Colin McRae Rally 3 is the latest in the series from Codemasters. I have not played a version of this series before, but I always enjoy a good racing game. My first experience with rally racing was actually flipping through television stations and stopping on the Speedvision channel. They regularly have World Rally Championship action on this channel and it is pretty exciting to watch. Does Colin McRae Rally 3 do a good job of bringing what I see on the television home? Let’s find out.

Let’s start out with the good. The good part of the graphics is in the detail of the car you are driving. Damage and environmental effects on the car look realistic. You see pretty much each spec of dust that comes off your tires in this version. The really neat thing is how snow and dirt build up on the back of your car as you drive along. By the end of 1 or 2 stages you can have a pretty dirty car.

The damage idea is great, but it can also really hurt you. You slam into a tree on the drivers side and his window may break, making the car slower in the process. You may also have a front or rear bumper dragging on the ground, making you slower as well. And the king of all problems is when your hood pops open after jumping and you just happen to be in one of the first-person modes and can no longer see anything in front of you.

The problem with the graphics lies in everything outside of the car itself outside of environmental effects such as rain and snow. The trees look boring and the general graphics look boring. Shading and lighting are not used very much in this game except when the sun is on the horizon. However you are moving so fast in this game that you are not worried about the graphics too much.

You also have 3 camera options to choose from. There is the standard 3rd person view and 2 1st person views. I personally tried the latter views and did not find them very good, except for the fact you feel the speed more than you do in the 3rd person view. Your mileage may vary on this though.

Another mixed bag here unfortunately. The car sounds are outstanding, but other than that the game is pretty silent except for the navigator barking out the lay of the land. I realize that this is realistic in the fact that if I was in the car I would not be hearing any music, but this is a video game after all, right?

The navigator and the car sounds are excellent, I just wish there would at least be some cheering as you pass the people crazy enough to be on the side of the road as you roar past them at over 100 MPH. Those are some ballsy individuals. What would happen if a driver lost control and ran right over one of them? Pretty crazy if you ask me.

You want realistic physics in your rally racing game? Then this game is for you. Until you get used to the controls, you will oversteer a heck of a lot probably. These are cars going 100+ MPH over tough terrain that will make you slip and slide all over the course. Rally racing is about both driving and modifying your driving to the conditions at hand. Being on tarmac makes the car easy to control, but being on snow is a whole new level upon itself.

The controls for the most part are pretty basic. A or R to accelerate, X or L to brake, Y to change camera, B to handbrake, white to gear up, black to gear down and the d-pad or analog stick to drive around. It is very basic, but becoming one with your analog stick will take a while. It took me a few races before I got really good at the controls, but then you are thrown into different conditions and you have to adapt your driving to the conditions.

Sometimes I felt that I lost all control as I banked into a turn, watching myself slam right into a tree and take major damage to my car’s body. Usually by the end of the first stage my car had already seen better days and I was amazed how it made it through to the halfway point where my car would be somewhat fixed.

You better be in for the long haul because this game doesn’t give you a free pass. You have two modes to choose from: Championship and Stages. We shall look at both.

Championship mode is where the meat of this game is at, but it has one absolutely fatal flaw. Championship takes you through 8 countries with 7 stages in each country through 3 seasons. You do 3 stages one day and the final 3 the next day, trying to have the smallest cumulative time. Then you have 1 special stage where you race for best time on that track alone. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s cool in the fact that there are a lot of tracks and some strategy involved (i.e. don’t smash your car up too much early on in each day). The bad part is that you can ONLY drive as Colin McRae in his Ford Escort. The key licensing problem here is that McRae recently went to team Citroen, leaving team Ford in the dust. Why can I not be able to choose other WRC racers or other cars. All the team names have obviously been licensed since they are in the Stages mode. This really hinders this game in my opinion, because through Stages mode you can see that each car handles differently. Other than this fatal flaw, Championship mode should give you a good run for your money.

Stages mode is where you are able to drive the other cars that appear in the game. First you have to unlock many of them by finishing well in the Championship mode though. Let me get this straight, I have to unlock most of these cars in order to drive them? Stages mode allows you to choose which stage and what car you want to drive with. There are no prizes, so this mode is basically a way to even out the fact that you are not able to choose different cars in Championship mode.

As much as I rip on the lack of modes/options, this game is a lot of fun to play. Controls are responsive until you oversteer, which is of course needed. I had a lot of fun with this game, I just wish I could have chosen a different car than the Escort. Maybe I am the only one that gets rubbed the wrong way on this one though.

Although Championship has no choice of cars, it will take you a long time to go through. You have 57 stages and multiply that by the 3 seasons of the mode and you will have raced 171 stages. That’s a heck of a lot of racing. However, if you get bored by the Championship mode, there really is not anything else for you to play in this game. There is the Stages mode, but I have a feeling that will only quench your thirst for the ability to drive these cars in the Championship mode. As long as you can handle the Championship mode, you will see a good amount of bang for your buck in the number of hours spent playing.

Colin McRae Rally 3 is really a good game hindered by lack of options and other cars to drive in the Championship mode. Hopefully Codemasters will fix this glaring error in their recently announced Colin McRae Rally 04 coming later this year to the Xbox and PS2. If they make some changes in this case and give a mechanically inclined individual more options to tune up, this game could be the de facto rally racing game. For now, it has to sit behind Rallisport Challenge in my mind.