It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, counting down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years. Enjoy!
Colin McRae Rally 2.0 was Codemasters’ first step in streamlined and sexy presentation. From the moment you hit the language select screen you’ll know you’re in for a thoroughly modern and incredibly sophisticated ride, in much the same way that GRID and Dirt did two generations later. And as soon as you hit the track you’ll know that ride will be incredibly bumpy. And fast. And exhilarating. The first Colin McRae Rally may have sold like hot-cakes, but its sequel took the rally racing genre by the tailpipe, and dragged it kicking and screaming away from its competitors. And it has owned the genre since.
There is a certain beauty and unpredictability to rally racing that makes it perfect for video game adaptations. The uneven surfaces, the winding tracks, and the changes in terrain demand a level of concentration and dare I say skill that stand it apart from your standard tarmac focused racers. The Colin McRae series has always tip-toed a fine line between simulation and arcade, with handling that was complex yet forgiving, and a simple pre-race tuning mechanic that made tangible differences to how the car handled on the track, all culminating a game that was accessible to anyone with a little bit of practice. The more friendly approach to how the cars handled, coupled clever and intuitive interface design and game options, is still at the core of Codemasters racers, and they’re absolutely better for it.
Luckily too, because the game isn’t afraid to throw challenges your way, both in terms of track design and the surfaces they take place on. Rally is a lot of the time all about being in control of your car on difficult terrain, and Colin McRae rally games have always hit the nail on the head recreating that sense of having a car that is travelling at high speed and on a knife-edge of losing control. There is a tangible difference between driving your car on gravel and driving on snow – enough so that you’ll more than likely have to change your approach to driving if you want any chance of finishing the stage let alone topping the field. And with its finely tuned controls and physics, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 was also the greatest advertisement for why Sony were quick to embrace the analogue controller pioneered by Nintendo 64, a lot of the time demanding the subtle control nuances the Dual Shock allowed for. It wasn’t broken without it, but playing with it made all the difference in the world.
Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is in many ways your classic late-cycle racing game. It was held back by the hardware to some extent, but really pushed the technology to its furthest, setting the template and spirit for games of its type for the next generation. It still feels like a Playstation 1 game, but a bloody good one, and one that certainly doesn’t suffer in comparison to its peers until you creep well into the next generation with 2007’s Colin McRae: Dirt. “Genius at play” indeed, Codemasters.
We want to hear from you, so be sure to leave your Colin McRae Rally memories in the comments! And if you haven’t be sure to check back at previous games in the countdown below.
#31: Stunt Car Racer #30: Badlands #29: RVF Honda #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge #27: Nitro #26: Super Grand Prix #25 Super Cars II #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally #22 Wipeout 2097 #21 Micro Machines V3 #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0 #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge #15 Project Gotham Racing 2 #14 F-Zero GX #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown #11 Ridge Racer #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2 #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles #6 Dirt 2 #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit #4 Shift 2: Unleashed #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed #2 Forza Horizon #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition