If you were to randomly pick a PSP title from the shelf in your local games retailer there'd be a good chance that you'd walk away with a racing game. This isn't a problem if there's some quality among them, and thankfully for the PSP there is. Ridge Racer, Wipeout Pure, TOCA Race Driver 2 and Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition all shone quite brightly at the console's launch, but Codemasters has a second PSP racer up its sleeve. Seemingly absent on launch day, Colin McRae Rally 2005 plus arrived a few days later, but can it compete with the best on the handheld?
As you might expect, the game is pretty much a port of the game that appeared on PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox. You've got the career mode, which offers up what seems like a huge number of stages (game stages, not rally stages) and takes you through a rally driver's entire career; championship mode, which puts you into a single rally championship, taking place over multiple rallies and stages; time trial for competing against the clock; and single rally events for when you don't feel like playing through the career mode or a championship.
The career mode is clearly where you're intended to spend most of your time, and the developers have put a lot into it, with many stages to your development as a rally driver. Eventually you'll unlock and drive the 4WD, Super 2WD, RWD, 4x4, Classic, Special cars and Group B classes. There is one big problem preventing you from doing this though: the game is damn hard. After many hours play I'm still struggling near the beginning of the career mode, and have drifted over to the other game modes to get my rallying fix.
While I haven't played a Colin McRae Rally game for a few years, I expected to be able to make some steady progress in the early stages of the career mode. To make the opposition so good early on makes the game pretty demoralising from the start and may well turn people away before they've even seen a fraction of what the game has to offer. All but the most experienced Colin McRae players will struggle to make decent progress.
Moving away from the negative, Colin McRae Rally 2005 plus looks pretty great. While the frame rate isn't perfect, there's a good sense of speed in the more powerful cars, car models are good (with damage modelling), draw distances are excellent and roadside detail looks great too. Sound effects are solid and the co-driver does an adequate job giving you information on the upcoming corners.
Driving itself is pretty good fun. While the analogue stick makes early going quite twitchy, a few stages later things begin to feel better, and your car makes less frequent trips down hillsides and into trees. The d-pad is an option for control, but this feels rather sluggish, and sticking with the analogue is definitely the right move.
There's also a couple of PSP exclusive features that are nice bonuses. If you have a friend with the game you can share ghost cars and send each other replays of your best races, and even race against each other. If, on the off chance, you come across seven people with PSPs and a copy of the game you can indulge in some 8-player action, which is probably great, but isn't something we can test out.
Unfortunately, loading deserves its own section in this review. They aren't short, and easily rival the worst seen on the system. Loading a single stage is bad enough, but when taking part in a whole rally the game must load the service area (where you can tweak car settings and fix problems) and then load again to get to the rally itself. It's not great, but is something that many games in the PSP's launch line-up suffer from.
The actual driving in Colin McRae Rally 2005 plus is fine, and once you get used to the twitchiness it becomes very enjoyable, but the extreme difficulty of the career mode makes the package as a whole far less appealing. With so many other racing games available for the PSP we can only recommend forking out for this if you're a die-hard rally fan.