When you ask an American what they think of when you say “car racing,” they will probably mention something about NASCAR.  However, if you ask someone from Europe, they will probably say something about F1 or rally car racing.  Colin McRae is the Jeff Gordon of rally car racing, and several games by Codemasters have displayed his name.  This year Codemasters has released Colin McRae Rally 2005.

Those only familiar with NASCAR or F1 will find a different world of racing in CMR05.  The races consist of high powered compact cars sliding around vast expanses.  No laps are found here, and the races of the rally racer are a lonely affair.  Traveling through deserts, forest, and icy tracks in rally racing will make the configuration of your car matter just as much as your driving skill.

The graphics of CMR05 look great, but a few nagging issues keep it from scoring higher.  The most important part of graphics in a racing game is the sense of speed, and CMR05 delivers in spades.  Trees, fences, and crowds will fly by as you reach the top speeds of your car.  However, it doesn’t use the blur effect to get a sense of speed.  Instead blur effects are used when hitting an object or skidding along a path.  Instead of a sense of speed, you get a sense of disorientation.

The modeling of the cars is incredibly detailed.  Hitting trees or posts will cause damage to the car.  Sometimes a dent will be left, but if enough damage is taken, parts of the car will come off.  Losing the hood will cause it to flip up and then fly over the car.  The rear window will crack when it’s hit.  Even the fenders or doors will flap if they are attached but not completely off.  While using the inside the car viewpoint, you can see the windshield shatter, and it is absolutely a marvelous site.

Unfortunately, as good looking as the game is, a few issues are present.  Instead of being smooth, angles are easily seen along the tracks.  While the trees look great while racing past them, a closer look shows that they are fairly square and the textures are blurry.  Also, the game doesn’t support 480p for those with HDTV.  These minor annoyances will distract some from the game, but others won’t notice at all.

CMR05 doesn’t have much in the music department.  It has the typical rock soundtrack during the intro and the music screens.  However, Codemasters has instead focused its attention where it belongs, the sound effects.

Codemasters has certainly done their work as far as the sound effects go.  There are over 30 cars available in the game, and each one has a unique sound to it, not only between cars of different classes, but cars within the same class.  Not only that, but the gear shifting is very audible.  The engines rev up high before upshifting.  You can hear the gears and clutch slide into place.

The co-pilot in the game shouts out directions to you.  He does a good job directing you where to go.  The directions are audibly clear and helpful once you get used to hearing the directions.

Controlling the race car is similar to other racing games.  Steering is handled by the left analog stick or the D-pad.  The left trigger and A accelerates, while the left trigger and X push on the break or go into reverse.  Y performs a hard steer and B puts on the handbrake.  Gears shift up with the black button and shift down with the white.  Back changes the camera and Start pauses the game.

The game controls exceptionally well, and you will need it because of the nature of rally cars.  The cars in the different classes do control differently, and each change to the car affects performance.

CMR05 is an excellent game.  Rally cars are high powered speed machines that travel over all types of terrain.  It is also very difficult.  The cars are difficult to control, and the paths of terrain they travel through are not much wider than the car itself.  Any mistake made can be the difference between first and last place, as well as how much damage to the car is taken.

CMR05 has three main modes in the game.  The Career mode starts you off at the bottom of the rally ladder.  You slowly climb it by completing races.  By completing racing you earn points.  This gives you a few different ways to climb up the ladder.  The Championship mode is similar to the career mode, except you play as Colin McRae in a one-off championship.  Although you have more cars and options in this mode, it is much more difficult.  Challenges are single-player stages or rally modes that let you practice the rally portions or win challenges, or race against others in multiplayer.

Taking damage with the car causes the performance of the car to change.  In the lower left-hand corner a car diagram shows your damage.  The way the car drives will change significantly depending of the damage.  If the gearbox is damaged for instance, the shifting mechanism is more likely to slip.  If the cooling is damaged, the engine is more likely to overheat.

The game supports Xbox Live with the ability to upload scores, content downloads, and online multiplayer.  Voice chat is enabled during the races as well.  However, you might have a problem find people playing it unless you set up a time with friends before hand.

There are a few issues that hamper the game.  Hitting objects sometimes will bring you to a complete stop.  Although this issue has been addressed from the last game, there are times when it is puzzling why the car stops dead in its tracks.

There are times when it will be hard to know where to go.  Sometimes a fork in the road doesn’t have any indicator on which way to go.  This causes me to go the wrong way several times.

Finally, the game is tough.  It is realistic and humbling.  The game is not intended for the casual gamer.  However, if you spend enough time with it, you will find a rewarding experience inside.

CMR05 retails for $30, which is a spectacular deal.  You’ll have plenty of cars and rallies to unlock.  Also, with the Xbox Live functionality, getting together with friends will provide a lot of hours with this title. CMR05 is a great game for those who are willing to stick it out through the difficult courses.  Racing in this game will give a greater appreciation to those who enjoy this style of racing.  Those looking for a more arcade experience will be better off with Rallisport Challenge 2.  Those looking for a real challenge should give CMR05 a shot.