To players of a certain vintage, the Colin McRae name means one thing. It’s not necessarily the Scotsman’s 1995 world rally title, nor that X-Games moment or any of his other acts of remarkable tenacity behind the wheel – rather, the McRae name is associated with a kickass run of off-road games from Codemasters in the late 90s through to the mid-noughties. It’s a name, like Tony Hawk, synonymous with video games.
So what a thrill it is to see it back on Codemasters’ series. It’s taken several detours since the McRae name was last attached to it back in 2009, some more enjoyable than others, but with Dirt Rally and its sequel the series is better than it’s ever been. Indeed, it’s been one of the delights of the past generation to see Codemasters back on its game, while also delivering a more hard-edged, nerdy type of driving experience. For fans of the genre like myself, it’s been simply brilliant.
The recently-released Colin McRae Flat Out pack for Dirt Rally 2.0 feels like something of a well-earned victory lap, and one that comes with impeccable timing. The base game is now free on PlayStation Plus, if you haven’t sampled its pleasures yet, and I’d strongly recommend digging into your pockets to get the DLC pack too. It’s a swift little campaign that still delivers significant breadth – there are some 40 new events, often with entertaining McRae-inspired requirements like rolling over before completing a stage – all of which is easily unlockable in an afternoon’s play.
There’s new content too, most notably a brace of Imprezas that include the iconic S4 that took McRae to his title in 1995 and some new stages set in Scotland’s Perth and Kinross. They’re a challenging bunch that put McRae’s flat-out maxim to the test – these are seriously quick stages that dare you to plant your right foot as long as you possibly can while the glorious scenery whips by at alarming proximity. There’s a dash of Finland in the high-speed challenge they present, and they complement what’s become, in over a year of post-release support, an impressive number of cars and stages that pushes Dirt Rally 2.0 closer to being the definitive off-road game.
What’s most impressive, though, is using the Colin McRae Flat Out pack to chart how far this series has come. Take a look at a Subaru Impreza doing its thing in the still-brilliant Colin McRae Rally 2.0, then marvel at the fidelity of a similar scene in Dirt Rally 2.0. It’s not just in the number of polygons or pixels being pushed, but also in the sheer fidelity of the handling in Dirt Rally 2.0, the all-important detail you feel at your fingertips as you delicately dance across rutted roads. I’m curious as to where Codemasters will take its series once the next generation kicks in, but I’m also certain that, as this generation draws to a close, they’ve never been in better shape.