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Colin McRae Rally 3 Review

ON OTHER PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox
GAME INFO
publisher: Codemasters
developer: Codemasters
genre: Racing

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
n/a
ESRB rating: E
homepage:
www.codemasters.com/colinmcrae3/

release date: Apr 22, 03
» All About Colin McRae Rally 3 on ActionTrip


One car and a hundred and fifty decisions per minute... that's what's in store for you

Lately, we get more and more authentic racing simulations, and each of those games introduces at least one new detail. There will be a day when the computers become sufficiently powerful, that you simply won't be able to distinguish a driving sim from driving a real car (haha! Yeah, right - in a couple of years, buddy! - Ed). This still lies in the future, but driving sims of today like Colin McRae Rally 3 and Rallisport Challenge, take us one step closer to it.

When Codmasters began working on the third installment of the Colin McRae rally, the preliminary gameplay footage showed that they really made substantial improvements, and one year later, we are finally capable of testing the true potentials of this game. The visual improvements are quite obvious from the very start, but more on that somewhat later...

First, it would be important to emphasize that the developers mostly focused on making the game extremely realistic, which means they perfected the physics engine and the damage model. All this will now heavily influence the entire gameplay. Just like in the real rally, almost anything is possible on the road. That's why you'll have to watch out for stuff like the weather and terrain configuration. I have to admit that I always hated the controls in Colin McRae games. In order to present the way cars slide in bends realistically, the developers made the cars extremely hard to control when turning at high speeds. That comes as a slight downer, particularly if you're looking for straightforward controls and do not wish to feel like you're driving on ice the whole time. If you want the game to be very realistic, such controls are OK, but we would still be far happier with slightly easier controls, as it would otherwise be far less popular with less experienced players. If we compared the game with Rallisport Challenge, we can easily spot the differences concerning controls; Rallisport Challenge controls are more intuitive, and easier to learn, while those in Colin will make you constantly slide until you decide to buy a racing wheel and give the game a lot of time and patience.

Each ride will be a real treat, regardless of the car you choose. All of the cars are completely unique, and true to their real life counterparts. You can choose one of the following: Ford Focus RS WRC 02, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VII, Citroen Xsara, Subaru Impreza WRX (44S), Ford Puma, Fiat Punto, Citroen Saxo, and MG ZR. Now, if you're really persistent, and of course, successful at rally games, the developers made a couple of bonus cars for you to unlock, but we're not telling you which ones! We promised Codemasters we wouldn't spoil the surprise.

Another authentic moment in the game is the possibility to modify your car to your heart's content, thus adjusting them to your own driving style and preferences. You can tweak breaks, gear shift, plating, engine, tires, and the steering wheel. Tweaking and adjusting your car makes the car react in different ways to the terrain variety - which is one of the best examples for the game's excellent, yet slightly irksome physics engine (it took me some time to learn to drive well on anything other than tarmac). Once you're ready, it's time to turn the engine on, and step on it...

The entire game will take you through six countries: Australia, Japan, Greece, Sweden, Finland, United Kingdom, Spain, and US. Each of the tracks is a spitting image of the real rally tracks, which makes all of them rather lengthy and extremely challenging. Most of the tracks do not go in circles, which also makes driving more difficult because you keep encountering obstacles and curves for the first time. Fortunately, you can always count on your copilot to guide you through all perils, as well as the arrow at the top of the screen showing you what the next bend looks like. If your concentration drops, you're off the track... just like in real life, no? Another good aspect is the game's amazing longevity. That means both single races and championship events have been prolonged significantly when compared to the previous game, giving you ample opportunity to test you driving skills.

You will mostly drive alone, but you might occasionally get a chance to outrun other rally drivers. The developers of this really focused on creating a quality AI routine, which will give you a hell of a time. You should in no way underestimate other drivers, as they will in most cases drive as well as any pro rally driver out there. Fortunately, the computer doesn't cheat, and the game is equally realistic both for you and AI led drivers, so they might slip off the road from time to time. All in all, an AI well-designed. The programmers can be proud.

As soon as you start playing Colin McRae 3, you will notice some radical improvements concerning vehicle design. One of the first pieces of info we received about this game was that the car models now have approximately 14,000 polygons each (Colin McRae 2 only had 2,000 polygons per model). Now, this may sound impressive, but it looks even better. The beautiful reflections on your car's plating are only just a start; the reflections will wane when the car gets dirty and muddy, but as soon as you drive through a river or a bigger puddle, your car will be clean again. Also, the damage model is definitely one of the best ones we had a chance to see in modern video games. We tried this out on a beautiful Ford Focus. For instance, when a car falls into a ditch, its front part will get deformed upwards, and under certain angles you will even be able to see the axis turning. When you really overdo it and utterly ruin the car, its parts will start falling off and flying in all directions, but still abiding the laws of physics. All damage will, of course, also influence car performance and maneuverability. We can conclude that in-game physics are excellent.

While playing CM3 we easily noticed some of its visual advantages in comparison to Microsoft Rallisport Challenge. First, there's the damage model I already mentioned; then, there's the fantastic weather effects. These effects are at their best when you use the cockpit camera - the snowflakes will fall on your windscreen, and the wipers will keep whipping them off; when it rains, the rain will pour down your windscreen, and the drops will behave differently depending on the speed of the vehicle. Along with these details, the game features pretty impressive particle effects, usually displayed when you're driving through mud, dirt, and water (water surfaces, btw, look mighty tasty). Interestingly, all of these effects tend to decrease the frame-rate and that may give you an occasional headache or two. Unfortunately, the developers didn't devote as much attention to the backgrounds as they did to car models... the surrounding houses, and trees simply yearn for more textures; and some of them are mere 2D sprites. This issue came as a huge disappointment since the car models and their movement are splendid. If they took the time to enhance the background, this would surely stand as one of the best looking driving sims ever. Oh yeah, and I mentioned that CM3 has a fair advantage over Rallisport Challenge, mostly in terms of physics and the damage model. Well, just so you know, Rallisport Challenge gets the edge when it comes to highly detailed backdrops (which we observed in Xbox as well as the PC version).

As for the sounds, the developers gave a lot of attention to the engine noise, which will sound way more realistic than in the previous Colin titles. Though, it is a shame that game is deprived of any additional sounds and ambient noises. On the other hand, there's a bunch of hip music tracks that will keep the atmosphere going; with that, you can pretty much forget any sound discrepancies.

As for the multiplayer, we got a chance to play the split-screen mode and it was hella fun. Though, we're desperately striving to try the game in LAN and Internet modes, but that's reserved for the PC version, for which we still have to wait a bit longer.

In a nutshell, Colin McRae Rally 3 will capture the hearts of many fans of the Colin series, while rally newcomers, will surely enjoy the game's challenges and realism. One of the most disappointing aspects of the game was the lack of a proper display of background textures, which the game obviously deserves. Also, the sliding syndrome may put off certain gamers, who haven't had the right chance to practice in previous Colin installments. Apart from that, you can be sure that CM3 has sufficient gameplay depth, making it truly worth your tough-earned buck.

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HIGHS
If it's a realistic rally you seek, a realistic rally you shall find. Car models are practically flawless and the best we've ever seen in a driving sim. Enough races and challenges to keep you occupied for some time. Good AI. Topnotch physics. The possibility of various car adjustments. Truly gorgeous weather effects;

LOWS
Well, we expected a slightly better representation of the background. Usually, the car will slide like crazy, and that's bound to repel inexperienced drivers - so yeah, we encountered a somewhat high learning curve. The frame-rate can be sluggish now and then.

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