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How a Really Annoying Glitch Ruins One of the PSP’s Best Racing Games

Colin McRae Rally 2005 Plus is an exceptional handheld rally sim few know about. Unfortunately, it’s got one critical flaw.

byAdam Ismail|
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Adam Ismail
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Lately I've been revisiting the PlayStation Portable's wonderful collection of racing games, and trust me—if you've been sleeping on the old handheld all these years, you shouldn't, because it has a library that very much holds up. For racing on the go, not even the Nintendo Switch compares. One title I've only recently explored is Codemasters' PSP port of Colin McRae Rally 2005, and it's astonishingly deep. It's revelatory having one of the finest rally games ever made in the palm of your hand. And yet, it has a debilitating bug that ruins everything. Allow me to explain.

Colin McRae Rally 2005 Plus, as it's known on Sony's handheld, released in late '05 in Europe and Australia only; not even Japan got this game, and Japan got everything back in the day. So many North American gamers probably weren't aware of it, even if they enjoyed CMR2005 on Xbox or PC at the time. The handheld version compares incredibly well; I mean, this is literally the full home experience with understandable graphical cutbacks, but it still performs really, really well. And Colin McRae Rally was the cream of the rallying crop in the '90s through the aughts. We're off to a great start, then.

But things fall apart a minute or two into your first Career event, behind the wheel of a humble Volkswagen Polo. Front-wheel-drive rally cars aren't very fast nor difficult to drive, so I was surprised to find I was already seven seconds off the rest of the pack by the first sector split. I'd finish the stage more than 20 seconds down. What's more, steering the little hatch felt sluggish, like the power was cutting out as I turned.

Once again, 20-year-old threads to the rescue! Screenshot via forums.digitalsportspage.com

At first, I didn't think much of that. But then I found a Reddit thread where someone recommended using the directional pad to steer instead. I did, and to my surprise I wasn't bogging down on corner exits anymore. Even though I was now lacking a degree of cornering precision I felt I had with the stick, and I didn't enjoy driving as much, I was suddenly running much faster—about 30 seconds quicker than on my first attempt, to be precise, so more than good enough for a stage win.

Could analog steering be bugged in this game? More internet sleuthing led me to a very old forum thread where I discovered that, indeed, using the PSP's nub (or the stick, as I was playing on my PS Vita) absolutely craters speed, almost like the game is sending you into bullet time 'round every corner. But then it got weirder, because I came across another quirk of every version of CMR2005 that I'd never known about. And trust me; I'd played a lot of this game on Xbox once upon a time.

Please excuse the fact I'm obviously playing this on a PS Vita, not a PSP. Adam Ismail

No matter what platform you're gaming on, Codies mapped a "hard steer" button to the controller. It's the triangle button by default on the PSP, even though you accelerate and brake with the cross and circle buttons, respectively. It was supposedly designed to help you turn more sharply, as is often required in rallying, with its tight junctions and narrow paths. In fact, some of the only official information on the new hard steer feature came via a Crash.net interview with then-Codemasters community manager Richard Tysoe, who explained how the strange idea came courtesy of a very experienced source:

"Colin himself suggested [a new driving feature]—the "Hard Steer" function. In most console racing games, because the player isn't using a steering wheel, control inputs get a bit filtered in order to maintain controllability. However, this can make it hard to fling your car at a tight apex, so we've implemented a button the essentially takes this filtering off to allow the player to make much harsher steering inputs than would otherwise have been possible."

I'm not kidding you when I say I beat CMR2005 on Xbox without ever having touched this button once—at least, intentionally. So this discovery has blown me away. Colin McRae Rally always had pretty stellar, responsive physics, helped by the fact the game ran at 60 frames per second on sixth-gen consoles. Evidently, the 1995 World Rally Champion didn't like the steering damping for controller players, so he requested this option that's positively strange, at least by the standard of modern racing games.

Colin McRae Rally's graphic design just hit different. And RIP to the Flying Scot himself. Adam Ismail

None of that really explains the issue with the PSP version of the game though, because even if you keep the hard steer button held down—which you can really only do when gas/brake are mapped to L/R, otherwise you're contorting your right hand in some really painful ways—you still lose speed on the stick versus the D-pad. Hard steer is only supposed to unlock that upper limit of lock-to-lock steering that may normally be unreachable (at least at higher speeds) for controller players, and personally I don't think it helps much. So the analog steering issue is either a glitch or an intentional measure by Six by Nine, the developer of the PSP port, to make the game a little more controllable, as fine movements with the PSP's nub could be difficult in a great many racing games.

Of course, if this was a purposeful decision, it came at the expense of making the game impossible to progress in. Some PSP racers handled really well, despite the hampered inputs. Give Gran Turismo, MotorStorm: Arctic Edge, Ridge Racers, or one of the Wipeout games a try, and I doubt you'll find any shortcomings in the gameplay experience.

In any case, if not for this issue, I'd put CMR2005 Plus alongside any of those titles as one of the PSP's best racers. The sheer volume of content, comprising more than 30 cars and 70 stages, is enormously impressive for a game on a device like this, especially for the time. With the PSP, some developers went to extraordinary lengths to cram rich, console-quality experiences into the small form factor, an effort that's rarely made anymore. Considering other full-scale ports like Midnight Club 3 and Test Drive Unlimited, they largely succeeded. This mobile-minded take on one of the era's finest rally simulations very much deserves to be in that conversation, but until a clever hacker gets their hands dirty with the code to whip up a patch, it'll stay just outside the scope.

Wanna talk racing games? Hit me up at adam.ismail@thedrive.com

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