Another year another rally game right? Well sort of, except this time it's from the masters of the genre Codemasters and this is the first yearly update they have created which had made us feel a bit skeptical as to whether they could justify another rally game a short twelve months since 04 hit the shelves. However as they almost always do, Codemasters have taken the Rally genre to the next step and fought off the competition yet again. 2005 may have only had a development cycle of twelve months, but its definitely the best effort thus far from that studio.
In terms of what was featured in 04, not much has been added but what has been added expands the franchise even further and rather than play as a fictional driver or Colin himself, you build your career up much like Codemasters other key racing simulation. The main modes are the championship and career mode but the game also offers you the ability to play individual rallies or stages in a time trial mode and online play is now also featured. Of course they need to be unlocked in the other modes before being allowed to tackle them.
The championship mode has taken a step back this year and is now not the main mode of the game. Like usual the game allows you to select from a variety of high powered rally cars and try and win the fictional world championship (Codemasters still does not have a WRC license). Each rally contains six stages, with some ending with a super stage. A super stage pits you directly head to head with another driver on a special motorcross style track. This is the only time in the game you will be racing directly against other drivers and not the clock.
The career mode replaces the championship as the main mode and tasks you with basically building your career from rookie driver to world champion. At first you will only have access to 2WD cars, but as you gain driver points by placing in rallies, more cars and series become unlocked. We can't help but feel that the developers have artificially lengthened this facet of the game because early on you will be hit with a series that is sixteen stages long. Considering how many tournaments are featured in the career mode this really was not a necessary thing for them to do and it is a shame, possibly enough for some to not play through the career mode entirely. Another downside to this is that the save game for the title takes 4MB on the memory card. Considering this is half a standard memory card, this is really unacceptable.
However the gameplay has not changed much and what has changed is definitely for the better. Richard Burns Rally was trying something new, a completely hardcore rally simulation. Colin '2005 is more of a simulation than 04 and seems to get at what RBR was trying do right. It's harder but it's not to the point of ridiculously frustrating gameplay. You still need to concentrate and a trip off road is still going to damage your car heavily, but the physics are a lot more forgiving and the car feels more in control to the player. Codemasters have no doubt once again used their four pivot system first introduced in 04 which improved the handling and realism of physics in the series ten fold. The game reads data from all four wheels rather than one pivot point so if half the car is off road and the other not, the car is going to react adversely rather then continue on as if you were driving properly.
In terms of cars the usual suspects have returned as well as some classic cars that some players may recognize from years gone by. The four wheel power houses are back such as the Mitsubishi Evo VIII and Subaru WRC car and of course the 2WD cars such as the Peugeot 206. They can take damage which affects the car, and this damage must be repaired during time allocated at the end of each segment. The service stops in terms of aesthetics are a disappointment as no longer are the mechanics rendered and the car is really only shown with not much more. Bonus cars include the Group B vehicles and other novelty cars such as the Morris Minor to drive.
The presentation of the game this year has both its good and bad points. An art deco style is now used for the interface and cut scenes which is fine but the big disappointment is the lack of activity happening in the service areas. The car does open its doors, boot and bonnet but there is now mechanics and just tools thrown everywhere with no garage style. The level design is great although it does seem that a few if not all were rehashed from last year.
However it took quite sometime to pick this up because the detail level on each track has been improved ten fold with lots more foliage and environmental objects on display. The graphic detail is not the most impressive aspect of the game but does the job well, particularly with the damage effects. The pace notes this year seemed a little less detailed and harder to use than the almost perfect ones featured in 04. Multiplayer is a big thing for Colin McRae Rally this year and the game now finally has online play. You can also, of course, play offline if you so desire.
Our skepticism was unfounded and while this game does not have the same impact as 04 did in terms of wow factor and just oozing 'best rally game ever' comments, it does exactly what it set out to do and does it well. There probably isn't enough in a rally game for Codemasters to create a new game every year, but for now they are still doing a great job.