Colin McRae Rally 2005 Hands-On

Ideaworks3D is once again in the driver's seat in this hot new N-Gage racer.

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The Colin McRae Rally franchise has experienced a great deal of commercial and critical success on other platforms, including the Xbox, PS2, and PC. This legacy of accomplishment has raised the bar for the publisher/developer tandem of Codemasters and Ideaworks3D, who are working to infuse the N-Gage version of Colin McRae with the series' sense of freewheeling fun and realistic driving mechanics. The last handheld McRae, Colin McRae Rally 2002 for the GBA, was not quite as successful in this task as Codemasters would have liked; the new N-Gage game, however, seems to be on the right dirt track, judging from the time we spent with a pre-alpha version of the game.

Choose the right rally car for your driving style.
Choose the right rally car for your driving style.

Colin McRae Rally 2005 will likely compete with Gameloft's Asphalt: Urban GT, simply because they are the first true car racing games for the N-Gage. In reality, however, the two games fill entirely different niches. While Asphalt is primarily concerned with concept cars and luxury roadsters, the closest you'll get to a "dream car" in Colin McRae Rally 2005 is a souped-up Subaru WRX sedan--and if you don't put at least a few dings in it during your wild ride through the game's eight countries and 64 tracks, you'll be missing the point. If the Subaru's not your weapon of choice, Colin McRae will offer an additional 15 cars, which will be sorted among six classes according to a Gran Turismo-style rating system.

Accurately modeling the roughshod rally car experience requires faithful driving physics and realistic damage modeling, and it looks like Ideaworks3D is attending carefully to both areas. For instance, each of the 16 vehicles features unique handling characteristics. An all-wheel-drive Subaru will prove a lot more maneuverable than a front-wheel-drive compact on the game's dirt and gravel roads. In addition, the game will have realistic weather effects for rain and snow, which will introduce another variable to the driving equation. Colin McRae Rally 2005 will also pack a complex damage simulation system that orchestrates your car's visual decay and performance degradation over the course of a grueling race--so if these inclement conditions cause you to spin out of control and rough up your vehicle, you'll know immediately. Fortunately, you'll be able to repair your car between races by applying triage (and, by extension, your winnings) to any of your car's 10 damageable areas.

There's nothing dainty about Colin McRae's brand of racing.
There's nothing dainty about Colin McRae's brand of racing.

None of these interesting damage modeling features were implemented in the build of Colin McRae Rally 2005 we played, but we were still able to get a feel for the game's realistic design. Some of the Colin McRae Rally's cars are easier to drive than others, but they all require a very fine hand on the wheel and brake keys to follow the game's insidiously curved roads--which, when coupled with the unforgiving physics model, quell any romantic illusions you might have about the nature of rally car racing. If you try to take a sharp turn at more than 50 miles per hour, for example, you'll simply lose traction on the slippery track and fly into a nearby cow pasture. Fortunately, even driving poorly can be a lot of fun, because Colin McRae Rally 2005 runs at a very brisk clip. The game puts out about 20 frames per second, and it appears graphically equivalent to an early-generation PlayStation game. Ideaworks3D specializes in advanced graphics compression technology, so this kind of performance isn't unexpected. Still, the developers appear to have refined their technique from early successes like Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk; Colin McRae's background sprites seem to be more detailed, and the game even includes some rudimentary lighting effects, like sunlight glinting off of your car.

In all, Colin McRae Rally 2005 looks like it will be the first legitimate cartridge-based mobile member of the franchise, on the strength of its gameplay alone. It may also offer console Colin McRae fans something entirely new: shadow racing support over N-Gage Arena and head-to-head Bluetooth play. We'll have more information on this game as its November release date draws closer.

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