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(Pocket-lint) - Every now and again whilst browsing through Amazon, you’re handily informed of other products that people who bought what you’re buying, have bought as well. This happened to me when I was after World Rally Championship II Extreme. I was told that others who’d bought WRC II had also bought Colin McRae Rally 04. “Why?” was my immediate reaction. Who would buy two almost identical games? This was my mistake - identical these games are not.

Colin McRae Rally 04 is not the official game of the WRC, but it’s almost as if this has spurred it on to be better than the official game, dare I say it, to be the best rally game ever. And it has done rather well.

Someone has obviously spent a reasonable amount of time putting the front-end together, and the main menu and various sub-menus are thoughtfully designed, easy to navigate and, with a modern minimalist approach, a pleasure to look at.

The cars are superb looking and handle exactly as you’d expect. The 2WD’s are nice and easy to power-slide around all but the tightest hairpin whereas the 4WD cars are considerably quicker, but also much more of a handful - if you’re not careful you find yourself attempting a side-ways four-wheel power-slide into oblivion. The damage to the cars is great, realistic and as annoying as it should be. Doors swing open, wheels come off and when your engine starts to smoke, you know you’re in real trouble. You even find yourself having to restart stalled engines after particularly major incidents - superb!

To help maintain enthusiasm, there are a plethora of locked cars and stages. Win the 2WD Championship and you’re rewarded with unlocking the Citroen 2CV and the Volkswagen Rally Golf, come second in the 4WD Championship and the Ford Transit and Peugeot 206 are unlocked and so on. There is even a selection of cars from the early 1980’s. These Group B cars have been banned from real rallying due to their shear power and lack of control, but here they are faithfully reproduced, from the Audio Quattro to the Ford RS 200, all for you to thrash around the various stages from around the world.

This game doesn’t put a tyre wrong. It is challenging, but not to the point of becoming (too) frustrating and the stages, weather conditions and co-drivers pace notes are all flawless. There are hours of rallying enjoyment to be had here, and just when you think you’ve got it all under control, you’ll unlock a new stage or car and the fun starts all over again.

To recap

This is perhaps the last easy ride Codemasters will get – graphics may sell but that means some won’t be back next year.

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Writing by Gareth Allen.