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Colin McRae Rally 04 Review

The sport of Rally car racing is picking-up steam in North America, at least in video game form. The popular European off-road sport has spawned quite a few franchises in recent years including Microsoft’s RalliSport Challenge for the Xbox and Top Gear Rally for the Game Boy Advance. But one of the premiere Rally titles has been Codemasters’ Colin McRae Rally series, which has recently seen the release of its fourth incarnation.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, rallycross is a form of racing where drivers must maneuver their vehicles over off-road cross-country type settings. The actual sport is extremely popular in Europe, but has yet to make a dent on the North American scene, which is dominated by the ever-popular NASCAR series.

Graphically the game looks amazing. The visuals are pretty realistic as everything from the vehicles themselves to the environments look like their real-life counterparts. Coupled with excellent particle effects, the game is truly a visual marvel. The handling physics are so good that it actually feels like you’re driving a real vehicle. The game also runs smoothly without any framerate drops, which is due to the fact that your racer is the only one on screen.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is how your vehicle reacts to the damage you inflict upon it. In addition to getting a detailed visual depiction of your battered car during the race, you’re treated to a vehicle that handles accordingly to its condition. For example, a busted tire will not only have an effect on how your car maneuvers, but can seriously damage your vehicle’s motor, resulting in engine cut-outs caused by overheating. Excessive damage to your car will force you to retire prematurely from the competition.

You start off the game with eight cars; four in each of the 2WD & 4WD categories. More vehicles (and tracks) become available as you progress. To unlock all of these bonuses you will need to either complete the various challenges set forth by the game, or you can purchase access codes directly from the game’s developer, which will of course set you back approximately $5US. In total, the game features 48 tracks set across eight different countries and over 20 vehicles to choose from.

On the negative side, the game doesn’t feature a dedicated soundtrack. All you get while playing are engine noises that surely don’t do justice to the title. To make things worst, the developers also omitted the custom soundtrack feature, which would have enabled players to add some of their own songs to the mix. The only noticeable soundtrack accompanies the game’s start-up screen and menus.

Colin McRae Rally 04 also lacks in the online department, which would have stretched the game’s replay value to the max. The only Xbox Live component offered is an online scoreboard that allows you to compare your best times with other players from across the globe. Still, up to four players can race simultaneously by adding extra joysticks to your console for some split-screen, buddy-to-buddy skirmishes.

Colin McRae Rally 04 is this year’s first noteworthy racer for the Xbox. The game’s lush visuals, smooth framerates and excellent physics make this a worthy addition to any video game library. Gamers shouldn’t be afraid of its $29.99 price tag as this game will surely satisfy any racing enthusiast. Colin McRae Rally 04 is a quality title that will surely end-up on many “Best of 2004” lists later this year.

Originally published in the Moncton Metro Marquee in April 2004

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