As Yoda wisely once said: "You must unlearn what you have learned." This is certainly the case for Richard Burns Rally, which on initial viewings could convince you into thinking that this is just a Colin McRae clone - but that couldn't be further from the truth. To master this game you have to forget about the arcade pick-up-and-play aesthetic of Codemasters' classic series and drive with a completely new attitude. Richard Burns is Hardcore with a capital 'H', stamped into concrete and embossed with 18-carat gold leaf lettering.
Back To School
To prove the point, developer Warthog has included a fully comprehensive Rally School, where you can get a vital feel for the different handling of the seven cars - such as a Subaru Impreza and Hyundai Accent - learn how to brake safely and advanced techniques such as the use of the camber of the road to guide you round corners. At the end of class, if you've been good (and given him a shiny red apple), Mr Burns even takes you for a high-speed passenger ride around a course to show you how it's done.
After you've figured out where the accelerator and brake are, you can take part in either a quick rally, a multiplayer game for up to four players, or a Richard Burns Challenge against his ghost car in one of the six courses around the globe, including snow-covered Rovaniemi in Finland and dusty sun-baked Canberra, Australia.
However, it's the Rally Season mode that can really bring out the Sunday mechanic in you, allowing your team of engineers in overalls to fiddle with everything from the car's rear differential torque to wheel axis inclination. Also, each stage has random weather, so you have to make sure that you have the right tyres before you leave the garage or you'll be slipping and sliding around more than Emile Heskey.
Rallying is seat-of-your-pants stuff - you can't just slam the pedal to the floor and hope to stay on the road, as any slight clip of a tree stump at 140kmh will flip the car and send you crashing off-course. You have to strike a balance between being as fast as you can, listening intently to Richard Reid's pace-notes, while maintaining cool control of the car, which reacts to every rut, bobble and debris on the road surface.
Unlike Colin McRae Rally, if you get into trouble off-road, you have to call for help and a group of yellow jersey-wearing officials (who you can also accidentally hit) will help get your car back in action. Finally, after you finish a stage, you only have a limited time to repair any damage, so you have to take advice on which essential parts you need to replace or you may have to start the next rally event with a completely crocked vehicle.
This is the most original rally title I've played for some time, as it genuinely offers a new driving experience, but we'll have to wait until the review next month to see whether the painstaking attention to detail proves to be hellishly addictive or just downright exhausting.