PC games: Colin McRae Rally 3

This latest version of the standard-setting rally game has been eagerly awaited by virtual racing aficionados, and rightly so. Colin McRae Rally 3 provides an exhilarating dirt-track experience with the best physics, finest car detail and hardest challenges. If you can beat the rest of the field in this championship then you will rightly feel like the best driver in the world, although personally I can only dimly imagine what that pleasure might feel like.

Colin McRae Rally gives you the top job of driving a Ford Focus through the gruelling course of an entire world rally championship. Perhaps the only unrealistic element of the game is that any old incompetent (like me, for example) is shoehorned into this demanding position. Otherwise, the simulation is remarkable.

In each country you must complete three stages in a day, which leaves your backup team little time to repair the damage you’ve inflicted on your beleaguered vehicle before you’re off again. You can easily end up crawling over the finishing line with several minutes to make up on the next stage. In one of my early attempts I limped home backwards on three wheels. Early retirement beckoned.

The driving experience in this version is as exciting as ever. The simplest set of key commands puts you in control of an entirely convincing high-precision, souped-up skid-mobile that will, if you’re good enough, stick to any road, track or path you throw it at.

And you are pitched against a dazzling array of terrains. Just running through the single-stage practice courses, you are forced to deal in quick succession with tarmac, gravel, mud, grass, snow and everything in between.

Luckily, sticking with you through rough and smooth is your navigator Nicky Grist. The implacable Welshman informs you of the approaching curves and pitfalls, patiently repeating his commands when you’ve gone round in a circle and are approaching a bend for the second time.

As far as the rest of the Ford team goes, you have the support of the best mechanics the multinational can buy. They’ll patch you up as best as humanly possible after each punishing stage and give you an impressive range of car options, too.

For the thinking rally driver (if there’s such a thing) the various brake strengths, suspension types, steering qualities and power balances add another dimension to your campaign and a chance to shave precious seconds off your time. There are also telemetry readings, which compare speed to revs and gear changes, so you can work out what’s working in, or missing from, your performance.

Alternatively, you can throw yourself into it and enjoy the ride. Watching the bonnet fly off and your chances of raising the cup dwindle, you’ll still have a great race. That’s the beauty of the game — all levels of prowess and clumsy hopelessness are catered for (though I can only vouch for the latter).

As much or as little as you bring to the table, you’ll be rewarded with an engrossing and addictive game. Completing each stage unlocks further functions, which is an incentive to the dullards and means the pros are less likely to get bored. At the end of the day, though, it’s the driving action that keeps you going. Or, in my case, the simple desire not to be the worst-ever performer on international rally driving.

Publisher: Code Masters
Developer: Code Masters
URL: www.codemasters.com/colinmcrae3/

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Simon Easterman

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