The Colin McRae Rally series has always been popular with rally fans, and has proven that the genre can attract gamers who aren't even all that keen on racing games, due to the sheer quality of the gameplay and experience that you get. The third title in the series offers all the thrills of the previous titles, but with a whole selection of features to keep even the biggest of petrol heads happy for a very long time.
First thing you'll notice from Colin McRae Rally 3 when you start to drive in either a single stage or the full championship mode is the unprecedented level of detail - the cars look like real cars, and have been modelled down to the very smallest of details. Tracks look lifelike, and there's numerous trackside features such as in Finland where there's people driving about on skidoo's at the side of the course throwing up a cloud of snow.
Through out the game there's excellent course design, with a lot of variation in the locations, ranging from narrow rock lined tracks to icy roads and through heavily wooded forests - it's all there, and with every difficulty of handbrake wrenching corner imaginable. Codemasters have also captured the changes in surface so you really do feel the grip and handling of the car change as you move from gravel and mud on to tarmac, grass, ice, snow and all the other surfaces that you get to face during the course of a world rally.
At times during some of the stages you can feel a bit disorientated, and unsure of where your meant to be heading, such as on the British rally stages where you're thundering through a forest and can't really see the exact route that you're meant to be taking due - and that's not a criticism of the game, this is real life rallying captured to the ultimate level of realism, and shows the amazing skill that both driver and co-driver are required to have when they're competing in a real rally.
Luckily you've got the excellent and very authentic pace notes by Nicky Grist to rely on, and they really do add to the atmosphere and make you feel as though you've got a co-driver reading out what's ahead, and it sounds very convincing throughout, and much better than arcade rally games which only use a very limited number of phrases that don't really describe the real upcoming corners and hazards.
Loading times between stages seems quite long, although this also serves a purpose as the loading screen shows the progress of your car on the map as you move from the end of the previous stage to the start of the next stage. You are however treated to cut scene style clips during the driving, where you get to see your car being serviced, and get an update on the damage inflicted on your car from the previous stage, along with details of where you stand in the overall leaderboard.
Colin McRae Rally 3 occasionally feels a bit lacking in a few areas of gameplay, and other than the standard rally stages, there's not much else to the game, which could be disappointing for gamers who expect a more varied game such as that provided by RalliSport Challenge, which has hill climb challenges, ice racing leagues, and simply provides a more varied rally experience.
Xbox owners also get treated with a "making of" video extra, which shows how Codemasters created the title, charting the history of the Colin McRae series of games, and showing the lengths that they went to so as they could make a highly realistic rally title.
Colin McRae Rally 3 is one of the best rally games ever, and really does give you the feeling that you're in the car with the superb weather effects which see your screen covered in falling snow and heavy rain exploding on the glass before streaking as your wipers try to give you a clear view of the road ahead.Overall score: 9 out of 10
Recommended Price: £39.99 (PS2) £44.99 (Xbox)
Available: NowBuy Colin McRae Rally 3 for the Xbox from Amazon