Recently the racing genre for the PC has had a spot of bad luck when it comes to success. The Racedriver series from Codemasters disappointed many with its limited options and somewhat basic ingame gameplay, while Microsoft's RalliSport Challenge didn't quite prove to be the rally game everyone urged for. Here to put all the doubts to rest is Colin McRae Rally 3 for the PC. Sure it has been on consoles now for ages, infact they have 4 already, but PC gamers are patient gamers. Did the waiting pay off?
Gameplay - 8.0/10:
From the very first glimpse of the main menu it is clear CMR3 has a lack of depth in the game mode department. Besides your usual options and settings selections, you have championship, stages and extras. Pretty scarce indeed.
Extra's is where you place your unique codes. Unlike just about every other PC game in existence, Codemasters have chosen to charge you for cheats. If you give them the product code, they send you the relevant cheats, for a small fee. This is a little money hungry if you ask me, luckily there are easily found key generators out there that will give you your unique cheats, which is the way it should have been officially.
Stages mode is the basic 'quick race' type mode where you select the rally location, the amount of players, the car and whatever else is necessary to get racing. This is a good mode to try first before championship mode, as you can do pretty much any location you want, however you can't just do any stage you want, you must take them in order like you would in championship mode.
Championship mode itself allows you to take control of Colin's Ford Focus and go on the world rally circuit. I'm totally clueless as to why you can't select any other cars, it seems they only want you driving the Focus in championship races. This is a considerably major annoyance, because usually, allowing you to drive any car you want is a good way to add more lifespan to the game, after finishing the entire game the first time there is absolutely no reason to go back and finish it again.
Once in-game, however, lackluster game options soon take a back seat as you seamlessly glide at top speeds through the narrow muddy roads of England, or the rock infested dust bowl of the United States. Obviously ingame perfection is where CMR3 is at, because the ingame feel is certainly the best in the series yet. However there is still one issue which Codemasters can't seem to come to terms with, and that's crash damage realism. In RaceDriver, the damage system was a little touchy, even slight crashes would show major damage, however in CMR3, it is almost opposite. It is not uncommon to come out almost completely fine from a 100MPH+ crash into a tree or other objects. Windows will smash, yes, but little else happens. At the very worst, I managed to remove two wheels and make my engine sound sick after about 10+ high speed crashes, and funnily enough, I was still driving relatively fast. This fact gives CMR3 a taste of arcade rather than sim, which is a little disappointing.
Depending on how you perform in the game, special addons to your car can be unlocked including better tyres, suspension, brakes, engines etc. On rare occasions, usually after successfully winning a championship, you unlock cars which can only be used in stage mode, because as mentioned earlier championship mode only allows you to use the Ford Focus. Unfortunately, while winning championships unlocks items and allows you to continue on to the next season with a higher difficulty, the next season features the exact same tracks, and after the second season this can become mighty repetitive.
At the end of every championship round, you are taken to a special event racing against another car on 'the other side of the fence' (meaning, you're not racing on the exact same track at the exact same time). This is your only glimpse at how the CPU performs and I must say the impression is impressive. Depending on what position you are coming in the round at the time, you may go up against a complete pro or a driver with less abilities. It is not uncommon to witness the competing car take corners too widely or too quickly which certainly adds a refreshing sense of realism to the game. Overall, the computer, even on very hard (which you go up to after finishing normal and hard championships) is not that hard to beat, I didn't have much trouble winning the overall point table on very hard and I don't consider myself an excellent virtual rally driver, but some tracks are more challenging than others. It is not likely you will come first in every race, atleast not on the harder difficulties.
Visuals - 9.5/10:
If one thing can be said about CMR3, it is the visuals kick serious arse. Everything from the car models to the terrain texturing is rendered very, very nicely. Sometimes it is hard to concentrate on the driving when you have such impressive eye candy to look at, you simply want to stop and check out all the detail. However good image quality like this doesn't come free, a reasonably beefy system will need to be in use otherwise the performance suffers terribly.
One aspect of the visuals that has been present since the days of CMR1 is the effect of different terrains on your car. For example, on a muddy road, your car will pick up all the splatter, while on a dusting track, your car will get a layer of dust all over it. This feature has been refined in CMR3 to be a little more dynamic, rather than just automatically becoming dirty, the effect seems to vary depending on how much of the stuff you've actually caused to kick up. For example, if you're racing on a track with a relatively clean road and muddy trims on each side, and you tend to go off the track often, you're likely to pick up more mud than you would if you stuck perfectly to the track.
Controls - 9.0/10:
While I can't say I've actually driven a rally car before, compared to other titles like RalliSport Challenge, CMR3 is impressively realistic in the control department. Unlike many previous rally games, where similarly rated corners could always be taken at the same speed, CMR3 introduces far more terrain influence on how you drive your car. Should you be presented with two '6' rated corners, which are the easiest, one could require less speed than the other, depending on the surface, width and condition of the road. CMR3 uses a handy co-driver system which not only tells you the rating of the next corner, but it also shows you a coloured coded picture of the the next corner, which usually gives you a very good idea of just how fast it should be taken.
Unfortunately Codemasters didn't see the need to release this PC version in sync with the console release, which is disappointing, because as I stated earlier, consoles already have the forth installment going strong. Despite the lateness however, CMR3 is a very solid rally experience, but I would not go so far as to say it is a rally sim. You see, a sim usually means realism is the top priority, and while many aspects of CMR3 are indeed realistic, slamming into a tree at 100MPH, resulting in a loose bonnet, is not my idea of realism. With this in mind, plus the lack of depth concerning game modes, CMR3 really fails to offer anything major on CMR2 PC. If you want to 'update' your rally gaming then CMR3 will suffice nicely, however if have already depleted your interest with previous versions, then CMR3 will not restore it. Hopefully the PC will have Colin McRae Rally 04 before the consoles feature a virtual reality version, but I wouldn't count on it.