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Visual, visceral, virtual: it’s Colin McRae Rally

Is there any higher form of recognition than having an entire video game series named after you?

Visual, visceral, virtual: it’s Colin McRae Rally

The eponymously-titled series of video games stretches 20 years back when Colin McRae Rally was launched in July 1998. Developed by the UK-based Codemasters, the cover design pays homage to the famous and oft-airborne Subaru Impreza WRX STI.

Authenticity was a key consideration from the outset. The game featured all eight laser-modelled cars and their drivers from the 1998 World Rally Championship (WRC) season, along with four new cars, three of these hailing from the Group B era. At the time, Colin McRae Rally was unique in that the player did not race against competitors, but instead, as in real-life rallying, raced against the clock.

During the game’s development period, McRae served as consultant for the vehicle physics and appears as driving instructor in the tutorial mode. Thanks to the Scot’s deft hand, the car’s behaviour changed depending on the current driving surface. Weather and vehicle damage effects were also incorporated – today taken for granted in the video gaming sphere. And the voice behind the in-game navigation calls during gameplay is none other than that of McRae’s former co-driver, Nicky Grist.

 “ Weather and vehicle damage effects were also incorporated – today taken for granted in the video gaming sphere ”

With reviewers touting the realism levels of the game among those of another legendary racing game dynasty featuring the Subaru Impreza – Sony’s Gran Turismo – graphic representations were severely limited by the processing power of the PlayStation 1 platform it was mainly designed for.

On the other hand, playability was also a key consideration – balancing accessibility with realism so as to appeal to a wider audience. No compromises were made on the handling model, though. Depending on the player’s skill, he could either choose to simply navigate courses through simple left-or-right manoeuvring, or explore the more nuanced levels of physics such as weight transfer to assist the yaw rate during cornering. To this day, the original Colin McRae Rally remains the hardcore fan’s firmest favourite. And thanks to downloadable emulators and app stores it can still be played on several formats today.

Eight successive versions continued to carry the Colin McRae moniker, including the Colin McRae: Dirt spinoff series, focused around McRae’s post-WRC X-Games exploits. McRae’s name was dropped from the Dirt series from 2011 onwards, but his spirit lives on forever.