Review by Wolf Feather

"Excellent Game for those SERIOUS about Racing Games"

Colin McRae Rally 3 is definitely one of the better rally racing games available to date for PlayStation2 in North America. Whereas most rally racing games tend to lean toward the arcade side of the racing genre (V-Rally 3 and especially Shox being two recent examples of this), Colin McRae Rally 3 is closer to the simulation side of the racing genre. With this in mind, Colin McRae Rally 3 is definitely NOT a game for just casual players of racing games.

The most noticeable aspect of the simulation style in CMR3 is the ''lack'' of ability to win at even the easiest gameplay level. In many rally racing games, winning is practically ''guaranteed'' at the easiest levels of gameplay; this is good so that those games can accommodate players of varying skill levels, especially those games trending more toward arcade-style gameplay. CMR3, however, makes winning at even the easiest (Normal) difficulty somewhat of a challenge. Proper vehicle tuning is definitely a requirement, with extremely little leeway for tuning errors. Precision steering is also crucial to success, meaning that the player must have an instinctive ability to read the lay of the land to determine all the possibilities for the roadway's next change of direction - this occurring INDEPENDENT from the calls from the navigator and (if activated) the navigation aids at the top-center of the screen. Near-flawless racing skills in general are also a prerequisite to good performance, as is proper pacing (i.e., never overextending neither the vehicle nor the player's abilities). The simulation aspect of the game is also noted in the three-season Championship Mode, CMR3's version of a career mode. Of course, having Nicky Grist as one's navigator (with the English-language audio only) adds yet more realism and simulation to the game.

An interesting and perhaps perplexing aspect of CMR3's simulation focus is in the times posted at the end of each rally. Vehicles begin each rally in accordance with their points in the championship (or how they ended the previous season, if the first rally of a new season); this ''running order'' is used for the entire rally. At the end of a stage, the player is shown her or his time and rank compared with those who ran the stage earlier. Generally, the only way to determine the player's rank amongst ALL the participants in a rally is to wait until the next stage is about to begin; the only way around this is to be in last position in the points at the beginning of a rally, meaning that the player will then be the absolute last competitor on each stage of the rally.

Interestingly, the final stage of each rally is a Super Special Stage. These are head-to-head competitions on a parallel circuit course (similar to the annual Race of Champions). Here, there are two lanes which generally run parallel to each other (with minor variations) and a crossing point. A vehicle completes one ''lap'' by starting on one side of the Start/Finish Line and returning back to the same side, which requires this crossing the Start/Finish Line twice. Unfortunately, the player will always start from Lane 1, the left-most lane.

Fortunately, the player is not forced to continually win in order to unlock items in the game. Winning will often reward the player with a bonus vehicle, which can generally only be used in Stage Mode (where the player participates only on a single stage). However, simply finishing a rally is enough to unlock more or better parts, which will often be needed in the upcoming rally. Finishing a rally also unlocks that rally's opening video in Extras Mode.

The graphics and sounds are quite stunning, but the main area of ''beauty'' in CMR3 is the vehicle damage. The vehicles in CMR3 do indeed suffer damage, and it can be quite extensive. Virtually every dent incurred can be seen instantly. Windows break, bumpers fall apart, the hood flies off, wheels separate, and the bodywork crumples like a sheet of paper. As the vehicle incurs more and more damage, vehicle handling becomes trickier and trickier... and can only be repaired at the next Service Area. The only downside to this is that there is no rearview button - sometimes actually being able to see the damage on the front of the vehicle can persuade the player to modify driving style and/or reduce the level of aggression in order to complete the stage and ultimately the rally.

For those who are very, very, VERY serious about their racing games, Colin McRae Rally 3 is definitely a prime choice. For those who look purely for fast speeds without requiring a lot of finesse, especially on circuits, CMR3 is definitely NOT a very good choice.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/19/03, Updated 05/19/03

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