We recently had the opportunity to test-drive an early Xbox version of Colin McRae Rally 2005--the first title in Codemasters' long-running series to incorporate online play for up to eight players. The limited options available in our preview build of the game didn't include online play, but we were able to check out a number of different vehicles and rally locations in its time trial and career modes.
If you've played Colin McRae Rally 04 at all, the first thing you'll notice when you play Colin McRae Rally 2005 is that the visuals have a very different look to them, although they don't necessarily reflect a dramatic improvement over those in last year's game. The familiar environments have all received makeovers, the car models are more detailed, and cameras that use motion blur and depth-of-field effects make the optional action replays more realistic. Other nice graphical touches in the game include destructible roadside objects, animated spectators (who cheer as you race past them), realistic shadows, and a "stunned" motion blur effect for whenever you crash. The damage models in Colin McRae Rally 2005 are also worthy of note because, without ever looking over-the-top, they basically allow you to take a shiny new car, chip its paintwork, dent its panels, smash its windows, and ultimately trash it until its barely recognizable. Of course, any damage your cars sustain will adversely affect their performances, and in the career mode, these effects can often outlast the stage during which they were caused.
The career mode in Colin McRae Rally 2005 is quite different from anything that has appeared in the series' previous entries, and it will see you assuming the role of an up-and-coming rally driver whose goal is to one day compete against and beat Colin McRae. At the start of the career mode, you'll have access to only a handful of the game's 35 or so vehicles, and because you've yet to accrue any driver rating points, the number of events you're allowed to compete in will be extremely limited. Since you'll be starting at the bottom of a nonlinear career ladder that will eventually see you racing against McRae himself, you'll often be able to choose which events you compete in next, provided your driver rating is high enough and you have access to a suitable vehicle. Most of the events simply require you to have a vehicle that falls into a certain class, but a number of them are only open to specific models. Fortunately, when choosing an event, you can also see which vehicles you'll be rewarded with if you finish on the podium, which takes the guesswork out of unlocking cars that you need to progress.
As in previous Colin McRae titles, each rally event will comprise a number of stages between which you have the opportunity to conduct repairs on your car. Areas of your car that can (and will) sustain damage during a stage include the wheels, axles, suspension, brakes, bodywork, turbo and cooling systems, exhaust, engine, and gearbox. When you go to the garage for repairs, you'll be presented with a list detailing all of the damage you've sustained, along with estimates on how long each part will take to repair. The catch is that you're only allocated an hour of repair time, which, if you've been driving recklessly, might not be nearly long enough to fix everything. When this happens, you can just fix as much as possible within the time limit so that you can start the next stage in a car that's already damaged, or you can sacrifice some of the lead that you've raced so hard to attain to carry out repairs after the 60 minutes are up. The condition of damaged parts, incidentally, is shown as a percentage, so unless you have parts that are ready to give up and fall off, you're usually better off racing with a little damage than you are voluntarily adding valuable seconds to your time.
Before each stage, you'll also have the option to customize your car setup according to both the surface you'll be racing on and your own driving style. Since appropriate tire choices and suchlike are made automatically, you certainly won't need to spend time tinkering with your car if you don't want to. The setup options are very accessible, and even if you know next to nothing about cars, there's no reason why a couple of minutes in the garage won't translate into a few valuable seconds on the course. The areas of your car that you can customize with one of five settings include the tires, ride height, springs, anti-roll bar, brakes, steering, and gearbox. As you progress through the career mode and complete driving tests known as "parts challenges," you'll also unlock upgrades for your cars, including superior brakes, dampers, gearboxes, engines, and exhausts.
Although only 52 percent of the track in Colin McRae Rally 2005 is actually new--since some existing tracks have been retrofitted with new sections--the game will certainly boast enough refinements and new content to make it worth a look for fans of last year's title. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game, which is expected to arrive in stores this fall, just as soon as we get our hands on a more complete version of it. In the meantime, hit up the game's