Drive and Park

I’ve been bit by the racing game bug, and the pending Gran Turismo 4 release had nothing to do with it. Rather, it’s been a recent encounter with Colin McRae Rally 2005 that set me off. Off to the local game retailer, cash in hand.

I have Colin McRae 3 and I did play it to death when it was new. The game had its faults (a lot of them), but they were ignorable in the face of the solid driving and budget price. McRae 3 was more of a pure rally experience than its contemporary, the higher-profile Rallisport Challenge. Rallisport was a very good racing game, but its rally touch was too arcade for my liking. It had the variety of race styles, but with that it lost the focus that McRae had, which was 95% solitary point-to-point racing (with the last 5% being the final super special stage, which, while in a closed track, only had one lap and an opponent that you wouldn’t encounter anyway.) This, one driver vs. the track/environment, is what the appeal of rally is all about. This is what McRae 3 did the best.

This might paint me as some sort of fanatic rally purist, but I assure you I’m not. Fact is, I don’t follow rally racing at all. I don’t know the championships, the drivers, the competitions. Nothing. I also believe that it translates very poorly to television. The only rally on television I’ve seen have been 12 hour rallies compressed into 30 minutes of footage. Booooring. (I did follow F-1, though. Right up until Schumacher turned it into a snorefest.)

Poor tv, but good gaming. It’s just you, your co-pilot, and the track. All other distractions are removed. In rally racing games, skill is of a higher importance. Other racing games have intangibles that can be exploited to compensate for that lack of skill. For example, in Gran Turismo, I’d often use the opponent cars as pinball flippers to get me through tight turns at high speeds. I’d use them to bump me forward or as shields to keep me on track or, well, anything that the game permitted me to do. That is mostly due to lousy AI and lousy physics modelling, true, but it’s going to take a long while before AI opponents become smart enough to not be so exploitable. By not having those competitors, rally games avoid their faults.

Anyway, I liked Colin McRae 3 and hoped that its sequel would fix some of its glaring problems. It didn’t. 04 was the same game with insignifcant modifications and a tacked on, poorly implemented XBox Live scoreboard feature. So, when 2005 came out I brushed it off as more of the same — an EA-styled annual cash-in (changing the name from “05” to “2005” didn’t assuage that thought.) I’ve come to regret not giving it a chance.

2005 now has: a “proper” career mode; an even more refined user interface, which is quite clean and slick; way better integration with XBox Live, with the ability to play against people on XBox Live (haven’t done this myself, and it doesn’t appeal to me too much, but it’s notable); better audio and co-pilot voice work (seems like it); and way, way better scoreboards.

The scoreboards automatically show up after a single race “challenge” if you’re logged in, so you can instantly see where you rank. The “challenge”s also have one extra feature: ghost race. In previous games, you’d race your best-time ghost. Here, they offer you the global scoreboard, from which you can choose to race against almost anybody’s best posted time’s ghost. This is one of the best uses of Live that I’ve seen and it makes 2005 worth every (still budget priced) penny.

That’s the “driving” part. As for the, ahem, “Park”ing. Well, I have to say that my previously mentioned Grace Park infatuation (aka. “Boomer” on Battlestar Galactica) isn’t being put to rest by her Maxim appearance. Not helping one bit. Almost makes me wish that Paris Hilton had her phone number… (kidding.)

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