Home > Chronological Challenge > Chronological Challenge – Colin McRae Rally

Chronological Challenge – Colin McRae Rally

January 19, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Continuing our drive through 1998, today’s game is one that may be well-known to UK-based readers who owned a PS1 back in the day, but I don’t know how well-known the game is for those elsewhere. It’s a racing game, so if you’re not into that sort of thing, then…maybe tomorrow will be more interesting for you?

Colin McRae Rally
Publisher: Codemasters | Developer: Codemasters | Year: 1998 (EU release)
Original System: PlayStation
Played on: PS3 (original PS1 disc)

Goal: Complete Championship Mode

Actual Outcome: Completed Championship Mode in 3rd place, which was respectable

You might be able to tell that as a kid I loved racing games (for some reason), which is why you’ll be seeing quite a few here and there as we move through the late 90s. Colin McRae Rally was one I remember loving quite a lot, but does adult me share that love?

Like Gran Turismo, Colin McRae Rally sits on the simulation end of the racing game scale. After all, that name in the title isn’t some made-up character; McRae was a world-renowned Scottish rally driver who had won the World Rally Championship in the three consecutive years prior to this game’s release. As such, he consulted on the game to make sure it handled like real rally driving and he even gave a dour, half-interested voiceover to the Rally School training mode.

That said, while it’s a simulation, rally driving is a curious motorsport. Unlike other circuit-based motorsports, rally is all about flinging heavily-modified consumer cars around tiny tracks on rough terrain in the countryside. So while the game is a simulation, the nature of what it’s simulating makes the game feel like an arcade racer in many ways. And delightfully so.

What makes Colin McRae Rally so much fun is the fact that every course is different, and you constantly have to evolve your driving skills to match. There’s an emphasis on slipping and sliding around instead of the more measured, polite way of following the racing line you tend to see in circuit-based racers. This is messy, chaotic and exciting.

And there are a number of factors that help achieve that. For a start, you can feel the difference in terrain from course to course, and even within a course it’s noticeable as you skid off a gravel track and suddenly gain extra traction on tarmac. It makes every course feel unique and it provides an addictive challenge. Each race saw me constantly calculating how to best handle that location’s terrain and how to perfect my powersliding technique each time. There were no dull moments in Colin McRae Rally as a result.

As an example, while Australia caused me no problems because it was sandy gravel that allowed some fun sweeping slides around wide desert corners, it was followed by Sweden, where icy conditions put an emphasis on car control over speed. And then going from having no grip in Sweden to having all the grip in the tarmac-only Corsica course was a challenge to get used to. And then the UK chucks everything at you at once, so getting through that took a good few attempts to pass successfully.

Course design is memorable, as the public road settings give the scenery variety. Hell, there were times when I felt nostalgic for when I played it when I was younger. I found myself wondering when I was going to encounter the train tracks in Australia, and the British forests added a challenge to the gameplay as it became less obvious where the track would go next as its was just trees as far as the eye could see.

On top of this, tuning options are a lot more accessible than Gran Turismo’s, which you’ll remember I decried as confusing and impenetrable to newbies. Colin McRae Rally dumbs the options down to a set selection, and these are all labelled and explained clearly. It feels a lot more strategic and interesting, and it runs a lower risk of rendering your vehicle useless. Which is nice.

The only real complaint I have about Colin McRae Rally is in the sound design. While the engine noises are appropriately beefy, and the decision to swap out music for the necessary co-driver navigation instructions add to the experience, I couldn’t help but notice that many of the skidding sounds were very similar to those heard in Micro Machines. Certainly makes sense as they’re from the same developer, but applying cartoony skid noises to an otherwise serious sim can prove to be a little distracting. I’m not racing around a breakfast table trying not to drown in a bowl of milk, I’m trying to beat the late Mr McRae at his own game (literally).

Basically, Colin McRae Rally is a seriously good racing game for those who like speed and sliding but want a little more depth without going into Gran Turismo’s endless sea of options. It’s a balance of everything, and I’m not surprised that I loved it so much back in the day, because I still love it now. Easily one of the best racing games I’ve ever played.

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