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‘Colin McRae Rally’ for iOS game review

The Colin McRae Rally series is the epitome of rallying games. The very first game came out back in 1998 and although the series has largely stuck to consoles and the PC, there have been a few versions for handheld device along the way.

The very first Colin McRae game that I played was actually Colin McRae Rally 2005 for the N-Gage. This might sound strange for anyone who hasn’t owned an N-Gage but it was an utterly fantastic game that set the benchmark really high for me for mobile racing games. The latest iteration in the series, named simply Colin McRae Rally, is now available on iOS devices and has rather large shoes to fill. Let’s see if it manages to do that.

Title
Colin McRae Rally
Developer
The Codemasters Software Company Limited
Platform
iOS
Release Date
June, 2013
Content Reating
4+
Size
245MB
Price
$4.99

Gameplay

The latest Colin McRae Rally is exactly what you’d expect from a game with this name: driving fast, rally spec branded cars on winding dirt tracks from actual locations around the world. Rally racing games may seem similar to arcade racing games on surface to the untrained eye but require a whole different level of skill altogether.

The first thing to remember here is that dirt roads have generally the same level of grip as a surface covered in ball bearings. This means the cars require a whole lot more skill to keep pointed in the right direction. Turn too fast, put too much gas or brake too hard and too late and you will be sitting among the trees on the side of the road.

Colin McRae Rally offers the bare minimum in terms of controls. On the left side of the screen you have two buttons to turn left and right. On the right is the accelerator, brake and handbrake controls. The handbrake is necessary to execute a handbrake turn but requires even more skill and practice to pull off properly or else you end up missing the turn and wasting more time than if you had just turned normally. The controls are all large and easy to use without having to look at the screen. You can also choose to enable the accelerometer for turning.

As with previous games, you have a co-driver next to you reading out pacenotes. Pacenotes are essentially directions for the route ahead. In an actual rally, these pacenotes are all that the driver has that tells him about the road ahead so having an efficient co-driver is of utmost importance. In the game, you don’t quite have to pay attention to the pacenotes as you do get instructions that appear on screen that show the nature of the corner ahead, with respect to the direction as well as the intensity of the curvature so you can be ready. Colors and shapes indicate the nature of the corner ahead but you should still listen to the pacenotes so you don’t miss important details about the terrain, such as the presence of a bump ahead or rocks on the side of the road, etc.

Colin McRae Rally has three locations based in Australia, Greece and Corsica. You have multiple tracks in each country that stretch for miles. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of variety in the tracks in terms of location and terrain. The tracks all tend to look and feel more or less the same, which gives the feeling of doing the same thing again and again. The Colin McRae Rally 2005 for N-Gage I mentioned previously had an insane variety in tracks and locations and even after putting dozens of hours into the game it never felt repetitive. That game also featured multiple weather settings and took place at various times during the day, including in pitch darkness with nothing but headlights to guide you. There is none of this in the new game. The time does change in some of the level but it’s honestly not that much noticeable.

The new game also features all of four cars, which is again disappointing. And since there are so few of them, it takes quite a while to unlock each of them. The cars don’t feel all that much different and the first couple are almost frustratingly slow. Thankfully, there is full damage available to cars and you can see them physically distort with every crash, with windscreens breaking, lights shattering, metal bending, hoods being ripped off, smoke spewing from the engine bay and what not. The damage is not just cosmetic and also affects the car’s performance. You can feel the car getting slower with every crash and if you go overboard you can kill it altogether.

Between races in championship mode you get the option to repair your car. You have a limited amount of time allotted to you and every repair you make takes away from that. So you have to choose between fixing your engine/transmission, suspension, bodywork and wheels/tyre. You can’t go all out on one and not repair the others as your performance would still be affected. Best thing to do, however, is not bang your car around on the track so you don’t have a lot of damage to fix.

The game pits you against multiple rivals but you don’t actually see any of them on the track, as before. You just see their times at the end of the race and your position in the race. You just have to compete with one car labelled CPU that appears as an icon in the top next to an icon of your car as they compete in their own little race in the bar on top. If you manage to get your car ahead of the CPU, then you automatically come first in the race. It’s disappointing that you don’t have to compete against the times of multiple drivers but rather just one. This oversimplification seems far too unnecessary.

You can choose to play the championship mode and play all tracks in an order or the single race mode. Unfortunately, to play the latter, you need to play championship mode and unlock tracks and cars otherwise you can’t do much in single race mode. This is absolutely frustrating and you’d wish developers would just let you play the levels you want instead of putting unnecessary artificial restrictions just to make you play other game modes. I bought the game, I should be able to play whatever mode I want without dumb restrictions coming in the way.

Overall, the core racing experience in Colin McRae Rally is still fairly enjoyable. Unfortunately, the short supply of tracks and cars means the game has a hard time keeping your interest for long.

Graphics and Sound

Colin McRae Rally brings the familiar barren lands and muted color of the previous games, where the brightest colors are often found on your car. Everywhere you look, you see the same dusty red or gray gravel stretching from side to side with trees bordering the edges. I still vividly remember the visuals of the Colin McRae Rally 2005, which is why it is disappointing to see the visuals not progressed much in all this time. Sure, it looks better but not considerably so. Perhaps Codemasters tuned down on the detail and textures to make up for the vast environments but I’ve definitely seen better visuals on other games, the Real Racing series being a good example. The menu design is even worse and shows an utter lack of creativity with the bland, square buttons set against a teal background.

The game redeems itself in the sound department. Colin McRae Rally features some excellent foley work that can be noticed through the guttural sounds of the engine and the wince-inducing sound of metal meeting tree trunk every time you go wayside and crash. If you hear closely you can also hear the sound of the gravel hitting against the bottom of the car and the sound changing as you drive on different surfaces. The sounds change noticeable as the car gets damaged and you can hear the engine note straining and the rubber squealing after both have seen their fair share of wear and tear.

The only fly in the ointment here is the voice of the co-passenger reading out pacenotes. The game uses the voice of former rally driver Nicky Grist who does his best impression of a robot. Honestly, I’ve heard more realistic voice from Siri and it’s hard to believe whoever is reading the pacenote is an actual human, leave alone a famous rally driver.

Verdict

I had high expectations from Colin McRae Rally considering the previous games in the series and the high benchmark they have set in the world of racing games. Unfortunately, what we get instead is an oversimplified and barebones Colin McRae game with few tracks, fewer cars and lackluster visuals for a game in 2013. The game has some enjoyable moments. It’s just that they don’t last very long. Hopefully, Codemasters would release a more serious Colin McRae Rally in future for mobile that doesn’t just have the distilled essence but rather the full experience of the console games.

Rating: 6/10
Pros: Core rally driving experience is still enjoyable, excellent foley work, lengthy tracks
Cons: Not much variety in tracks, only four cars, mediocre visuals

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