I have no doubt that driving a turbo-charged, 4 wheel-drive behemoth of a rally car at 90 mph over gravel, snow and tarmac, whilst attempting to negotiate the odd corner or two, is a touch on the tricky side, but is that any reason to make game so frustratingly difficult that it's nigh on impossible to progress?
I mean, despite having not completed several years of intensive S.A.S training, I can still make my way through the multitude of games offering realistic military-type scenarios without dying horrendously at every corner, as I expect would be the case if I were to do it for real. And I can even kill the odd bad guy or two without actually having the slightest idea of how to snap a neck in complete silence.
I ask you therefore, why I should actually have to be Colin McRae in order play WRC II Extreme.
The game is good - perhaps a little too good. Why else would all 7 official WRC teams and 21 official drivers put their names to it? Everything about WRC II is authentic - from the cars and the tracks to the voices of the co-drivers and the obvious look of disappointment on their faces as what is left of our car limps over the finish line hours after our rivals have finished, gone home and had a cup of tea. Having said that there is any easier option…turn the damage off! This lets you career around the roads of the 14 countries with out so much as a scratch on the paintwork. After a few hours in this mode, you're confidence will build, and you'll enter the championship. This is pretty much the point at which fun ends and crashing begins.
You are offered the standard array of views from which to pilot your car and it must be said that the attention to detail is stunning. You really get the feeling that your car is moving so quickly that you're holding on for dear life, rather than having any meaningful input as to its direction. As you progress around the stage, your split time is compared to those of your fellow drivers and changes colour according - green if you're beating them and red if you're not. Invariably, you'll reach the end with a full compliment of ‘reds' and your car will look like it's just gone 10 rounds bare-knuckle boxing with a JCB. This is thanks to the ‘fully damageable car bodies'. What this means to you and I is when you leave the track at a touch over 80 mph and roll down the side of a Swiss mountain, you'll smash your windscreen, your doors will hang off their hinges and the boot and bonnet will flap uncontrollably at anything over 15 mph. This all conspires to make the rest of the stage even more taxing.
But where WRC II really does do well is in the detail. Little touches such as brake discs glowing red-hot as you drop the anchors seconds before hitting the side of a hairpin turn, or the way in which your windscreen gets dirtier and dirtier the longer you drive through the dust in Australia or Africa .
In between stages, you're given the opportunity to repair your car. Luckily, you're also supplied with a fully qualified pit-crew, so there's no need to reach for the Hayes manual, but you're only given a certain amount of time before you start piling on the penalty points. A simple job like replacing a windscreen may only knock 2 minutes off you time, but a full engine and ‘box overhaul will take a good hour or two. This results in only the essentials getting done. After a particularly accident-filled stage, you'll find yourself going out on the next stage with a new engine and a fresh set of tyres, which is nice, but you'll still have the flapping boot and bonnet to hinder you.
There is something for everyone here though. Turn the damage off and you've got an arcade style, flat-out rallying game. Turn the damage on, and even the most avid rally fan, and Colin McRae, will have months of rallying fun.