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Colin McRae Rally 3 Review

publisher: Codemasters
developer: Codemasters
genre: Racing

PIII 700MHz , 128MB RAM, 16MB Video Card
ESRB rating: E

release date: Jun 13, 03
» All About Colin McRae Rally 3 on ActionTrip

Rally driving is, according to some, the most challenging racing discipline there is. It involves tremendous skill and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing terrain configurations and weather conditions. It's about relying on your co-pilot just as much as on your own reflexes and quick wits. Rally driving is all about skill, teamwork and dedication. Making a good rally game is sort of like that, too.

Over the years, many rally games have come and gone. Besides DICE's RalliSport Challenge not many have been able to challenge the undisputed champion of the genre - the Colin McRae Rally series. Throughout the years, Colin McRae games have been hailed as the most realistic simulations of rally driving on the market. After playing Colin McRae Rally 3 on the PC, the only thing I can do is wholeheartedly agree.

OK, before I go on, I should refer you all to our hands-on preview of the PC version, as well as our Xbox review, which should provide you with enough basic info on the game. For this review, I'm going to try to concentrate on the crux of the matter - the gameplay and technical aspects of the PC version.

For all intents and purposes, Colin McRae Rally 3 features the most realistic interpretation of rally driving I've ever seen in a video game. Two aspects of gameplay that are most noteworthy are the physics engine and damage model, and the incredible attention to detail when it comes to car handling and its interaction with the terrain. From a technical standpoint, the top-of-the-line physics engine allows for the objects in the game to exhibit properties that correspond to their weight, and for the car to behave on the track and slide in bends in accordance to the forces that affect it and the type of terrain it's on. There are a few obscure bugs here in there (like certain objects being able to stop the car dead in its tracks, despite their rather low mass), but in total, the game's physics are about as good as it gets in a racing game. The most important thing about it is that the car reacts to bumps, water, and centrifugal forces very similar to how it would in real life. Depending on the type of tires or shocks you've outfitted your car with; it will react very differently to dirt tracks, tarmac, and slippery surfaces.

It's obvious that a lot of effort went into creating a game world that can react properly to your input as a driver, not to mention that with the help of Colin McRae, the designers were able to include some of the aspects of driving that would surely be overlooked by an amateur driver. The damage model is closely related to the physics model, and in a way, it's just as good. I rarely get to play a driving game where my reckless driving can cause such havoc on the suspensions, chassis, engine, etc. The damage model is still not completely believable, as there are moments when I thought I would surely be turned into a harmonica after hitting a stone wall at full speed, but you have to remember that this is a game after all, and not a completely realistic rally simulation. Besides, the amount of CPU required to achieve higher levels of realism would surely present an insurmountable obstacle for today's mid-range systems.

After you get familiar with your car, track types, and so on, you'll have a lot of fun just modifying your car in a way that best suits the particular stage. This is surely a testament to the quality of design, programming and the aforementioned attention to detail. The programmers had the technical know-how, and more importantly, help from a professional rally driver to clue them in on what aspects of rally driving are absolutely essential and must be done right for Colin McRae Rally 3 to be believable and truly immersive.

What also struck me as a great quality of Colin McRae Rally 3 is that there is never a dull moment during the season. The maps you'll be driving on are extremely versatile, and are very authentic in their representation of the landscapes of countries where the stages take place. Finland is very green and full of beautiful lakes, whereas in Sweden, you'll be facing tough weather conditions and snow covered roads with sporadic outbursts of snow blizzards. The US stage is rather dry and barren as it takes place in desert-like conditions. The Spanish countryside is brimming with Mediterranean architecture and vegetation that is inherent to that part of the world. So, not only have the programmers paid attention to detail in terms of gameplay mechanics, they've also made sure that the surrounding landscapes are colorful, picturesque and authentic enough to make you feel like there is always something going on during the season. Of course, if you end up in the top spot at the end of the season, you'll get to see some neatly modeled voluptuous beauties that will be handing out champagne and trophies. That's a good enough incentive for any rally driver to finish first!

Visually, there's not much I can say that hasn't been said already in the hands-on preview. I was VERY impressed with the car models (lots of polies and great dynamic reflections), and the particle effects are topnotch. Large water surfaces also look amazing, as the programmers have used pixel shaders to create highly believable rippling, shiny water surfaces. In order to keep the frame rate smooth at all times, however, they had to make certain trade-offs and those are mostly noticeable in the simplistic and blocky appearance of the vegetation and spectators. I fully realize that, with the limitations of today's hardware, it would be impossible to just cram more polies into each scene, so I can't really consider the crude vegetation and spectators as a serious drawback. On the other hand, the spritey trees and bushes looked much nicer in RalliSport Challenge, due to the use of some nifty filtering effects. The designers at Codemasters could've done a better job there.

The in-game sound effects are excellent, and do wonders for the game's atmosphere. That especially becomes apparent if you switch to cockpit view. The sounds of the engine and windshield wipers in combination with some great visuals and effective camera work (the view would shake as the car would hit bumps) create an atmosphere that is unrivaled in the racing genre. Simply awesome stuff.

Finally, I should mention that winning races will allow you to unlock more cars, and more parts for your car that might be essential to victory in the later stages of the season. There are other nice treats in the single-player mode, like secrets and bonus videos.

Of course, more competitive racing fans will relish in the prospect of playing multiplayer games against up to three opponents. Just make sure you have another game controller besides a keyboard hooked up to your PC.

True rally enthusiasts shouldn't miss this game. As rally games go, this one takes the pole position in my book.


9.3   Excellent

Awesome rally game. Great gameplay, looks nice and the atmosphere is about as authentic as it gets in a racing game;

Some rather simplistic background details. Certain objects don't behave as realistically as they should when you hit them at high speeds. The damage model still isn't as good as it could be.



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