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Colin McRae Rally 04 PC CD-ROM

Published by Codemasters
Developed by Codemasters
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99

PC gamers have had a long time to wait for the fourth installment in the famed Colin McRae Rally series. PlayStation 2 and Xbox gamers got their hands on the game a good six months earlier. However the long wait is finally over and Colin McRae Rally 04 has arrived on the PC and the wait was well and truly worth it. The game isn't simply a straight port from the console versions though and there are a few nice extras here too.

The biggest problem with Colin McRae Rally 3 was that the Championship mode was far too restrictive. In fact it was restrictive to the point of not even being able to choose your own car as you were forced to drive Colin's Ford Focus. This time around though it's all changed and there is the freedom to drive the car of your choice. In fact you now have 4-wheel drive, 2-wheel drive and Group B championships too. There is also a bonus group of cars that can be unlocked. The Lancia Delta Integrale, Ford Escort RS 1600 and the Ford Transit Rally Van are just 3 of the vehicles that can be unlocked and add some nice variety to the game.

You have the chance to take part in special tests during the course of a championship that, if passed, will enable you to get that special part to add to your car. It's a simple but a truly worthwhile addition. Should you fail the test you'll be able to have another attempt. You also have the option to alter the car's setup and take part in a shakedown to test the difference your alterations have made. As well as the championship modes you also have the rally mode where you can choose a rally to participate in (you can even create a custom rally if you wish by picking which six stages you want). Once more the stages mode returns and lets you play any stage you've unlocked in the championship mode.

The PC version also comes with online and LAN play. Now before you get excited you don't actually get to race wheel-to-wheel in the true sense of the meaning. The races are the usual point-to-point format that the single player game takes. However you do get to see coloured ghosts of your online opponents who drive the chosen stage at the same time as you. It's rather strange racing against single coloured ghost cars but at least it's easy to see how your time compares to that of your opponents.

Colin McRae Rally 04 might initially seem very similar to the previous game but after only a short while you'll notice some important differences. The handling has been improved and feels better. Driving over the various surfaces in the game such as sand, gravel, ice and mud feels very different and the cars behave how you'd expect them to on such surfaces. You have to be more careful of damage that your car takes. Not only will the cars visibly degrade but their handling will also deteriorate so damage limitation is a top priority, if you intend to record a good time. These improvements are very much appreciated but it's still a shame that the arcade races haven't made a return. The arcade races would have been great for the online mode and would have made a change from the point-to-point nature of the game.

Graphically Colin McRae Rally 04 is an improvement over Colin McRae Rally 3. However unless you have a DirectX 9 based graphics card you might not be able to appreciate these improvements fully. Of course with the game being graphically superior to the previous Colin McRae Rally game you'd be forgiven for thinking that the game would be more demanding. I was surprised to find that the game actually ran a lot smoother than Colin McRae Rally 3, which shows that Codemasters have made an excellent job of optimising the game for current PC setups. Damage modeling looks very impressive as do the environmental reflections. Playing the game using the behind the car camera is very impressive, as you see the dirt and mud forming on the car during a stage. Play on a sand filled stage such as the ones in Australia using the in car camera and the windscreen wipers will come on from time to time to wipe away the reddish dust that forms on the screen, which again looks impressive. There are still some 2D flat images in the game, which is a little disappointing but overall the game looks great.

Colin McRae Rally 04 is about as deaf gamer friendly as every other rally game that's gone before. The only voice in the game is from your co-driver. Once again they are not subtitled but the directions are shown by the visual icons. Page 13 of the game manual will inform you what these icons mean, so it would be a good idea to study these before trying to get serious with the game. However these icons don't tell the whole picture and do not show such information as the distance to the indicated turn and whether there is a trench or rocks along the road that is ahead. Still if you've managed to enjoy previous rally titles you'll have no problems with Colin McRae Rally 04.

Colin McRae Rally 04 is another top driving game from Codemasters. However it does make you wonder what improvements could be made in future versions. Colin McRae Rally 5 (or 05) is already under development, for Xbox and PlayStation 2, but surely there isn't that much that could be added. Personally I would love to see the return of the arcade races but aside from that (and more information on the visual pace note icons) I can't really see what more can be done. However, I'm sure Codemasters will prove me wrong when it's time for number 5 in the series. For now though Colin McRae Rally 04 will certainly do.

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10
An all round improvement over Colin McRae Rally 3 and you can even indulge in a spot of online racing too.

Deaf Gamers comment:
As with every other rally game the visual pace note icons need to be more detailed.