Let me say that I've been a long time fan of the Colin McRae Rally series from the PS1 days. So when you read my review remember that I am biased towards this series greatly. I don't agree with Codemasters dropping the CMR name just to broaden the scope of the game for mass market consumption, but I do understand that the CMR series has never really achieved critical success, despite it's many high scores. I also understand that Codemasters didn't make this game just for me. So on that note here's my review:
GRAPHICS: This is probably the best looking racing game I have ever played. Everything from the HDR lighting, to the particle effects, down to the normal mapping on the tires. This game screams polished and every minute detail has been included. There's only one thing that really let me down and that's the dust cloud that follows the car. It doesn't stay in the air long enough and also doesn't trail the car too far. This is a very, very minor detail in the grand scope of the graphical prowess, but I wish it would have been addressed. The front end menu system for this game is pure genius! Menus are buttery smooth to navigate with very little confusion. Every game should have a menu system this good, but then it wouldn't be special. Also the in car view is an absolutely stunning sight to behold! Think PGR3 cranked to 11. It's that good. Also, I have experienced none of the slowdown mentioned in various reviews, which makes me question the reviews all together. Even with multiple cars on the track I had no slowdown.
SOUND: The sound sampling is very well done. From the idle hum to the roar of a floored engine, to tires slipping on pavement, to tires throwing dirt, each sound has been captured perfectly. No sound seems out of place. The music, while unlicensed, still fits the mood and never becomes annoying (which is an Achilles heel in most racing games IMO). You almost don't notice it's there. Crash sounds are likewise very brutal sounding, which they should be, and never sound fake. You feel the impact audibly when you screw up.
CONTROL: Superb handling has always been the hallmark of the CMR series and while toned down a bit to cater to non-hardcore gamers tastes, never feels watered down. The physics at times do feel a little "floaty", but never enough to where you feel out of control. Cutting corners at 60 mph is still thrilling as ever!
VALUE: This is a game that I will be playing for a long time to come. It's also a game that you can throw in and show others the graphical might of your XBOX360!