Rally racing is a far more esoteric sport than its NASCAR or Formula 1 counterparts. Rally cars rarely accelerate beyond 100mph, and they don't face direct competition. Instead, rally racing tasks you with beating the clock on closed courses. A lot of action takes place off the track as well, however, since cars need to be precisely tuned and repaired between race legs. One man has single-handedly propelled this thinking man's sport to relative domestic popularity. Scotsman Colin McRae has enjoyed fame and fortune on the international rally racing circuit as a result of his professional skills, in addition to achieving a certain level of video game renown through the existence of some great PC and console games that bear his name. Codemasters, in conjunction with veteran N-Gage developer Ideaworks3D, has managed to squeeze a lot of the speed, functionality, and rally racing authenticity from its racing series for placement in Nokia's fledgling game deck. With a sleek presentation, great physics and damage modeling, and rock-solid multiplay, Colin McRae Rally 2005 is by far the best racing game available on the N-Gage.
From the moment you boot up Colin McRae, you'll be treated to a degree of polish rarely seen on the N-Gage. Prerace menus feature high-poly, licensed car models, each of which can be flipped and rotated so you can fine-tune various parts of the vehicle. From the Peugeot 206 to the Subaru Impreza WRX, every car is immediately recognizable, and on the course, each takes damage in a realistic way. There are 12 vehicles in total, eight of which must be unlocked through play in championship mode, where players must work the European Rally circuit, starting in Nokia's native Finland.
Each rally takes place over several races, all of which take you through picturesque rural areas. These areas are as nicely rendered as the game's vehicles, and they usually feature a couple of different types of terrain. What you're driving on has a direct effect on how well your car handles, and learning to adapt your steering for such surfaces as gravel and dirt adds some welcome variety to gameplay. Furthermore, because there are no other cars to worry about, it's easy to really concentrate on interacting with the tracks, letting you master the nuances of them.
To aid you in this process, your co-driver will verbally let you know what's upcoming, be it a turn, a jump, or a terrain switch. This is helpful, because Colin McRae's draw-in distance is pretty short, which would otherwise necessitate rote memorization of the game's various courses. Your omniscient partner's dispassionate voice punctuates the droning engine sounds that comprise Colin's in-game audio. The punchy music heard in menu screens is not present during races. After all, this is Colin McRae, not Initial D. At the end of each race, you'll be treated to a Gran Turismo-style replay of your performance, from various cinematic camera angles. This, like the rest of Colin McRae Rally 2005, looks just great.
As mentioned, the game's damage and repair system is among its most appealing features. Every time you collide with something other than the finish line, your car will be dented in the appropriate spot. Virtually every vehicle component is capable of sustaining damage, and each will perform progressively worse as it incurs damage. It seems to be virtually impossible to total your vehicle, but a car that's been repeatedly crashed will look and feel the part. Hatchbacks will cease to latch properly, leaving the hatch ajar. When your suspension fails, your car will bound about the course like a hyperactive toddler. This can occasionally look over-the-top, but it usually appears just as you'd expect. As you'll likely be taking damage pretty constantly, repairing your vehicle (when you're given the opportunity to do so) is essential. The limiting factor that oftentimes prevents you from making much-needed repairs to your vehicle involves time constraints, and not cash ones, because races are scheduled pretty tightly together.
While Colin McRae's dozen licensed vehicles and tracks will keep players interested, it's the game's excellent multiplay that really lends it longevity. Colin McRae's multiplayer gameplay actually represents a departure from its staple time-trial fare, because opposing players race simultaneously and can collide with one another. There is no visible slowdown during these Bluetooth-powered confrontations, which is quite a feat considering the existence of inherent latency issues and the need for each handset to render a second vehicle. Even though rally races are much slower than other forms of competitive driving, the sense of speed you'll experience is considerable, probably because Colin's frame rate is so reliable. However, the cars' realistic handling will lead more-methodical racers to victory, while impatient, young upstarts will be left to crash into trees and cottages.
Colin McRae Rally 2005 is a faithful adaptation of a very successful game. From audiovisual and gameplay standpoints, the game's adherence to realism is remarkable, which will delight rally racing enthusiasts. Colin McRae is worthy of its lofty name and provenance, and it's one of the very best racing games available for its platform.