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Colin McRae Rally 04 Review

publisher: Codemasters
developer: Codemasters
genre: Racing

PIII-750, 256MB RAM, 3GB HDD, 32MB video card
ESRB rating: E

release date: Apr 03, 2004 (Europe)
» All About Colin McRae Rally 04 on ActionTrip

So, how come it took them less then a year to come up with a full-blown sequel? Well, Codemasters have quite simply been on the go ever since they ensnared die hard racing fans with CMR 3. Yep, in the past several months, Codemasters' toiled away and now we're finally able to see the fruits of their labor. The Colin McRae Rally series derives from a specific design which authentically portrays the art of professional rally racing; hence the whole experience maintains a strong emphasis on realism. It's always been more of a simulation as opposed to a native arcade racer. Events and challenges drivers face on the road seldom fluctuate in today's real word Rally Championships. It's always about completing the track quicker than the often harsh competition. Rough terrain, heavy weather and slippery roads are just parts of the whole challenge. It takes skill to be number one, and to do so here, you're gonna need more than a resilient keyboard or gamepad.

After considering all the above mentioned aspects, we really didn't venture into the game expecting radical innovations in terms of content and racing events. Even so, CMR 04 has a solid range of modes to offer. In total, there are 8 game modes, including 4-wheel drive, 2-wheel drive, Group B and Expert Championships. Completing 4-wheel drive and 2-wheel modes gives you an opportunity to try out eight cars right from the start. The most welcomed addition to the game is the possibility of playing with any vehicle at the outset, instead of being compelled to race merely as Colin himself (I honestly don't know why they didn't allow this in the previous installment). You will be racing through a variety of tracks located in UK, Sweden, USA, Finland, Australia, Spain, Greece, and Japan. Initiating a championship race involves two-day rally events and six races. Challenges and tracks vary from country to country. As players come closer to the end of each event, they will also be required to participate in one-on-one races. Here you will get a quick taste of the game's AI, which demonstrates a pleasing performance and a decent challenge to our driving skills.

While you're taking a breather in-between countries, there's an optional event on offer as well, where you may go for a few test-drive sessions in order to put certain car parts to the test. Finishing the event earns you the right to use the car parts later on, ultimately amounting to a refreshing change from the monotonous simulation-style gamelpay mechanics. The elegantly incorporated mini-games make things dynamic and slightly more alluring for arcade racing fans. The test sometimes includes new tires, at which time players must drive to prove how specific tire types react under severe strain. On other occasions, you'll be testing suspension upgrades, engine installments, brakes, etc.

This game captures the essence of rally championships. I honestly couldn't imagine a more realistic physics engine or damage model than the one I saw in the previous installment. At first glance, the game appeared to be the same. It only takes once race, however, to realize that even subtle changes - like improved reflections and beefed-up particle effects - make all the difference. The damage model and vehicle physics suffer no rival. Believe it or not, it all looks and feels a lot better than its predecessor. It takes a closer examination, but you can actually tell the difference between the models in CMR 3 and CMR 04. Every car model looks sharper, shinier and more detailed, making it almost impossible for the viewer to distinguish polygons from texture patters. Another improvement also came to my attention during gameplay. In CMR 3 it seemed like the Ford Focus handled itself a lot better then other cars. I couldn't help noticing that the developers failed to invest enough time into making other vehicles react in an equally convincing manner. Not so in the follow-up. Here players have a more accurate sense of individual vehicle physics. On a general note, it all pretty much feels like the real thing. Running into slippery ice patches and sticky mud puddles causes your car to spin off the road, that is if you haven't taken the necessary precaution of adjusting the tires. Before reaching tight curves you can employ the handbrake, which in turn gives you extra leverage, consequently allowing you to speed up and take advantage of long straight runs.

Still, I was a bit disheartened for having to endure some of the mishaps of the CMR 3 engine code. For example, running into a small shrub on the road causes the car to stop short, despite the insanely high speed. In addition to the pretty poor backdrop textures, Colin McRae Rally 04 is still crammed with outdated 2D sprites in the backdrop - rally fans watching by the road look like paper dolls, and the same effect carries true for the trees. Well, seeing as the game was optimized to run on all "next-generation" platforms, I'd say they did a pretty good job, overall. Everything ran quite smoothly. And since you're restricted to the road (i.e. you won't be able to get out of the car and shoot birds and mercs like in Far Cry ;-)), the aforementioned drawback isn't much of a bother.

The damage model isn't purely in it for the sake of fancy eye candy; it greatly influences the car's performance on the road, especially after it's been tossed and bashed around due to reckless driving. Once you've overheated the exhaust, damaged the engine or smashed up the bumper, you can kiss the car's slick maneuverability goodbye. From here on, you better pray you bring the poor thing safely to the finish line. Pausing from tiring races gives you a chance to focus on repairs and upgrades. Everything can be tuned, from the engine, gears, and steering to the suspension. Choosing tires is also important you might say, and given that there are 34 driving surfaces, you'll probably get a chance to try out all 19 types of tires.

There appear to be no foul ups in audio design... at least not from where I'm standing. Engine bursts and the sound of tires screeching makes it all feel like a bona fide racing event. Unfortunately, Colin McRae Rally 04 suffers from a relatively small choice of music tracks, which sort of leaves a gap in the overall value of the product. There are a few cool tunes to accompany you as you browse through the game's menus, but that's about it.

In case you were wondering, there's also a hefty multiplayer should you ever feel the need to race against your friends. I have to admit although I was never particularly keen on MP modes in rally games, a couple of races against 2Lions and Dex turned out to be great fun (I OWN YOU, VADAR - 2Lions). The Championship mode supports two, while the Rally mode and single races can be played with four players. We didn't get a chance to try out the game online, but we raced through several LAN matches and it kicks ass I tell ya!

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9.0   Excellent

Quite simply, you won't find a more realistic rally simulation, new vehicles, subtle gameplay changes, improved physics and car models, high replay value;

A few slip ups from the previous game still linger, no additional music, things like trees are still 2D background sprites, poor ground textures in some areas.


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