Perhaps the best way to describe the Wii version of DiRT 2 is that it’s a racing sim for people who don’t like racing sims. As you’d expect, it eschews the gimmicks and exaggerated physics of arcade racers, and it forces drivers to slow down rather than simply sliding around all the curves. At the same time, however, it’s not so demanding that you need to follow a racing line to learn the tracks, and you don’t even do your own shifting. There’s even a good deal of rubber-banding to keep the races tight and competitive.
Is it any good? Well, sort of. The difficulty starts off almost comically low and ramps up gradually, so DiRT 2 is just about the perfect gateway drug for arcade fans who want to give sims a try – most true sims are too difficult for a beginner to enjoy much at first. However, for those content with the Burnout series, and for those already well-versed in the art of the racing sim, DiRT 2’s overall questionable quality makes it a poor purchase and only a decent rental.
For one thing, we’re not kidding when we talk about “comically low” difficulty. There are four sets of about ten races each (you unlock the higher ones by beating the low), and we breezed through the first two with all 20 gold medals almost effortlessly. True, we used the medium setting for assists (amateur, between clubman and pro), but in some cases we even crashed, backed the car up to get it going in the right direction again, and accelerated to full speed, all without a single car passing us. Every racing-sim fan, and probably even some arcade-racing devotees, will find these early races boring.
Also, the game lacks online support and in general doesn’t have a whole lot of options. You can play arcade races, challenges (more on those in a bit), and local multiplayer (up to four players), but the main focus here is the World Tour. There are lots of tracks, but they unlock so slowly that the game is almost linear. To make matters worse, you can choose from only a couple of vehicles on each track. You can’t customize the few rally cars and off-road trucks you have access to, either, so getting through this title is pretty much a matter of taking what the game gives you and doing the best you can with it. In a way it’s nice not to have to make so many decisions, but this concept is taken way too far here.
Another problem is the controls. It’s quite difficult to keep the car on the track by tilting the Wii-mote (with or without the Wii Wheel), meaning you have to stick with the considerably less fun Wii-mote and Nunchuk or Classic Controller options (Gamecube controller support would have been nice for those who don’t have Nunchuks or Classic Controllers, though we can’t imagine too many people like that exist). Also, while steering is a little tough in any racing sim, we found the off-road tracks in this game unusually unresponsive, especially with the “pro” assists and regardless of the controller setup.
For arcade fans hoping to cross over, the biggest bummer will be that this game uses licensed cars. This is a staple of the sim genre and probably couldn’t have been avoided, but (as sim fans already know) it hurts the realism more than it helps it. Cars are almost completely impervious to damage, meaning that (A) there are no cool crashes and (B) at least in the early tracks, you can use other cars to help you turn by running into them. What little damage you do manage to incur disappears after each race.
As for the aforementioned challenge mode, it’s more of a gimmick than a reason to invest any significant amount of time. There are five types of challenges: Airtime (self-explanatory), Trailblazers (time trials), Gatecrasher (pass through gates at while traveling above a certain speed), Powerslide (spend as much time as possible sliding), and Last Man Standing (last place is disqualified after each lap, like in the Burnout series’s Eliminator races). The challenges work best when they’re similar to traditional racing (Trailblazers and Last Man Standing); the other challenges are boring and, at the higher difficulty levels, frustrating.
Presentation-wise, the game runs smoothly, but otherwise there’s nothing too impressive about it. As the road approaches you, the textures seem to come via time warp from two console generations ago, and the roadside props look incredibly fake. The latter is particularly true of the cacti on the desert tracks, which pop up and fall to the side like cardboard cutouts when you run into them. The cars and shadows look decent, though.
The sound work is acceptable, if similarly unimpressive. The engine roars sound fine, but when they fade in and out as cars approach and fall away from you, the effect is unnatural. There’s music playing during the menus, but nothing particularly catchy, and for some reason it shuts off during gameplay.
Of course, it’s not all bad; the game creates a great sense of speed, auto-saves after each race, offers a good challenge starting in the third set of races, and in a lot of ways walks the line between sims and arcade racers perfectly. The A.I. cars are a little too meek to begin with but become more aggressive as the difficulty increases. The tracks are quite nice, with lots of twists and turns to keep you on your feet. It would be unfair to call this a cheap knock-off of its next-generation brethren with the same name.
The fact remains, however, that this is far from a great title. It won’t top end-of-the year lists, and it won’t become a cult classic. The graphics and sound are too threadbare, the first half of the game too easy, and lack of online support and realistic damage too disappointing.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.2 Graphics
The environments look uncannily Nintendo 64-like until they get close, but the cars and shadows are fine. 3.3 Control
The tilt control doesn’t work well, and on the off-road sections, neither do the more traditional control options. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music shuts off during gameplay, and the effect of engines getting louder and softer sounds unnatural. 2.7
There are plenty of tracks, many of which are too easy, and plenty of challenges, many of which are no fun. The sense of speed is great, though.
2.6 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.