Colin McRae Rally suffered from one identifiable flaw; it was basically tunnel racing with textures painted on the inside. There was no sense of scale, of going anywhere. All that and more is set to change in CM Mk. 2.0, the sequel and arguably the best Rally driving game out there. For starters, the game has one of the most streamlined controller calibration systems I've yet encountered. Ever since playing Grand Prix 3 with a steering wheel and foot pedals I've tried to do the same with every driving game I pick up, and unlike many others (notably 1nsane, the Codies' other recent racing release), sorting this out took about five seconds. Once I was set up and ready to go, I fired up the game proper and jumped into one of the full championship modes. The full season features loads of locations and stages for each of them, against 16 drivers in total. Messrs McRae and Grist (Nicky), his pace notes partner are of course the centre of attention and it makes perfect sense to pick up with them and a lovely looking Ford Focus, faithfully bedecked with all manner of advertising. You can also choose to go at it using a tight-looking Peugeot 206, or a Toyota Corolla WRC amongst others. FIA rules have been followed to a letter and each car shares the same power, transmission type and approximate weight to keep performance levels in check.
Under the Bonnet
It's not all about gunning round dust bowls at 60mph though; before you hit the track you can play around with all sorts of options beneath the bonnet, including variable gear ratios, breaking power and other more obvious things like tyres. This is all very important for people who intend to play the game properly (i.e. without any of that Automatic gearbox rubbish). For the tinker-happy there's even the option to adjust the ride height and other vanity-orientated features of the car. Somewhat unfortunately though, when you get onto the track, it's far too easy to stay on the road. Admittedly I was using the tips of my fingers on the wheel to flick gears, but even if I was wrestling with a gearstick I wouldn't expect the nose of my car to magically swing back towards the centre of the track whenever I veered slightly under pressure. Niggling. Aside from this though, it's a very faithful drive. I had my headphones on for the duration, and honestly felt rather like I was in the cab with Nicky Grist reading me the pace notes. Incidentally, the notes themselves have been adapted to the method Colin favours, of suggested gear. As you approach a sharp left turn, Grist may yell "third hard left" or somesuch, indicating that you should switch to third gear for this particular door breaker. Slight corners often get a "six right" or similar.
Going for Gold
Other things you need to watch out for when playing are the weather reports prior to the race (which can be very important in determining your approach), which camera angle you prefer (I like front bumper, but then I'm slightly mad), and the texture of the track. The trademark gravel and dirt is kicked up behind you, so if you're low down in an external camera point, make damned sure you watch what's being kicked up or just ahead. The difference between slidey mudbanks and grit is immeasurable. After plenty of practice, you'll likely be posting some good times. It didn't take me long - but during my drive, I never really felt all that threatened by my surroundings. You do occasionally come unstuck and head off into the undergrowth, but the trackside objects don't exactly stop you dead, they just slow your path. I often had to track back quite a way when I missed a turn, and particularly in the snow, this can be a killer. Speaking of snowy Finland, it's but one of eight different types of terrain, joining the aforementioned dustbowls of Australia, the sunny south of France as well as locations in Kenya, Italy and elsewhere. After a few stages of one type it's quickly onto the next, and I rarely got bored with one. Concentrating on the road is quite enough to keep your heart racing!
One of the things that met with some puzzled frowns when I mentioned it to my friends is CM2.0's arcade modes. They're actually really good fun! You can race rallycross-style with two drivers split-screen or online using Codemasters' new online service. A hotseating type of mode is also possible. Elsewhere, the sound effects, graphics et cetera have all been improved. The car models crease and crack as you hurl them around, and your front and rear bumpers are very eager to part company with the chassis. The glass smashes, the tyres flatten; on the whole it's a thoroughly realistic portrayal, and it goes beyond visuals too, with big thumps having a genuine effect on your ability to continue racing. The tunnel problem mentioned at the outset is negligible too, and although at times the sounds seem a little repetitive, they can't be faulted for authenticity. It's as if someone literally sat in a car with McRae and stuck a recorder out of the window! Beyond the arcade and championship modes there are the familiar time trials and whatnot, and if you finish those, you unlock new cars, including a rather splendid Mini Cooper! The difficulty levels are judged to perfection too, so it'll have you coming back time and again to take the harder approach.
For a game I once classed as an arcade game trying to be something else, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 has come a long way. Much-improved this time around, the only things I can hold against it are the car's questionable propensity to stick to the track even when you steer it markedly off-course, and the rather sizeable learning curve for newcomers. All-in-all though, there's plenty to do here and it's well worth your money! Related Features:- Colin McRae Rally 2.0 Screenshots