Hold on to your hat - the Flying Scotsman, Colin McRae, is back. Codemasters and McRae have joined forces once again to give rally fans the latest fix for their unquenchable habit, Colin McRae Rally 2.0. Although the first Colin McRae Rally gave players the chance to experience rally racing exactly as the pros do - racing alone against only a set of section times and the course itself - the lack of distinct course layouts and absence of onscreen opponents disappointed those looking for a more pugilistic experience. Coupled with laughably poor visuals, the first was a game that only true rally fans could enjoy. More of an update than a sequel, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 delivers the same authentic rally experience while it improves upon the shortcomings of the first game. The result is a game that looks smoother, plays better, and offers more variety than its predecessor - even if it doesn't ultimately feel like a brand new racing experience.
Colin McRae Rally 2.0 features the same basic racing action from the first McRae, but with a few new additions. Just like its predecessor, McRae 2.0 boasts exactly 13 cars, which range from mainstays such as the Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Lancia Integrale to Colin McRae's own hallmark vehicle, the Ford Focus. Where McRae 2.0 deviates from the original, however, is in its track selection. In all, there are eight locations, including Finland, Greece, France, Sweden, Australia, Kenya, Italy, and the United Kingdom, each of which has ten or 11 unique stages in rally mode and a single stage in arcade mode upon which to race. That's 92 tracks! Regardless of which option you choose, rally or arcade, each offers the same championship, single race, as well as time trial options you've come to expect from modern racing games; but, unlike the first Colin McRae Rally, each option also supports two-player simultaneous racing via the game's split-screen feature.
In truth, many of the improvements to Colin McRae Rally 2.0 aren't readily visible from the main menu, but are subtly buried within the game itself. In terms of control, McRae 2.0 is more grounded than its predecessor: Cars feel heavier and stick to the road better, such that tipping over is less common and powerslides rarely relinquish total control of your vehicle. Such adjustments are a welcome addition, as the tracks in McRae 2.0 are also much more treacherous than those in the first game. Each location has its own trademark pitfalls - dense forests, narrow roads, hairpin turns, or torrential rivers, as well as enough terrain changes and weather conditions to rattle the grizzliest of racing veterans. Realizing that inclement weather and mixed terrain can have a huge effect on car handling, Codemasters has increased the number of available car modifications from five to seven, and it has added brake bias and gear ratio to the already stock selections of tire type, suspension, power ratio, brake power, and steering. If you intend to progress deep into the game's rally championship mode, you'll also have to cope with vehicular damage, a rather nasty side effect of the game's realistic physics model. As you speed around corners and crash into trees, your car may incur damage in one or more of 11 total categories, which you'll then have to repair between stages. If keeping track of all these nuances hurts your brain, you'll be happy to note that Codemasters has wisely beefed up the game's arcade mode as well - it has created a series of championships in which you can compete against five onscreen opponents in a bumper-to-bumper fight for first place without having to worry about damage, car modifications, or repairs.
On the graphics front, it's amazing how much better Colin McRae Rally 2.0 looks compared with the original. The annoying flicker, visible polygon seams, and short draw-in distance - all of which plagued the first game - are simply gone. The game's scenery, namely trees, people, and signage, is still composed of poorly scaling sprites, but the increased expansiveness of tracks coupled with a greater polygon count diminishes all but the most glaring issues of pixelation. In fixing the game's many graphical flaws, Codemasters left McRae's particle and lighting effects well enough alone. Dust, grass, mud, and leaves still kick up aplenty as you plow through them, while pouring rain and driving snow do nothing to hamper the game's steady frame rate. Other than an increase in clarity for codriver instructions, Codemasters hasn't done much to improve McRae 2.0's audio. Considering all that has been done for the game's visuals, though, such an oversight isn't too perilous. Colin McRae Rally 2.0 isn't going to win any awards for its visual luster, but it's a fair sight better than the previous release.
Improvement - that's the spirit that Colin McRae Rally 2.0 embodies. Codemasters hasn't delivered a wholly original effort with its latest release; instead, it has opted to smooth out numerous rough edges in order to deliver a more polished sophomore effort. As such, die-hard fans of the original may feel a twinge of déjà vu when they dig into the update. For everyone else, though, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 represents one of the most solidly addictive racing experiences that money can buy.