Arguably console gaming’s finest rallying experience ever, the Colin McRae franchise is now settled into a cycle of heading for the dedicated games machines first, with a PC version some six months down the line. And, frankly, the fourth incarnation of the game is an absolute stunner – assuming you didn’t get the last edition…
That’s because Codemasters is the latest to jump on the gravy train of regular updates to their games, which in many ways don’t change between releases. McRae 4 does have some improvements, but you’d be hard pushed to conclude that they’re reinventing the proverbial wheel here. Yet, conversely, how could the dedicated McRae game fan live without them?
Full credit to the developers, though; the Xbox version we have on review here looks absolutely superb. Even when you’ve got your foot to the floor, the frame rate remains constant, and the detailed vehicles and tracks look great. The attention to detail is first rate, particularly evident as your car gets more and more damaged as you subject it to plenty of punishment.
As for the game itself, it offers you some welcome extra freedom over the third edition, allowing you quicker access to cars and courses. The various options allow you to go straight into a championship, or to multiplayer mode, or just to take a spin. Plus you don’t have to ‘be’ the cheerfully grumpy McRae if you don’t want to be.
However, once you ‘step’ behind the wheel, Colin McRae Rally 4 doesn’t suffer fools gladly. While you have options to soften the difficulty level (and the learning curve within is reasonably gentle), including automatic transmission and variable amounts of trickiness, it’s a game that rewards measure, and routinely punishes arrogance. It demands that you be in control of your vehicle, and the excellent handling system – which has undergone some significant improvements – really does give you the tools necessary, especially as you make progress through the highly testing courses on offer.
But – and here’s the important thing – the game is fair. Every mistake is your mistake, rather than the result of some sloppy programming or something you didn’t know was coming. And you’ll find that as you get better at the game, so do your levels of anticipation. The McRae expert will spot of lot of the challenges coming a mile off, so to speak.
Our favourite bit? The sheer variety of vehicles you get to choose from, which genuinely feel markedly different to control. It’s not radically original to have fine tuning of cars, and choosing between those that offer differing advantages and disadvantages, but rarely has it been so important to the game itself as it is here. Further cars are waiting to be unlocked as you make your way through the game, too, and there always fresh targets to keep you having another go.
Its weakness is what we inferred right at the start; that fundamentally, the game hasn’t gone through enough dramatic improvements to justify another £40. But judged on the merits of version 4 alone, it’s an absolute steal.