Richard Burns Rally review

Positive proof that famous rally drivers really are cold, inhuman computer-people, finds PSM2

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If you play games to have fun, then you might want to think twice about shelling out forty notes for Richard Burns Rally. It's possibly the grimmest, most relentlessly cheerless game we've played in a good long while, and there's not a gun, eviscerated innocent bystander or gore-dripping hell spawn in sight. Not bad going for a game about cars, eh?

It's all because this is the hardest, most punishing game we've played in, ooh, ages. Sure, rallying is all about grappling with physics and mother nature, wrestling a four-wheeled, powered, steel box around in a pleasingly physical manner but, despite the rugged power sliding thrill of it all, it's also a precise science. And it's never been more precise than in Richard Burns Rally. In fact, it couldn't be more precise if it asked you to draw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on a grain of rice with a diamond-tipped stylus.

You can't fudge your way through this. You have to listen to your navigator's pace notes and take notice of them. Take a corner at the wrong speed and you'll be in a ditch or wrapped around a tree. Touch the steering while you're in the air and you'll go tits-up when you hit the ground. And, of course, knack your car too much and it's curtains for any race-winning dreams, such is the (admittedly impressive) damage model.

Basically, it's hard. So hard that even putting in a mediocre performance requires hours of practice and focused concentration. But the flipside of Richard Burns Rally's brain-mashing difficulty curve is that it can be a quite masterful game - if you're a serious petrol-head, then the time and effort it takes to be even partway good at this makes for an involving simulation. And even the maddening tutorials - which you have to complete before you head to the single player game - go some way to shaving down the razor-sharp difficulty level. But even so, the forced-learning and punishment you endure at Mr Burns' place makes a day at Colin McRae's feel like you've just done Alton Towers with Jim Carey.

And therein lies the rub. Unless you're really, really into rally games, Richard Burns Rally is simply too unfriendly to be any fun, no matter whether you're a casual gamer or you found every hidden package in Vice City. It can be an impressive game, sure, but without the visual class or inviting demeanour of Colin McRae it'll remain a niche choice in the games market.

Richard Burns Rally gets all muddy from 9 July

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