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Game Profile
FINAL SCORES
8.9
Visuals
9.0
Audio
8.5
Gameplay
9.5
Features
7.5
Replay
8.0
INFO BOX
PLATFORM:
Xbox
PUBLISHER:
Codemasters
DEVELOPER:
Codemasters
GENRE: Racing
PLAYERS:   1-4
RELEASE DATE:
February 18, 2003
ESRB RATING:
Everyone
IN THE SERIES
Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Dirt 2

More in this Series
 Written by Ryan Smotherman  on March 17, 2003

Full Review: If Codemasters keep making games like this, then their slogan of, ?Genius At Play?, can stick in my book.


Unlike most gamers, my love for the racing genre has for the most part been with rally racers instead of the typical racing simulators that really kicked off with the ever-so-popular Gran Turismo series. It all started back in 1995 when I picked up Sega's amazing Sega Rally Championship for my Sega Saturn. Ever since I've had a real affinity for the genre, that I think up until the release of RalliSport Challenge hasn't had a quality title of Sega Rally's magnificence since (Sega Rally 2 was even a letdown). Though I do prefer the genre I would in no way consider myself to be an expert on it, but then again, it doesn't take an expert to realize that Codemasters' latest entry into their rally-based racing series, Colin McRae, is easily one of the best rally racers around, even though there are a few minor discrepancies.

What exactly makes a good rally racing game anyways? Well, as in any racing game, good physics are a must, and McRae 3 definitely has you covered there. The control of your vehicle is pretty much spot on, and can even be tinkered with by offering three different steering sensitivities and other adjustable options. Though, when we're talking about rally games, the real test of its physics is how your vehicle controls on the various surfaces, and once again, we have near perfection here. You'll find yourself hanging tight corners on tarmac, doing massive power-slides on gravel, mud, and dirt, and even trying your best not to slide into everything in the snow-based levels. Continuing on, the realistic damage your vehicle takes on is also extremely impressive (and important, which we'll talk about later). Depending on things you hit, at what speed, and angle, you'll find that your car takes corresponding visual damage, not to mention internal. Most of the times its just cosmetic, though ? you'll see your door reach an uncloseable level and start flying open every time you take a turn; you'll witness various things flying off, such as your hood and bumpers, and you'll watch as your glass shatters just as the back of your ride smacks into a tree. Basically, your shiny car usually turns into a dirty, busted up mess at the end of any race (unless you're a driving God like myself? not). However, at other times the damage you incur can affect your car's actual driving performance in a major way ? for instance, if you're unfortunate enough to knock one of your axels out of correct functioning order, you'll find that your car will no longer drive straight by itself and must constantly be corrected. Its little things like that that sets Colin McRae 3 apart from most, and make it an incredibly fun experience.

Another encompassing factor into the rally racing game experience is how well you're navigated through a level, which is something that is wrongfully overlooked at times. By nature, a realistic rally game has so many courses (64 in all here) and so many twists and turns that it's almost impossible to actually memorize most of them, which is why the co-driver is so important. Well, his name is Nicky Grist, and as Colin McRae's real-life professional co-driver, his pace notes, along with an onscreen icon, will have you navigating through each course to near-perfection. From every single degree and distance of every turn, to water embankments, to car flying jumps, you'll always know what lies ahead of you. At first what he says can be a bit confusing, especially when there's a lot coming up and a variety of things are said in a row, but with time you'll start to understand it all, and it will pretty much seem like second nature.

One of the only major flaws in the game is a lack of different modes to play through ? all we have is a Stages mode where you can go at it on any of the levels with any unlocked cars (with multiplayer support of up to four players), and the meat of the game -- the Championship mode -- where you'll take Colin himself, along with this Ford Focus, through 3 years of racing goodness in an attempt to take a championship home and satisfy those sponsors. This is actually set up to resemble a true-to-life rally event, and for the most part is pulled off well, and takes a bit of time to complete. Each of the events, which take place in one of the 8 different countries, are spread throughout a 3 day period. First you'll start with the Shakedown Day ? here you take your car through test runs to see how it is functioning, and then you're given the opportunity to optimize it as you see fit: this includes modifying a great deal of different components on your Focus, such as the suspension, brakes, steering, tires, gearbox and engine, and your chassis. However, you gear-heads don't get too excited quite yet, as I found this aspect of the game to be rather limited. Particularly since the entire upgradeable features aren't available from the offset and must be unlocked as you make your way through the Championship mode. Additionally, I found that you could easily make it through the game without even modifying anything. Plus, once you get a new upgrade it usually automatically equips it to your car. Disappointing, sure, but at least there's some effort, and people clueless on the functions of a motor vehicle, like myself, shouldn't be too disappointed.

Once you've ?shookdown? your Focus and are ready to race you can check out the conditions and surfaces of the upcoming races, and then head on to Day 1 of the event. Day 1 consists of the first 3 courses of the 6-course event. The trick here is that you're not allowed to modify or repair any damages till after the 3 races are over. So you must take extra care not to let your car take too many major dings, particularly in the first two races. But once into the last race my motto is pretty much ?anything goes?, cause right after you'll be able to make repairs and prepare for the next 3 races that encompasses Day 2 of the current event. If however your car takes too much damage and you can't continue on, you will be forced to retire the remaining races and lose valuable time. Speaking of time, the basic goal of these events isn't to actually beat your opponents in a head-on-head race; in fact, you don't even race at the same time with your opponents. Like in real rally racing, you're just going for the best time possible, and at the end of the event you're awarded points depending on your overall position, which is carried on into the next event, similar to how the NASCAR system works. Though, later in Day 2's events you will take on someone in a one-lap night course. Still, you don't actually race on the same course where you can bump and cut off your opponent, as the course is separated into two mirrored sides. This final race caps off the overall event, progressing you to the next country, and this process is repeated as you make your way through the seasons.

Aesthetically, Colin McRae Rally 3 is quite pleasing, both to the eyes and ears. The game runs smoothly, and the environments are beautiful and well put together. Other impressive features include highly realistic car models that sport awesome refection effects, and the weather effects (especially the lightening) are also particularly nice. I personally found that the way liquid reflects off the pavement during night levels to be one of the coolest effects I've ever seen in a videogame. All is not perfect though, as there are a few problems that mainly stem from the fact that it's a multi-platform release. The textures aren't as detailed and crisp as you'd expect from an Xbox title (just look at RalliSport Challenge for an example of how it could look), and there are actually some occurrences of draw-in within many courses. But these are only small complaints to an otherwise gorgeous game. The audio, while lacking an in-game soundtrack, also captures your attention. Sound effects, ranging from the revving engines, the sound of your turbo injectors kicking in, to the backfire of your exhaust, are all brutally realistic.

Bottom Line
Colin McRae Rally 3 is truly everything any rally racing fan could hope for. Sure, the different modes and options comes nowhere near close to what is found in the amazing RalliSport Challenge, but the gameplay is incredible and the Championship Mode takes you closer to being a real-life rally racer than you ever thought possible.


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