Colin McRae Rally 2005 looked pretty solid in preview, and the final release has certainly lived up to expectations. Aside from the benefit of a simultaneous release on all platforms, it seems likely that Codemasters moved early to recapture some of the ground lost to arch-rivals Richard Burns Rally and Rallisport Challenge 2, both of which have carved out a firm place for themselves in the PC rally community. It's a risky strategy in some ways, because even die hard CMR fans will think twice before replacing the 2004 version they only installed eight months ago - particularly for what is essentially a beefed up version of last year's title with a fairly routine online mode thrown in. That said, the beefing up is very impressive, and CMR 2005 still offers an almost perfect balance between realism and accessibility in first rate environments.
The box promises 'more content than ever,' and no-one will be able to argue the toss on that count. Over 30 unlockable cars are available, including Fords, Peugeots, Audis, Citroens and Toyotas, and CMR's well refined driving model ensures that each offers a unique handling experience that can be tweaked even further with a great mix of car setup options. Richard Burns Rally is far and away the tougher title, but the choice between normal and advanced damage models takes CMR 2005 pretty close, and the overall experience is more impressive and accessible for players of all skill levels. The locations live up to the series' usual high standards, giving players the chance to tackle nine events around the world (Germany is new), each of which brings eight tough stages in a variety of weather conditions.
After mastering the decent set of single player games, which includes a new Career Mode, players can jump into splitscreen multiplayer or take on the world via the new LAN and Internet options. Colin McRae Rally 2005 is a terrific title that deserves to hold onto the number one spot in an increasingly tough market. New players need look no further, but owners of CMR 2004 might want to wait for next year's version.