Colin McRae Rally 04 PS2 Review

The rally game was once an untapped market, thanks largely to the success of Codemasters’ Colin McRae Rally franchise though; other developers have jumped on the bandwagon with their own version of the “rally game”. Despite persistent opposition, no rally game comes close to grabbing McRae’s crown and this dominance looks set to continue for quite some time as Codemasters’ muddy rally series continually gets better with each addition to the series.

The widely revered handling of the Colin McRae series has always provided each motor with a brilliant sense of rubber grip, whether you’re bombing along tarmac or driving up a hilly forestry path, the traction has assured that you consistently feel like you are in total control of your car, and almost like a natural bonding between tyres and terrain, one of the many reasons why the series is by far the best of its kind. Things change and Codemasters’ have now removed the stabilisers of old, or the central pivot point to be precise. Once core of the cars movement, Colin McRae 04 now brings all four wheels into action on the often-gruelling stages. The difference is palpable; with more steadiness required as you move into corners resulting in additional sensation and emotion developed whilst driving your car. This has paid off; as Colin McRae 04 is undoubtedly the paramount rally game and one that won’t be easily surpassed.

Also improved on the fourth game is the championship mode, a mode that was blighted by a key constraint on the third game, which only limited you to playing as “the flying Scotsman”. This time around you drive as yourself (with two-player championships also being an option) therefore the choice of car is always a decision of your own making, and despite the big name licence this makes things feel much more personal between you and the game. There are three championships on offer, including the 2WD championship, these 2WD motors (Ford Puma’s, Fiat Punto’s etc etc) are mostly undemanding cars that are simply more pleasurable to steer in comparison to the much faster cars of the 4WD championship (Citroen Xsara and Ford Focus amongst others), these require quicker reactions, resulting in more demanding drives. Then there’s a championship composing of the very imposing and banned Group B monstrosities (responsible for many accidents and deaths during the 80’s) these beasts require the utmost of patience and dedication but have superb world-beating potential for those who are able to eventually tame them. It doesn’t stop there though, a diverse selection of bonus motors also become available after meeting set requirements, most of which Codemasters’ have put in for a laugh, as some of them struggle to even top 50MPH.

During each of the 8 rallies a Shakedown event occurs, allowing you to tinker around with your car set-up and then try it out on the stage, to assure you are completely comfortable with your car. Then it’s straight into the mud as you throw your car around each stage as fast as possible in a true test of both man and machine. Every couple of stages you are also able to repair any damage you have incurred, be it slight scratches to the bodywork or major engine damage, although if it’s in a really bad way it’s not always possible to fully repair your motor due to time consuming repairs and penalties placed on the clock.

Throughout the Championship mode, upgrades become available for your car, although each requires to test your mettle before being awarded with one. For example it’s mandatory to push the car’s suspension system to its very limits to unlock the advanced dampers, whilst a gearbox upgrade requires you to hold revs at a certain point for a required time limit and so on. These are obviously side dishes opposed to the main course, although they still come as a nice change.

There are 48 stages spanning eight countries; these rallies are pleasingly varied in both terrain and design. Four stages quickly come to mind, the Finnish woodland stages have you travelling along forestry paths at incredible speeds, the Japanese stages throw it all at you with torrential downpours and waterlogged portions of the track, Spain is the complete opposite with sun-drenched twisty stages whilst the cloudy and often rainy UK rally take the locale of pleasant country roads that Postman Pat and his black and white cat (excuse our childhood memories) wouldn’t look out of place in. Every single one of the games stages are so great that we would be hard pushed to name one we hated, because quite simply we don’t dislike any of them. Stages are unlocked during progression throughout the championship, although depending on the stage or rally; you’ll have to play on the different difficulty levels and championships to assure you have unlocked all that the game has to offer you.

When you think you rule the world of rallying an expert mode becomes available, providing you with the punishing task of facing and overcoming many trials. This mode locks you inside your vehicle and here you are unable to change to the two external views, also tossed in for the professional is the fact that you’ll have to manually change gears. The in-car view is naturally more claustrophobic and during torrential rain, you’ll feel even more boxed in. It’s not all championships though; as there is also an option to create custom rallies, which is a great idea if you fancy throwing together various stages from different countries.

The fourth game in the series doesn’t come anywhere near to falling short of expectations, now boasting very slick car handling, lush visuals and an improved championship mode. Since the dawn of the series, it has always been the one that all the other rally titles are inspired (but fail) to mimic, Colin McRae 04 is no exception and Codemasters’ continue to outdo themselves with every single instalment. Always the epitome of rallying.