Full Review: The closest thing to a rally sim on a console in the US.
The Colin McRae series of games is the longest running and most venerable rally series out there. And, while Colin himself may be without a WRC drive this season, it doesn't mean Codemasters has given up on the franchise in the US. While American Playstation2 gamers are sadly out of luck, Xbox racing fans can pick up this game for the bargain price of $20. The game features mostly minor improvements over what we saw in Colin McRae 3, and some of the same complaints can still be applied here, but 04 is well worth its reduced price tag.
Like its predecessors, Colin McRae 04 is a rally game featuring a good bit of realism mixed in with a good bit of arcade-style fun. While the game does not sport a WRC license, meaning it doesn't have all the cars currently competing in FIA events, it does have a wide array of rally cars to select from, including a number of the notorious "Killer B" cars from the days when rallying featured much more horsepower, and danger. But, for those who played the previous McRae game, there won't be many surprises here on the car select screen.
However, this year you're able to take any car you want into the championship, and there are different championships for various types of cars. So, rather than being stuck in the Focus all the time, you can take a front-wheel drive car in to an FWD championship, or if you're a glutton for punishment try to do a full championship in a Group B car. This time you can also take a friend through the championship mode with you if you like, and play a number of other multiplayer modes with them. This is a major improvement over the last game, which only allowed you to race individual stages against each other.
But, don't be fooled by the Xbox Live logo on the box here. All your Live subscription gets you is a glorified online scoreboard where you can manually upload times and view those of others, but can't download replays of your opponents. And, since only times for individual stages are kept, there's no way to compete in a virtual rally. A Live setup like the one found in Project Gotham Racing 2 would have been perfect here, showing you the best times of all the other Live gamers as you complete each stage. But, what you get is nothing close.
While the last game was fun to play, most who spent any time with it realized the cars moved a bit oddly. The game's physics engine was based on a much-maligned central-pivot system, where the car essentially rotated around a central point whenever as it turned. This lead to a very jerky and twitchy feeling car, and some bizarre looking replays. The Codemasters developers assured us that this annoying quirk would be removed for the 04 release, but unfortunately that's not the case. The game does seem to handle a bit better than last time, but the pivot system is still here and strong. The game is still fun to play and the physics engine still presents a nice blend of realism and fun, but there's little if any improvement over 3.
Graphically nothing much has changed, either. You still get the same amazingly detailed car models, and the same very impressive car damage that you saw last time, and smashing your car to bits for the heck of it is still good fun. Audio also hasn't changed, with the exception of Derek Ringer taking the place of Nicky Grist to call the corners, as he did alongside Colin in the 03 season of the WRC.