Colin McRae Rally 3.0
The PC version arrives at last, but is it worth the wait?
It's fair to say that the original Xbox and PS2 release of CMR3 was greeted with a fair amount of disappointment from many of its more demanding fans. It's not that it was bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but previous versions set such a high standard that many people expected Codemasters to once again set the benchmark. The cold fact was it didn't.
Everyone wanted it to be a 9 or 10 out of 10 game that left us gasping with admiration, but instead all we were given Colin McRae on autopilot; a solid, but scruffily presented game that didn't do nearly enough to justify the hype surrounding it.
The legacy of a PS2 designed game
The problems seemed to emanate from Codies' decision to base development around the PS2 - a platform it has had problems getting the most out of. Although commercially it was wise to target the mass audience of the PS2, the technical issues it suffered were all too apparent when stood next to the likes of GT3, Shox and Burnout 2 - games which amply demonstrated how gorgeous driving games can look on the platform.
This technological failure to keep up with the Joneses was even more noticeable on the Xbox version, which was blessed with Digital Illusions' glorious Xbox exclusive RalliSport Challenge - a game which many Rally fans found to be the superior game in all aspects. Suddenly Codies found itself outflanked, outsmarted, and almost outsold by Sony's official WRC efforts on the PS2. 190,000 UK sales on PS2 and 55,000 on Xbox weren't a bad effort for Colin 3, but in the context of previous better selling efforts and the growth of the market in general, the figures reflect a decline that Codies will be keen to address with the swift release of version 4.0 this November.
With the eight-month release gap, and all the less than stellar feedback surrounding the console versions, why should PC owners be excited about this long overdue release? In many respects the PC's flexibility makes it the version of choice, although in many others you'll question the need to bother.
All about control
On the positive side you can use whatever control device you choose, be that the keyboard, steering wheel or even a joypad if you so choose, and in a game that's all about control, this will be a key factor for any serious Rally enthusiast. Secondly, you'll be able to whack up the resolution and get some mileage out of that expensive graphics card of yours. Thirdly? Hmm, it's hard to think of any other reason whatsoever.
On the downside, Codies has done nothing to take advantage of the multiplayer aspect of the game, and all you get is a split screen support for up to four players. No LAN support, no Internet multiplayer, and nothing to encourage the PC community to get involved. In fact, it appears there are no new additions to this version whatsoever, making it hard to think of the incentives to purchase.
If anything, the ability to run in high resolution merely serves to illustrate - with crystal clarity - how lacklustre the visuals were in the first place. Its console roots are glaringly apparent, and for all the world it looks like the Xbox version ported with the minimum of effort. As before, the cars look the part, but the overall effect is ruined by appallingly blocky scenery, flat textures and compounded by mid-90s era cardboard cut out crowds. We know graphics don't make a game, but PC gamers invest more in their games than possibly anyone, and generally demand better than this.
System hog alert
We're not sure why, but the game even manages to demand up to 3.5 GB of your hard disk space for the privilege, which seems an unbelievable amount when you actually see the game running, and that it ran almost identically on the Xbox - a system with a mere fraction of the resources. It strikes us that the level of optimisation directed at this game was poor to say the least. It blatantly hogs your system resources for no good reason at all.
Another small point worth mentioning is the fact that Colin McRae doesn’t even drive for Ford anymore, and co-driver Nicky Grist also moved on to pastures new a good while back. As the definitive Colin McRae 'experience' it's hardly authentic anymore is it?
Taken in isolation, however, it's still a good game if you're prepared to put in the hours. It's as hard as nails to begin with, but as you adapt to the handling (which we know some of you don't get on with) the game gradually becomes a more rewarding experience. It's a tactical battle, attempting to push your car to the limit while avoiding crippling your car, and requires a level of concentration and commitment that is strangely compelling, given the lack of competitors on the 'track'.
But the bottom line is that it's an unsatisfying port, and no PC gamer should encourage publishers to lazily port their console back catalogue so lovelessly. Our advice is stick with the console versions if you have the choice, or better still wait for the 'turbo charged' CMR 04, which we hope addresses a lot of the negative aspects of CMR3. Or you could just pick up CMR2 for a fiver to tide you over - at least that won't kill your PC...