Colin McRae Rally 2005
Simulation or not simulation? Not a question pertaining as to whether mankind is enslaved in pods, acting as batteries for clockwork monstrosities while feeding off the gloop of liquidised humans (we’ll leave that image forever in the recess marked ‘Wachowski pseudophilosophical pap’), but a matter of whether you prefer your racing games ‘arcadey’, which let’s face it, doesn’t quite function as an adjective in the way it once did, what with the arcade industry being dead and all, or ‘simulatory’, which, let’s face it, wasn’t an adjective at all until we just made it up. You don’t have to decide now – by the end of the review will be fine.
The Colin McRae series has always been perceived by and large as a rally simulator, Mr McRae’s endorsement adding that mysterious air of authenticity. In light of the po-faced serious-sim Richard Burns Rally, however, Colin McRae 2005 suddenly feels pretty arcadey. While the damage model may chastise players for too foolhardy a rat run through the rally stages, it’s still surprisingly forgiving on ‘normal’ setting – it takes sustained and deliberate tree ramming to blow a gasket or manifold sprocket or whatever, well, either that or just thoroughly inept play. However, a punishing or deliberate simulator Colin 2005 is not. The newly touted bonnet-cam is plucked wholesale from Sega Rally, not only providing an increased lick of speed over the familiar out-of-car cams, but an exaggerated sensation of, for want of a better word, ‘rallying’ – from the strangely detached sensation of powersliding – the method of cornering that strangely transcends the fact your car is at right angles to the direction you’re travelling – to enhanced appreciation of the road’s undulations.
The sensation of speed, the bounce and bucking of the car over jumps and dips is very convincing indeed. The levels of concentration required to drive at a competitive pace recalls Channel 4 replay footage of wired rally drivers competing the WRC perfectly in tune with the wheel, the road and their co-driver’s pace notes until the inevitable crash that any televised replays immediately precede with a petrified co-driver pleading ‘Listen to me! Listen to me!’ such is the importance of accurate pace notes, both in real life rallying and, indeed, Colin McRae 2005. At first, taking in enough information to see you safely through up to three corner’s worth of course is tough going. Brain atrophy jettisoning valuable advice. Then the throbbing dies away and Nicky Grist’s instructions – ‘6 left, tightens to 5, 50, 3 right, through narrow gate, don’t cut’ get translated via DualShock to the perfect driving line through the relaxed left hand curve, an easing up off the accelerator for the tighter right hand, taken at the centre of the road to avoid the gate and potential obstacles at the side of the road. Give it up for multitasking.
Sadly, Colin McRae 2005’s structure negates the overall experience somewhat. There are two main modes open to those who don’t have their PS2’s online yet – Championship and Career. Championship is immediately engaging – not just in structure where you, as Colin, dive straight to the upper echelons of the rally circuit, but in pace of play too – with instant access to Colin McRae 2005’s most powerful vehicles. Unfortunately it can prove unforgiving – eight stages make up each rally – screw up, say, stage six and the only remedy for salvaging your rally is to quit out and reload from your last auto-save, which only just balances the guilt of cheating with the vindication of not having to play through the opening five stages all over again. Furthermore, at times competitor performances seem suspiciously erratic providing stiff competition on the opening stage, losing by over 25 seconds the next and winning by a similar margin on subsequent stages. It seems that it’s all designed to culminate with ‘last win takes all’ stakes. There’s little satisfaction when you see through the ruse though.
Career mode is not only where most time will be spent, it’s also far more engaging and satisfying. Starting off with a two wheel-drive car and a screen full of locked championships, success at grass-roots level is rewarded with new cars of greater spec and unlocked events – some exhibiting charming foibles such as the British event restricted to Ford Escort entrants.
LAN play and 1-8 player online modes – where competitors race in real time, with opposition realised as ghost cars onscreen – rounds off the package in a nice, if straight-laced manner. You see, with its simulator aspirations proved short of the mark, Colin McRae Rally 2005 proves somewhat unspectacular compared to the newly rediscovered essence of arcadiness prevalent in recent titles such as Criterion’s Burnout 3. Rally fans will appreciate its adherence to rally ideals, gamers, on the other hand, may require a little shot of something extra.