Get Your Motor Runnin’!
Codemasters has struck pay-DiRT once again. Their Colin McRae headlined, rally racing franchise is back and it’s a surefire way to sate your need for speed and desire for trading paint. The visual presentation is top-notch – the environments are detailed and varied, and the damage and physics engine are spot-on. There are loads of cool cars and rewarding trinkets to unlock and buy, and the pro racer support helps the title feel AAA. Also, the new multiplayer features are fully-fledged. From a gameplay perspective, the controls are tight yet challenging, and the tons of different tracks and race types will test your mettle and keep things fresh. This all comes together to make one heck of a good racing title.
First and foremost, DiRT 2 is an extremely fun racer. Whether racing through the lengthy career mode or heading online to challenge seven other drivers in various events, there are hours upon hours of quality racing to be had. One thing I was very impressed by was the way the developers were able to make disparate tracks, terrain types, and automobiles feel distinct. The controls, while often touchy to the unaccustomed, just feel right after a couple short hours of play.
It’s a good thing that controls are so good, because players will quickly notice they will have to be able adeptly switch between multiple race types. For example, one event will have you racing in a time trial rally race, looking for the best lines in order to shave precious milliseconds off your effort, while the next will drop you into a suped up pick-up, trading paint with a group of other drivers a la MotorStorm. As such, there is never a dull moment in DiRT 2.
Unfortunately, all this skipping about does lead to a problem for rally purists: the game never defines itself as either a sim or an arcade automotive title, instead it ops for giving players experiences from both sides of the spectrum. While the five distinct race types keep players from ever getting bogged down, Colin McRae fans from way back are likely to feel they’ve been given short shrift in terms of the paltry amount of pure, technical rally action. In fact, only one-fifth of DiRT 2’s career events can be considered rally – complete with co-pilot direction and hairpin turns – as Rallycross is strikingly similar to the arcade action found in the other events. It seems the game, despite its affiliation to Colin McRae, is no longer a rally racer but an off-road challenge – this may be a bit disappointing to some, but others will likely care less. Besides, this minor flaw could be nicely ameliorated by future DLC that lays on the rally thick.
On the upside, the arcade elements are very well implemented. The game’s Raid, Land Rush, Trailblazer, and Rallycross events are a ton of fun – easily competing with the best off-road arcade racers out there. Additionally, a rewind function known as Flashbacks, similar to the mechanic established in Grid, allows players to avoid making bonehead mistakes by rewinding a limited amount after a crash or a spin-out in order to take a better, smarter line. Flashbacks are limited, however; don’t think you’ll be able to just reef on the rewind button all race. A maximum of five Flashbacks can be used in an event if playing in Easy difficulty, and no Flashbacks can be used whilst racing in the Hardcore setting. While I think the use of the mechanic is bound to please players, I almost never used it – except when I was faced with otherwise insurmountable competition. To me it feels a bit like cheating. Instead, I simply press the start button and restart the race. For other perfectionist (obsessive?) racers like myself, you’ll be happy to know that starting over is done instantly with no load screens!
Another positive effect of the sim vs. arcade nature of the title is that the diverse game modes really help to beef up the excellent multiplayer offering. Leaderboard support would have been well and good if the game was a pure rally racer, but being able to participate in highly competitive races due to the addition of arcade modes is far superior. This time around, the multiplayer option feels complete and compelling.
Another important feature of DiRT 2 is how excellent the game looks. This is one area where a contemporary racer simply can’t fail, especially considering every top racing title out there looks amazing. In fact, modern automotive titles are part of the most graphically-competitive genre. Thankfully, DiRT 2 passes with flying colors. For starters, the environments are beautiful, detailed, and distinct. Tracks in particular are quite nicely put together.
Additionally, the game’s physics, crash animations, and car damage are of the highest quality. Also, the cockpit view, while a lot more challenging than the standard withdrawn perspective, is a visual marvel. Bucking the trend somewhat are the lackluster track deformation and puddle effects (outside of the cockpit view) – they’re unpolished and fuzzy. However, this is a very minor gripe. The game looks great!
Cars also look pretty. And that’s a good thing, because there are a lot of them. From buggies and mudders to hummers, pick-ups, and rally-cars, this game is loaded with cool rides that drive and look great. Unlocking and collecting cars with your winnings along with applying liveries to chassis and goodies to dashboards are all rewarding pursuits. What’s also worthwhile are the experience points you’ll acquire while racing. During the career mode you’ll be able to rise in level by placing in events and completing side challenges (metagame mini-objectives). As you increase in level, you’ll increase your reputation among other racers and open up new locations around the world. While the Relationship mechanic was created to make you feel like you’re actually one of the pros, it feels farfetched and underwhelming. On the other hand, the car/item collection, character progression, and event invitations are smart game design inclusions that keep players engaged.
Even though the Relationship side of the career fell flat, including pro racers in the game was very smart. The inclusion of these professionals seems to lend credence to the title. Though post-event commentary and in-race chatter is often cheesy, using voice work from the likes of Dave Mirra, Katie Justice, Travis Pastrana, and Ken Block keeps the game feeling like the ultimate, licensed rally racer. The music selection is also sound. The contemporary rock anthems and upbeat party tunes suit the game well, and the muffled way they are presented during menu screens keeps the player squarely focused on the fun, carnival atmosphere rather than being disconcerted by a strident, out of balance soundtrack.
DiRT 2 is a worthy successor to the original, getting practically everything right. While I would have liked to have seen a greater emphasis on more technical rally racing, I had a blast with every aspect of the title. From the solid visuals to the sweet tracks, DiRT 2’s got a lot to love.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
This is a good looking game through and through. The environments, cars, damage, and action is all expertly rendered. 4.5 Control
Whether tracking the perfect line or putting the competition into walls, the game’s controls really shine. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music selection is fitting and well presented. The commentary is often cheesy, but the pro racing talent does keep the game grounded in the sport. 4.5 Play Value
The lengthy career mode and quality online multiplayer component keep the good times rolling. I look forward to DLC to round the package out. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.