When the powers that be floated the idea of my covering Colin McRae
Rally 3 on the Xbox, I was ecstatic. I’ve covered rally racing before: several Colin McRae titles on the Game Boy Advance and Rallisport
Challenge on the PC. So when the opportunity opened up for me to take on the Tony Hawk of the rally racing world, I jumped on it only to realize that this grasshopper still needs a few more lessons in the simulator.
Rally 3 is structured not unlike other console racing titles. You have a Championship mode, where achieving certain milestones will unlock tracks and vehicles for the rest of the game, and you also have a standalone mode, called Stages in Rally 3, where you can setup custom races, including those that involve other human players in split screen mode. Rally 3’s campaign mode signs you up as Colin McRae himself, cruising in the Ford Focus team.
The difference between the career and individual races is quite clear when you realize that the car you drive is transferred from one race to another. All of your tweaks to the suspension, tires and steering will carry forth from race to race. But that also means all the damage you incurred will carry over too, in the most visible and vivid of manners I might add. This makes come-from-behind wins a lot more difficult and it’ll also weed out those who have no qualms in messing up their cars in the virtual racing arena; a distinct change over Rallisport Challenge, which more or less did nothing but model the superficial/aesthetic damage. Judging when to put your car at risk and when to drive aggressively will factor into your strategy during the career mode.
The bulk of the racing will be similar to time trial mode. Only in the final section of a Championship stage do you get to rub bumpers against another computer controlled opponent. That means for most of the racing, you’ll be competing against the terrain and the elements, which is a challenge by itself. The controls for the Xbox version are sensitive. And in manipulating the buttons and stick, sensitivity in this type of a game is a must as a slight twitch of the controls should be and is the fine line between masterful handling and hurtling off into the bushes.
While nothing can be said against the driving physics and vehicle modeling in Rally 3, some questions will be raised about the design of the game itself. From a gaming standpoint, I appreciated the fact that the various locales were opened up with at least one track at the beginning so you could see more than one country’s landscape before you started completing the Championship campaign. I complained in
Rallisport Challenge how entire game modes were completely locked up.
Imagine yourself buying a DVD movie and if you didn’t watch the entire movie, you couldn’t open up the DVD extras. Rally 3’s locking mechanisms are more logical.
On the other hand, you have some fishy design decisions. While you can customize the Ford Focus car in the Championship mode, you can’t customize any of the cars in the Stages mode. To add more confusion, you can’t race any of the other brand name cars in the Championship mode. For the duration of your career as Colin McRae, you’ll have to stick with the Ford team. Also missing is a list of other drivers and the ability to create your own profile as well. All of these seem standard on other racing titles and they’re mysteriously missing in
Rally 3. This is the third edition of a product that should have long hit its maturity, yet it’s missing some of the very basics you can find in lesser rally racing titles.
Let’s go back to things that you can’t complain about in Rally 3. The visuals are on par if not in excess of what the Xbox platform has seen in terms of racing titles. The audio effects are crisp and to illustrate how much faith the developers have in the authenticity of their racing experience, there is no techno music that accompanies the driving portions of the game. This is as it should be anyway. You’ll need to pay careful attention to the audio cues presented to drive efficiently. Nicky Grist, whom I was acquainted with in the handheld versions, makes a more loquacious appearance on the Xbox with his usual aids and attempts to prevent you from smashing into the side of a tree.
That type of dichotomy encapsulates the whole of Rally 3 though. It’s the third title in a series that has gone on for years and gone on to many different platforms. Yet while it breaks new ground in some areas, like visuals or authentic handling, in other areas, it’s as if it was a new franchise to the whole rally racing genre vis-à-vis gameplay modes, drivers and vehicles.
It doesn’t help that on the Xbox platform, we’ve seen some impressive rally racing titles come and go. Actually, some of them are still around on our weekend game play lists. Comparisons to Rallisport
Challenge by anyone who is intimate with this platform will undoubtedly be made. Luckily, the Xbox has the MadCatz wheel system that one can use freely with Rally 3. It’ll also be difficult to imagine any other platform, with the exception of the PC, matching the graphical prowess of the Xbox version.
All in all, perhaps I was premature in comparing Tony Hawk and skateboarding with Colin McRae and rally racing. The former always cranks out titles that everyone, novices and fans alike, can enjoy. It also consistently garners top marks in the 9s and 90s from critics.
Rally 3 is not this title though. With what I’ve seen in Rally 3, it would appear the true fans, a small niche of the general gaming population, will truly appreciate it. But when it comes to sheer variety, an easier learning curve and exotic game modes, I’d pop in something else other than Rally 3.