Colin McRae Rally 2

User Rating: 8.5 | Colin McRae Rally 2.0 PC
Featuring a completely overhauled graphics engine, the sequel sports advanced imaging techniques like hardware T&L (transform and lighting) and cubic environment mapping. The new graphics engine even goes so far as to cast real-time shadows for every single tree and roadside structure in the game.

The postcard-worthy backdrops are fronted by some of the most exquisitely detailed rally cars ever to grace a PC screen. Thirteen licensed machines are available for you to drive -- including McRae’s Ford Focus -- each with convincing suspension movement, body roll, transparent window glass, and damage effects. Codemasters has tuned the "slippy" physics to blur the line between arcade and simulation and, while not as sophisticated as Mobil 1 Rally, the driving and damage modeling very persuasively communicate the feeling of rubber meeting gravel or metal meeting pine tree.

Gameplay options in Colin 2 have been ramped up appreciably from Colin 1. Rally purists can select from among 90 individual point-to-point stages, set in eight different countries. Circuit racing fans can elect to trade paint with up to five AI cars on a number of closed-loop tracks in the new Arcade mode. None of these venues are based on real-life events, however, and the highly abbreviated rally stages rarely exceed five miles in length. But for non-purists, this may actually help serve up the normally lengthy rally experience into easily digestible chunks. A full suite of multiplayer options for up to eight players is also on tap.

One significant downside to the game is its arbitrarily high degree of difficulty. While most players will be able to win Rally and Arcade Championships quite handily at the Novice setting, switching to Expert mode (and even Intermediate for some) will pose such an insurmountable challenge that all but the most gifted drivers will finish at or near the bottom of the order.

This situation could have been forgiven if it weren’t for the fact that the game requires you to perform well in all three disciplines if you are to have any hope of unlocking the game’s "bonus" vehicles and tracks (over two-thirds of which are inaccessible at the outset). Not a terribly welcoming feature for thrill-seeking target audience.

Colin McRae Rally 2 may not be the most authentic rally simulator on the market, but its wealth of gameplay options, stunning visuals, and infectiously loose rally car physics combine to make it one of the most entertaining. Once you’ve kicked the tires on this puppy, you’ll definitely want to drive it home.