You’re speeding off-road through rugged terrain, gravel spitting skyward and dust-clouds enveloping your car, and the man in the adjacent seat is unfazed – he just keeps reading numbers out loud. He won’t stop. Do you punch him? Better not. Anyone who can sound like a robot doing an impression of a human doing an impression of a robot could be trouble; living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. Besides, he’s only trying to help. You’re the one who voluntarily got into the driver's seat. You did so because you thought you could easily compete in virtual rally driving, and if there's something you should punch, it's your own brain.
Colin McRae Rally hasn’t lost any of the original games’ difficulty or realism. The races are unforgiving and one wrong move can result in a last place seeding. Your starting car, McRae’s Ford Focus, is suitably rapid but will begin to disintegrate should you mistime a hairpin bend and clip a frustratingly placed tree. Who planted it there, and why? It’s extremely difficult to say.
Careful negotiation of the thirty stages is paramount. Speed is both an ally and enemy. Used sparingly, acceleration and deft gear switches (called out by your co-driver) will see you negotiating courses at speed, whereas stomping the pedal throughout will sabotage your time and have your bonnet popping off more than Moll Flanders'.
The aforementioned damage sustained is acquired cumulatively, but can be repaired at intervals in the service area with an allotted hour of time spread over the engine, suspension, bodywork and tires. This mechanic will play on your mind mid-race like a pitiless inner voice. "Great job, Ryan Gosling, you're 20 metres in and that's your allotted repair time down the shitter." Should you go into the next race without a fully tuned-up car, careful driving must take precedence lest you reduce the ride to a clanking hunk of junk.
The game’s rewards consist of unlockable content, and they’re well-earned, with you often being required to place first overall for an entire series of races. If you’re not a seasoned racer, practice is essential in order to unlock the Subaru Impreza, Lancia Stratos and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI, besides further stages across worldwide locations.
Said stages take place over a range of terrain, such as the serpentine tarmac roads of Corisca, the mountain ranges of Greece and the sun-scorched gravely courses of Australia. The different surfaces have a direct effect on the way your vehicle performs, with tarmac obviously being far preferable to gravel for instance. Sometimes the course will throw multiple surfaces at you, forcing you to adapt on the fly or fail miserably.
In terms of controls the 'buttons', which offer reliability, are set out on the right (accelerator, brake, gearstick) and left (right/left steering) of the screen but can be swiped across, anytime mid-race, to whatever position suits best. The tilt control is the more engaging but less reliable control method. Opting for a rear camera view and analogue control option provides a clearer perspective on the action whilst a front camera view with tilt controls thrusts you into the velocity confusion eyeballs first.
Given its commitment to offering such a realistic rally experience, Colin McRae Rally has limited appeal for those who aren’t nostalgic hardcore racers or rally aficionados.