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December 20, 2003
Colin McRae Rally 04 - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen
2963KBDolby Pro Logic IIYesNoSmallYes

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Spectacular collision.
Once upon a time, there was a young Scotsman by the name of Colin. Colin was a talented WRC rally driver, who scored a deal with Codemasters to produce a rally game in his name; Colin McRae Rally. The game was a big hit, enabling the player to race in Colin’s shoes in a Subaru WRX. 3 years later, and after several team changes, Colin has stamped his name on the fourth incarnation of the series, and compared to the earlier titles (some of which had a Colin’s rally school, and also his co-driver navigating), it has very little to do with Colin besides the name. That said, Colin McRae Rally 04 is just as strong as the previous titles in the series, featuring very solid rally driving with some challenging improvements having been made. It’s been less than a year since Colin McRae Rally 3 however, so are we really ready for an upgrade already? Read on to find out.

Like most rally games out there, Colin McRae Rally 04 has the standard Championship (career) mode, with some extra single rally and stage (individual rally stages) modes. For each game mode, you must choose one of 3 car classes; 4WD (the WRC standard with cars like the Subaru Impreza, Peugeot 206 and Mitsubishi Evo VII), 2WD (including the MG ZR and Volkswagen Golf), and the notorious group B (80s rally cars in a class abandoned due to their dangerously high power, such as the Lancia 037 and Ford RS200). In addition, there is a collection of bonus cars (all initially unlocked) which are classic rally cars ripped from the history books; with cars ranging from the Mitsubishi Pajero to the archaic Citroen 2CV.

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Turning down the country road.
In an interesting move, Codemasters has provided an extreme challenge to the rally gamer that wants a new dare, with their new expert mode. Not only is the damage level set to realistic (a small brush with a tree can leave your car tattered), but your viewpoint is fixed to the uber-impossible in-car position, complete with a view of the windscreen wipers and steering wheel. I’m sure most people have tried this setting in a rally game once or twice and quickly switched to a more user-friendly view (due to an oncoming tree at 120km/hr), so you’ll need to get practicing in order to complete these races alive, let alone come first.

The cars and tracks in Colin McRae 04 have been further improved from number 3. The cars have not only had their models tweaked and polished, but the handling system has been revamped by making the cars drive on all four wheels rather than a pivot point focused at the centre of the car (it sounds trivial, but when developing games the simple things are often the hardest). One of the extra prototype stages in the game (bonus stages where you get to test and win new car parts, such as suspension and brakes) involves pummeling some new shock absorbers for your car; individual meters for each wheel let you know how hard each shock absorber is working, independent of the others, almost just to showoff their revised engine. This new handling system also has a big impact on races themselves, where you can instantly ‘feel’ the difference between fine and rough gravel, and know to avoid mud and water patches around the track to avoid becoming a work of art wrapped around a cypress pine.

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The Citreon - check the detail
The improvement in the track layout and design has come as a pleasant surprise to me, and while the new tracks don’t have the immense openness that was present in WRC2:Extreme, they have a different feel altogether to them (far from the tunnel-vision tracks that we knew back when Colin first debuted on the PSOne). Take some of the forest tracks for example; rather than having a distinct torn-out track through a convenient ‘passageway’ between densely spread trees, the trees are now sparsely spread and the once-passageway track is gone. You now have to rely instead on the thin striped track marking tape around the corners, and more importantly listen to your co-driver. Some of the UK tracks too have a more real-life look to them; rather than just driving down conveniently-shaped back lanes between farms and towns. Now there are courses through small laneways, and even around roundabouts, which add extra surprise as to what’s behind the next corner.

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Cruising around the hills.
There’s little at fault with the game, except for what the game is lacking. The multiplayer support is adequate (including 2 player split screen and 1-4 players alternating), but given the hype surrounding the PS2 network adapter it would be nice to see some online functionality somewhere. This is exaggerated by the fact that the Xbox version of Colin McRae Rally 04 has hi-score stats updated via Xbox Live, yet the PS2 version is left with nothing. Although online gameplay may have been a little hard due to the small net lag required, LAN or iLink support would have been more than sufficient. On a different note, the game isn’t officially licensed, and so is missing the official tracks from the WRC. While most people wouldn’t know the difference anyway, it still would have been an extra plus for the hardcore rally enthusiasts.

Looking at the screenshots, Colin McRae Rally 04 is definitely a stunner, and looks even better in motion. Like the Gran Turismo 3 television ads a while back, you can just park your car on the side of the track and admire the scenery; the grass blowing in the wind, the birds singing, the engine purring (or choking if you’ve thrashed it enough). Particle effects with water, dust, dirt and gravel are used in abundance, and together with the large panning replays they look a treat. Cars progressively become dirty, and the inside view is worth seeing for the dust, mud and rain landing on the windshield and then getting wiped off a short while later. Car damage detail is up too, with position-specific damage to panels (rather than the whole panel becoming damaged), and debris that falls off is left on the track too rather than vanishing into thin air.

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Sliding around the corner.
As always, Codemasters have done an excellent job with the audio behind the game, even including Dolby Pro Logic II sound. The sounds appear to have been resampled, whereby you can almost hear a 100 km/hr skid on tarmac eat bald patches away at your tires (you can see the radials if your tires are damaged enough too). Crowds are perhaps a little quiet, but I suppose most things sound quiet in comparison to a 312 BHP 1-tonne turbo-charged monster flies past at the speed of light. My only gripe with the sound in the game is the co-driver calls, which are fine for 90% of the time, but absolutely horrendous for the final 10%. There’s nothing worse than going around a blind corner at full speed to hear “3 left tightens into phlumphlarrramalumph blarhghen”, so you’re next words are “What the? AAARRRGH!!” as you fly off a 30 foot cliff. I thought Nicky Grist was a little unforgiving when he navigated earlier Colin McRae games, but it’s getting worse. Perhaps multiple co-driver voices would be a helpful touch for rally games in future, dependant on the driver nationality?

While Colin McRae Rally 04 doesn’t offer any huge leaps and bounds over the not-so-old Colin McRae Rally 3, while it is still a nicely polished game. The unlockable cars certainly add value to the game, and particularly with the Citroen 2CV are opening the gate to a rally-through-the-ages style game sometime soon. The crazy co-driver and lack of multiplayer, while minor issues are the only real letdowns for this game and hopefully can be fixed ready for when Colin McRae next appears on the PS2.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSPark the car, get out, and admire the scenery with a picnic lunch.
SOUNDWell done, but let down by some co-driver “phlarmalumptng”s.
GAMEPLAYPrototype tests between stages add flair to the norm.
VALUEYou know you want to unlock the Ford Transit Van…..
OVERALLAnother year, another Colin McRae rally game. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination; if you’re after a rally game, then Colin McRae 04 will keep you in the dirt for weeks. If you own Colin McRae Rally 3, you may want to play this one first, just in case you find it just more of the same.

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