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Colin McRae Rally 04 PlayStation 2

Published by Codemasters
Developed by Codemasters
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99

Without a doubt the most famous rally driving series in gaming history is the Colin McRae Rally series. This review looks at the recently released Colin McRae Rally 04. Everyone one of the previous three games have been excellent (with the second one being especially excellent) and have fought off opposition from a multitude of rival rally titles. Has the series got what it takes to continue improving? Let's take a look.

The biggest question on everyone's lips with a sequel to a highly successful series is what does this version offer? Well there are over 20 cars for you to drive (including the Citroen Xsara, Ford Puma and Fiat Punto) and eight countries in which to rally (UK, Sweden, USA, Finland, Australia, Spain, Greece, and Japan). This time around you don't have to be Colin and you not only have a choice of what car to drive in the championship mode but you also have 4-wheel drive, 2-wheel drive and Group B championships too. 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 an oh so addictive addition. Should you fail the test you'll be able to have a few more attempts. 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. Multiplayer rallies can either be played in split-screen or alternate mode. You can even have multiplayer championships and drive on the same team if you want.

The life span of any game is always a major concern and thanks to a host of unlockable items you'll be enjoying Colin McRae Rally 04 for many months to come. Initially you won't be able to race in the Group B (1980's cars) championship because it's locked. Your car choice in the other categories will also be limited too as various models are locked. There is even a realistic damage model that is ready to be unlocked, an inclusion that I'm sure, will delight the hardcore fans of this wonderful series.

The car handling physics have always been the hallmark of the Colin McRae Rally series and O4 is certainly as impressive as anything out there. You really can feel the difference between the different terrain types. Using the Dualshock 2 controller the force feedback was impressive and the handling was very good. You can actually feel the difference between driving a 4-wheel drive car and driving a 2-wheel drive, which might not seem obvious but you'd be surprised just how many 'simulations' get this wrong. Those of you with a Logitech Driving Force or Logitech GT Force steering wheel will be delighted to learn that Colin McRae Rally 04 fully supports these wheels. We don't have one of these wheels to hand but I would imagine they can only help add to the experience.

In my opinion the only thing missing from Colin McRae Rally 04 is the Arcade mode that appeared in Colin McRae Rally 2. The option to race wheel-to-wheel was excellent and would have been a superb option to take online too. Of course the true nature of rally driving is the solitary experience of racing point-to-point with the only feedback of how you are doing appearing at the crossing of each stage but the Arcade races would help to complete the experience and make Colin McRae Rally 04 the ultimate driving experience on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Graphically the game is basically a refinement of what we experienced in Colin McRae Rally 3. The onlooking spectators still look like cardboard cutouts but I suppose the framerate would suffer if they were anything more. The cars look as good as ever (they were impressive in number 3) and once again the stages and weather effects look fantastic. This year we have only had the chance to look at the PlayStation 2 version but it's certainly impressive and if the Xbox version is simply more of the same then Xbox owners will certainly be impressed. The framerate is also fluid and constant, a must in any racing simulation. There are three camera angles in the game. You can either race using the in-car camera (drivers view), bumper cam, or chase cam.

As you would expect, Colin McRae Rally 04 is exactly the same as other titles in the series when it comes to how suitable the game is for deaf gamers. Obviously to use subtitles for the co-driver's pace notes would be rather silly in a rally simulation because they would take your eyes off the road, so once more colour-coded, iconic pace notes have been used to relay information. The manual gives a description of these pace note icons on page 14. The only real problems with these pace notes is that they don't inform you of rocks and other such hazards that the verbal commentary does.

So there you have it. Colin McRae Rally 04 is another jewel in the Codemasters driving game crown. From top to bottom it's another first class effort. The only downside for PlayStation 2 owners is that the save game file weighs in at almost 2½MB, which is a substantial chunk of your memory card. You have to wonder what could added to number 5, aside from the return of the arcade mode that is. Whether or not you own Colin McRae Rally 3 you owe it to yourself to purchase this latest version as it is, without a doubt, the best rally simulation on the PlayStation 2 at the moment.

Overall Game Rating: 9.2/10
Once more the latest in the Colin McRae Rally series sets the benchmark for rally simulations.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Visual icons are used to convey the verbal pace notes but whilst they are helpful they are not as useful.