It's not everyone's cup of tea, but Rally racing is certainly my preferred motorsport. The sheer risks that the drivers take are mesmerising to watch.
Part of my buzz towards Rally driving stems from actually having had a go myself in Wales. Admittedly the car was a toned down Peugeot 206, and I wasn't allowed to go that crazy. I can honestly say though, it's one of the most exhilarating things I've done in my life.
The original 'Colin Mcrae's Rally' was a fine game, though I did find the handling a little on the fussy side. It's because of this that I found myself going back to the rather amazing Network Q Rally from Europress on the PC for my rally kicks.
On looking at the feature list for CMR2, it was certainly enough to get my attention. Codemasters have produced some polished racers of late, and with fingers crossed I loaded up CMR2.
The developers have really gone to town, packing CMR2 with content. First of all you now have over 90 tracks to tear around at breakneck speed, spread across eight different countries. You drive against all the top names in the game, including Mcrae himself of course.
Additionally you also have 12 different cars to choose from. Initially your choice is limited to six of these. Others become available as you progress through the Rally and Arcade championships at intermediate and expert levels.
CMR2 now comes with a six-car arcade option, keeping those with a penchant for arcade racing happy. Of course the main attraction is the Rally championship itself. We are promised ultra-smooth handling, and realistic car damage. This goes to make up a far more tactical simulation in theory.
The game supports the usual control pads, and also the Madcatz steering wheel. I'd imagine the wheel is the best way to appreciate the game, though I found the dual-shock to be sufficient.
CMR2 begins with a short video sequence, which after one viewing, you'll be skipping past in future. You are finally dropped to an extremely smart looking menu. Upon highlighting each button, a scrolling text bar morphs into a graphical depiction of the relevant option. A driver's crash-helmet on selection of the controls option, for example. A neat effect.
From this menu you can configure the graphical detail, audio and control method. From here you will also select whether you're diving into the everything goes 'Arcade' mode, or the full simulation 'Rally' option.
If you choose 'Arcade', you get 'Championship', 'Single Race' and 'Time Trial' modes to choose from. 'Championship' pits you against 5 computer-controlled cars, over 3 courses. You begin with the class B trio, and only once you come first in all 3 stages will this unlock Class A and another 3 courses. Note - This is for single player only.
'Single Race', is pretty self explanatory, allowing you to race on any available arcade tracks over 1 to 10 laps. This mode also has a couple of subsidiary options, 'Lap Points' and 'Time Lag'. The former gives the leader of each lap a point; once the target set of points is reached they are declared the winner. 'Time Lag' will force the 2nd placed player to finish a lap in a set amount of time within the leader's time, otherwise they're out! 'Time Trial' allows you practice any available circuit against the clock.
Of course the main part of CMR2 is the 'Rally' mode. I'll tell you now; you won't find a better rally game than this. The main 'Championship' mode pits you against 15 other drivers, in 8 different countries. The amount of stages in each depends on the level of difficulty you have selected. Every second rally also has an extra 'Special Stage Day', a head-to-head race on specially mirrored tracks.
The idea is simple. Race each stage of a rally, trying to complete it in as quick a time as possible. As you drive round you will pass marker points, these will inform you of your split time in relation to the quickest driver. Green is good, red is not! As each stage is completed, your time is added to the last until eventually you have a total time for the entire rally course. The winner is obviously the person with the quickest time, and will receive the full 12 championship points. The ultimate aim is therefore to finish top of the pile at the end of the season. You need to finish in the top 6 overall to qualify for the next rally. A real demoraliser if you don't succeed.
I played through the entire series in split-screen two player mode. This made for some excellent human opposition, rather than simply trying to better the computer times. This method causes very little slow down, and is absolutely top fun, especially when your opponent is just as nimble as yourself.
Car handling will take a lot of getting used to. If you're expecting to breeze round corners, hugging the inside, then you have two things that decide whether this is possible or not. Firstly, the track surface .. this can be gravel, tarmac, snow, dusty or muddy! All have differing effects on how your car will perform. Compounding this further is the dynamic weather within CMR2. For example, you can be racing in Italy on a sunny day one minute, only for it to turn rainy the next.
You are going to be hard pushed to complete this game on expert. You will need to do this to unlock some of the hidden cars though. Even on intermediate you will be swearing at the screen with blood boiling .. until that is you get out of your arcade racer mentality. It just won't work to play like this.
Rally cars slide and skid around corners. They swerve easily on wet surfaces, and ultimately they are easily damaged if one is too reckless. Damage is part of rally life, and after every 2 stages you will get a 60-minute time frame to repair damaged car components. Ignore this, and you will soon find gears failing, steering stiffening, and wanting to scream at the top of your voice!
Graphics and Sound
First impressions of CMR2's graphics will more than likely stem from the first rally in Finland, which is set in thick forest for the most part. This looks excellent, but in no way prepares you for the graphical excellence in future stages.
The Italian course in particular is simply breathtaking. You hurtle around precarious mountain roads, with plush scenery spreading out below, and rocks jutting out above you. The sense of altitude is nothing compared to the sheer thrill of speeding around the tight hairpin corners. All of this graphical detail zips along at an astounding rate of knots, with no slow-down that is discernible.
Other impressive recreations are the narrow roads of the UK rally, along with the inevitable down-pour of rain, so typical of English weather. The Australian and Kenyan courses are hot and dusty looking as you'd expect, and the Swedish snow covered roads are devilishly difficult to navigate. The nighttime effect is worth a mention too, providing some of the most hair-raising stages you'll ever come across. It's dark out there mummy!
Sound wise, things are kept pretty much functional, rather than trying to over do things. This suits the game fine. Engine noise is convincing, and the exhaust cracks are really nicely done. The crunching sound of car against surface is also one that'll make you wince, and proclaim that you won't be doing that again.
Music is nice enough, and in arcade mode suits the game well. There is obviously no music in the 'Rally' mode, as you need to hear your co-pilots instructions of the road ahead. If you find the co-pilot annoying, you do get signs popping up on screen to show you what is coming next. He does however give you far more information than the signs will, so it's best to use a mixture of both. Instructions are clear and easy to understand; though sometimes with the noise of the engine, it can get drowned out.
This is without doubt the new king of rally, and I don't say that lightly. It's as close as you can get to the real thing, and you won't even damage yourself doing it!
The graphical detail is astounding, with some of the locations portraying a superb illusion of depth. All of this is complimented perfectly with super-smooth gameplay. It does take a while to get used to how the cars handle, but once you do, you'll get a real buzz as you take those corners at stupid speeds.
Different camera angles provide totally different gaming experiences. I preferred the windscreen view myself, but you can opt to play with external, bonnet and even an inside-car view. I can only recommend the last one to those who really get good at the game. It makes it so much more difficult to judge corners, but ultimately is the most realistic way you can play it.
Even if you haven't played the original Colin Mcrae Rally. Even if you think the rally game you're clinging stubbornly onto is the best thing on wheels. Stop. Get money. Go to shop. Buy. You will not regret it.
Rating - 9/10
UK Release Date - now available