and Group B) and levels of difficulty (Normal, Advanced and Expert) which will challenge every player, no matter their skill level. So what is the major difference between each level of difficulty? The answer is simply what affect damage will have on your car. The higher the difficulty level, the more realistic the damage becomes. Granted you can repair some damage at your garage between races, but like the real world of racing, time is not always on your side. So if the damage is too much, and not all repairs can be done in the allotted amount of time, you could be heading to your next race with some residual damage. Remember, sometimes taking a hit on time is better then taking a hit on your car. It is possible to cause so much damage that you can?t even finish the race. Just take it easy out there until you?re used to things on the road.

Now that you?ve selected your car, you can either begin racing immediately or customize your vehicle in the service area by adjusting everything from tires to the tightness of your brakes (or brake bias). Not sure if the decisions you make are the right ones? If so, then you can take your car out for as many test runs as you like until you feel one hundred percent ready to take the challenge. You?ll also be able to customize your car after each race in order to make any improvements you feel could help in the next track. Take your time with this because your car will only be able to take so much damage and there are plenty of obstacles just waiting to give you the beating of your life. As you advance farther along, you will open new cars and tracks, all leading up to securing the championship for your car?s division. Once completed, it?s time to select the next class of race car and begin again. But don?t think that all your work is for nothing. Along the way to opening new classes, you also unlock new cars that can run faster and smoother then any of the default vehicles offered in the beginning. After unlocked, these cars can be used in championship mode, as well as all the other modes offered in the game.

Once you have bested the championship mode, you can select rally mode and create your own rally session from races you have completed. Take the most difficult of races and create the ultimate challenge course that will take your vehicle to its limits and impress your friends with your mad racing skills (or just school them something fierce in four racer multiplayer mode). Rally mode is also a great way to get some practice on those courses you feel you could have done much better on. Just remember, like most sports games, it takes practice to become the best racer you possibly can be, and rally mode is there for you to practice with.

The third mode to choose from is the stages mode. This mode is for those who just want to have a single race without having to go through an entire rally circuit. If you have only a few minutes to spare and want to have some racing fun, stages is right for you. This area will contain a few basic default stages right off the bat, but you will be able to access any race that you have unlocked during championship mode, as well as use any cars you?ve unlocked along the way. Stages mode is another great place to learn the art of rally racing before getting locked into championship mode. Also, consider the fact that damage caused during this mode will not affect any other mode. At the end of each race, your car is magically repaired at no expense. This mode is perfect for you aspiring rally racers who just need a bit more time behind the wheel without getting involved in a multi-track circuit.

For those of you out there who played Colin McRae Rally 03, you may remember the stiff controls that often plagued drivers even though you would select the loosest steering setup available. The good news is that the controls have been loosened and everything plays nice and smooth, depending on your car. The feel of the controls depends largely on how you customize your vehicle. Look for the left thumbstick to be very sensitive if you?ve programmed your vehicle to have super tight handling. Basically, the feel of the controls will depend on how you want your car to drive. It may take some getting used to, so use the rally or stages mode to practice and find a combination that works for you.

Graphically speaking, Colin McRae Rally 04 looks amazing for a racer. While most racing games worry little about looking impressive, Codemasters wanted to make the game look just as good as it plays. While the racing stages may look like another ride through the woods at times, the real focus remains on the little details, especially in the damage department. If you sideswipe a tree doing sixty miles per hour, the damage will reflect in great detail (from the denting of the door to the possibly dangling of a side mirror). You know the old expression ?eat my dust?? Well the dust will certainly be flying high enough for anyone within twenty yards of you to get a mouth full. There is just something about leaving a cloud of dust in your path that looks cool. But perhaps the coolest of the details in the game is when the elements play a role and the rain hits. Not only does this affect the way your car handles, but it leaves the mud flying so much that I even found myself thinking my car needed a wash?bad.

About my only complaint with Colin McRae Rally 04 is the sound. Let me start on a positive note and say that Codemasters has done, in my opinion, a smart move and not included music during the races in championship mode. Personally, nothing ruins a suspenseful racing moment more then corny racing music. All you hear during the race is the sound of your car and your co-driver?s instructions, the way it should be. Of course, it is also here that we run into a couple of problems. First, the roar of the car?s engine sounds like something out of early day racing games (the sound effects of NES? Excitebike kept coming to mind). Maybe it is because I have never driven in a rally race car that I think the way I do, but if my car ever sounded like the cars in this game, I would be heading straight to my mechanic and asking how much longer my car had to live. Unfortunately the sound of my engine is not the only scary sound present. For some reason, Codemasters thought it would be a fun idea to give your co-driver the most subdued, accented voice I have heard in many years. You?d think that your co-driver would be just a little bit excited (or even emotional) about the fact that the race was going, but it seems like he could care less. He sounds like someone reading the menu at a local fast food restaurant to his children. It is times like this that I am glad I have my stereo so close to my Xbox. You might want to put this one on mute and listen to some good racing music (I recommend either some Ramones or Slayer).

As a whole, Colin McRae Rally 04 is a well-rounded racing game. It truly takes the player through all the dimensions of the racing world: picking out a car, customizing it, taking test runs and finally hitting the race track. While the sound leaves much to be desired, the graphics more then make up for this one negative aspect. What really impressed me about this game was how the controls changed based on the customization of your car. I like the fact that I have to put every ounce of strength I have in my hand into hitting the left trigger when I?m using really loose turning. I love that after testing and retesting tires on the road things can go totally wrong if Mother Nature decides to make it rain. But most of all, I?m really blown away by just how good Colin McRae Rally 04 is for a game that started with a $24.99 (American) price tag. Hopefully this will be one of many games that will kill the presumption that any game that starts below a certain dollar mark will instantly be no good. Well racing fans, I encourage you to spend a very small amount of money and check out a game that is well worth twice the price of admission.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.6 / 10
Sound: 5.8 / 10


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