Rally racing is in-your-face racing; lots of dirt, lots of speed, lots of turns, and lots of driving action. Colin McRae Rally 04 delivers everything the rally world has to offer and more. Codemasters did a good job at properly replicating the experience of rallying into a compact affordable Xbox game. If you are looking for a good game available at a good price, then look no further.
Gameplay - November 15, 2001. On this day, the Xbox console was released in North America. Along with the Xbox release, came the release of hit videogame titles such as Dead Or Alive 3, Halo, and Project Gotham Racing. Project Gotham Racing did a lot for racing fans and non-racing fans, because it gave everyone a reason to like racing games. Microsoft soon released Rallisport Challenge, which was supposed to deliver everything Project Gotham Racing did, but instead with a rally theme. Rallisport Challenge didn’t necessarily live up to its name and reputation, but it did attract a lot of vidoegamers who already liked rally racing or because of the game, began to like rally racing. Since then, the videogame world has been exposed to a couple of other rally racing videogames, and people in the United States of America are beginning to fall in love with this popular European craze.
Let’s start with the basics and work our way up. Cars seem, for some odd reason, to always be an important part of a driving or racing videogame. In Colin McRae Rally 04, you get to use a lot of cars; all are popular brand name vehicles, ranging from sedans to SUV’s, some with two wheel drive and others with four (or all) wheel drive. All in all, these cars are perfect for rally racing, because they will have you working your ass off to keep the car steady in the middle of the road. Rally racing is quite popular in Europe, because cars usually have a hard time staying on the track, and occasionally end up going off the track and crashing into someone’s house. (Note: If you are planning to move to Europe, be sure to ask your Real Estate agent, if the house you are planning to buy, is located next to any rally racing tracks. If so, be prepared to expect many cars coming through your living room window.) Codemasters also give you the ability to tweak your vehicle before every race, which you will find convenient because not all of the cars in their standard form can handle the different types of racing terrains.
The speed and control in Colin McRae Rally 04 is unbelievably noticeable. As you are racing, you will notice the loose handling (which is a good thing for rally racing) and the vibration you get as you race on gravel and what not. Codemasters took the time, to perfect the particle effects in Colin McRae Rally 04, you will notice smoke from the exhaust and great water and rock effects. What makes the driving experience so great in Colin McRae Rally 04 is that Codemasters created a wonderful physics systems for the gameplay. The physics work hard to keep you rocking from side to side on turns, power sliding, and basically just hitting a lot of off-road objects. You will notice in Colin McRae Rally 04, how easy it is to damage your vehicle. This concept gives you a sense of reality which a lot of driving and racing videogames don’t give you, which is, when you crash your car, you end up with some type of dent letting you know it. Front and rear bumpers will break and fall off, the front hood might pop up making it hard for your driver to see the road (thank god for available third person camera driving), and many other damage effects will occur to your car if you are not careful.
As for the available modes of play, you get to experience Championship Mode in Colin McRae Rally 04. In Championship Mode, you tweak your cars tuning in order to race in eight different rally locations in the world. Each race has different stages of terrain, which relates to difficulty, so adjusting your car’s schematics eventually is no longer an option but a requirement. You can also test out your car’s performance before any race on the exact rally track you are about to race on beforehand. All in all, Colin McRae Rally 04 puts you behind the steering wheel, under the hood, and in Europe. Xbox Live features aren’t as impressive as you would expect them to be, but at least Colin McRae Rally 04 has Xbox Live features. You will be able to post your race times on an online scoreboard, so there is still competition; it’s just not exactly what everyone expected. New parts are awarded to you during Championship Mode via minigames. For example, a company wants to give you some new racing shocks for your vehicle, but they need to test them out, so they ask you to drive your vehicle clearing 20 foot hops in one minute, and what not. Sound fun? It is.
Graphics - Codemasters did a good job at creating a racing environment with lots of elements and rally vehicles. Codemasters took the time to put a lot of detail into Colin McRae Rally 04, which you will notice through gameplay. And, just like your mother always told you, it is the little things in life that matter, like the smoke cloud effects because these come out quite impressive looking. And like I mentioned above, the vehicle damage effects not only occur but look pretty good at the same time; just don’t be set on finishing every race without a single scratch on your car, because it just won’t happen.
Sound - Derek Ringer is the voice behind Colin McRae Rally 04. Unlike most racing videogames, Colin McRae Rally 04 has an announcer. He might come off a little annoying and cocky at first, but that’s how rally racing announcers are suppose to come off. All in all, you might get sick of him at times, yet you just can’t find the heart to turn the volume down. Besides the announcer, the game’s sound effects are quite impressive, and they do their job. As for the music, Codemasters did not provide a custom soundtrack feature, which disappoints me especially; because most racing videogames like Project Gotham Racing and PGR 2, have this feature. But, there's more to life than music, right? Right?
Bottom Line - With a suggested retail price of $19.99, Colin McRae Rally 04 is worth every penny. It delivers everything expected from a rally racing videogame and what some racing videogames could not deliver. At the same time, there is a lack of features, which will disappoint some gamers, but Colin McRae Rally 04 is definitely worth a try. If you are a rally fan already, then go ahead and purchase Colin McRae Rally 04 to keep you busy until RalliSport Challenge 2 and/or Colin McRae Rally 05 are released.