Colin McRae Rally 2005
They say good things come in small packages, and in the case of Colin McRae Rally on the N-Gage they would be correct. Recreating a popular console game on a less powerful handheld is an area fraught with difficulty and strewn with dismal failures. However Codemasters have done themselves proud in accurately recreating the 1997 PSone classic on the small but perfectly formed Nokia handheld, giving us a compelling slice of rallying action that can be enjoyed away from the confines of the living room.
Upon loading the game you are given the choice of starting a full Rally Season, or practising single races, or even a single stage of a race. Each race is split into four stages and in the middle of the race you can take time out to save your progress and repair your car. This makes it very casual gamer friendly as the most you will have to repeat is a single stage if you make a horrible mess of your driving after a run of good results.
You can initially only pick from a limited range of cars, including the trusty blue Subaru Impreza so familiar to fans of the PSOne original. The initial cars are all fairly similar in set-up, but various aspects of the cars’ performance can be tweaked in the garage. Initially you won’t need to be to worried about this aspect as the Novice mode requires you simply hone your driving skills rather than pay too much attention to your car’s performance. But as you progress through Intermediate and Expert, you need to become more skilful at adjusting your car set-up to meet the conditions of the track and weather before you begin.
Yes, fully fledged weather effects are included, with conditions ranging from hot sunshine to heavy rain to full on snow, with all the attendant driving problems attached. This basically boils down to it being much more slippery in the snow and rain and visibility becoming very poor. This forces you to rely on your co-driver all the more. The co-driver is in fact the key to what actually makes this shrunk down version of the game work so well. The game doesn’t have a very high draw distance which means scenery will pop-up before you can have a chance to avoid it. This can kill a lot of games, but here it is not a problem. Your co-driver informs you of the bends coming up, and warns you of rocks and trees that might be a problem. The key to becoming a successful driver in this game is learning to listen to your co-driver and anticipate the track, just like you would in real life. Turn off the co-driver and rely on your eyes and the game becomes unplayable, so if you plan to play in public, headphones are a must.
Graphically and soundwise it’s a mini-miracle. Cars move realistically, seeming to grip the road rather than float over it. Every bash, ding and scrape is reflected on the car’s bodywork, with smashed out headlights, cracked windscreens and black smoke belching out the back if you do very badly. The car sounds are refreshingly meaty and the squealing of tyres and crunch as you come to a sudden halt when you lose control of a power slide and slam into a tree will have you wincing. Unlike normal racing games, you simply race against the clock, there are no other cars on the course. As you pass through checkpoint you are given a time and your goal is to climb to the top of the standing for the race by maintaining your speed through four stages. Each race is well defined, from the murky street racing of the UK, through the snowy mountains of Austria to the dry desert of Kenya. After each race you gain placing and you need to keep your point high enough to come out on top at the end of the season.
By completing races you unlock new ones to practice on and by winning championships and certain stages in a certain time you can also unlock new cars to race with. These vary from the slow and fun Mini Metro to the unbelievably fast MG 6R4 which has all the road holding of a buttered bowling ball. Novice mode is very forgiving and you can race through it using the simple brake and power slide technique, which works well with the limited Nokia keypad. Later it gets tougher with you need to change gear and this can be more awkward to manage, but in general the controls work very well and only those with enormous thumbs should have cause to complain.
Overall this is a wonderful little conversion of a classic game. It shows what potential the N-Gage can have as a gaming machine if given a little love and attention. Even those not particularly enthralled by racing games as a genre should give this a look as the challenge of setting the fastest time is one of the purest forms of gaming addiction there is. Great stuff.