Though it offered its fair share of thrills, last year's Colin McRae Rally simply didn't stand up to Mobil 1 Rally Championship as the game of choice for serious rally racing fans, due largely to its somewhat dated graphics and a physics model that was too forgiving. But Codemasters addressed both those issues when designing Colin McRae Rally 2.0. It's true that the game doesn't meticulously re-create every inch of any of the courses that that make up the World Rally. It's also hampered by a few technical problems that can tax the patience of even the most dedicated racing fan. But if you can work your way around these shortcomings, you'll find that Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is one of the most engrossing racing sims available.
Like its precursor, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 doesn't attempt to simulate the entire 2000 World Rally Championship or even all the stages of a single WRC event. In fact, the brevity of each rally stage makes it clear that these aren't accurate depictions of real courses, but rather fictional layouts designed to capture the spirit of the various locales. In all, you'll race on courses in eight countries (Greece, Finland, Australia, Kenya, France, Sweden, Italy, and the UK), with each rally consisting of nine or 10 stages that are considerably shorter than what you'd find in real life. This stands in stark contrast to the brutal realism of Mobil 1 Rally Championship--a stage in that game might be 15 minutes long, while in Colin McRae Rally 2.0 you'd be hard-pressed to find many that are longer than four minutes. It might not be authentic, but it does mean you'll be able to finish several rallies in one day.
More than 20 cars are available in the game, from manufactures like Ford, Lancia, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, MG, Cooper, Seat, Subaru, and Toyota. Many are unavailable until you unlock them, but it's basically a moot point because only experienced drivers will be able to get the most of the higher-end cars anyway. For instance, after whipping the Subaru Impreza around several courses, I tried my hand with the faster, newly unlocked Mitsubishi Lancer and found the higher top-end speed difficult to handle. Otherwise, both the engine sounds and dash displays are different for each car, and the modeling of inertia (the first-person perspective sways from side to side in turns) gives Colin McRae 2.0 one of the most convincing cockpit views to date in a racing game. The downside is the semitransparent windshield, which gives everything a slightly blurred appearance and knocks the frame rate down a bit to boot. Therefore, though the cockpit view looks great, most players will probably opt for the over-the-hood view, which provides a greater view distance and smoother performance.
There are two main modes of play in the game: rally and arcade. Arcade racing pits you against up to seven human or computer-controlled opponents on a circuit in each country (or all the circuits in the championship mode), with damage modeling turned off and handling physics quite relaxed. The computer opponents are actually quite tough to beat even on the intermediate difficulty setting; after grabbing several first-place trophies in a rally championship season, I was surprised to find myself struggling to finish in the top three in the arcade races.
Of course, a lot of players will pass on the arcade mode in favor of the more true-to-life rally mode. Whether you opt to run a single stage (all stages in all courses are immediately available), race a single rally, or start a championship season, you'll find the action is intense, authentic, and addicting. Though the damage modeling still isn't close to being lifelike--you can hit a tree at 100mph with only a crumpled hood to show for it, and it's apparently impossible to blow an engine--you'll still find it challenging to balance saving time against repairing your car at various points during rallies.
Out on the courses, you'll find the enhanced physics engine results in much more realistic handling than in the original game. None of the terrain is as rugged as the gully-ridden, pothole-infested cart paths found in Mobil 1 Rally Championship, but the spectrum of different driving surfaces gives Colin McRae its own appeal. Codemasters has arrayed the courses in the championship mode in a way that will test even seasoned drivers. For example, after sliding through the gravel of Greece, the next stop in the series is the tarmac-only stages of France, which require an entirely different type of driving style. From France it's on to Sweden, where the snow- and ice-covered courses will force you to once again rethink your tactics--a pattern that's repeated as you move through the two championship levels.
Regardless of the course, if you're not using the hand brake in hairpin turns, you're costing yourself precious seconds. Powerslides are essential if you want to finish at the head of the pack, and to this effect, the hand brake modeling is exceptionally well done. It all adds up to an exhilarating ride that's enhanced by impressive graphics that will strain all but the highest-end systems. Actually, that's one of the few real problems in Colin McRae Rally 2.0: the frame rate. As any racing sim fan would tell you, a consistently smooth frame rate is extremely important in a racing simulation--but trying to get fluid animation out of Colin McRae 2.0 can seem even more stressful than vying for the championship on the game's expert difficulty setting. The big culprit seems to be the force feedback support; turn it on, and you'll see the frame rate drop by at least a third. Things get even worse on courses such as Greece where there's lots of gravel, and driving by complex scenery like rivers can practically slow the game down to a standstill even on systems that meet the recommended specifications.
In short, while the game looks outstanding in high resolution with all the visual effects enabled, you'll need a top-of-the-line system to get it running well that way. Even then, you might encounter a few crash bugs--sometimes the game would lock up and force a reboot, while other times it would unceremoniously crash to the desktop.
The multiplayer support in Colin McRae 2.0 also has some flaws. It's bad enough that the help file says that "whilst Internet play is possible, performance over the Web will be seriously diminished," but what's worse is that there's no type of matchmaking service provided with the game. The latest version of Kali does offer support for Colin McRae Rally 2.0, but the lack of an in-game player-finding feature means you may be hard-pressed to find live competition.
Because of the force-feedback problems and steep system requirements, most players will find that Colin McRae Rally 2.0 falls just a bit short of Mobil 1 Rally Championship as the best rally sim to date. However, those players who can get it to run smoothly may well prefer its faster pacing to that of Mobil 1. In the end, it doesn't really matter--the bottom line is, if you like rallying and you have a fast system, then Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is definitely a keeper.