Dirt 2 for the PSP is a great framework for a relatively fantastic portable racer that makes some very serious missteps; in doing so it squanders much of its potential. A slightly budget price tag of $30 helps us forgive the mistakes a bit, but it’s ultimately not enough to cover the blemishes entirely.
Racing games on the PSP have had a great tradition over the years, as the system is by far more capable of handling the genre than the DS. But, a few glaring oversights keep this one from entering the pantheon of great PSP racers like Ridge Racer and Burnout Legends.
Chief among these problems is a lack of playable content in the game’s single-player, a dearth in terms of variety of courses to race on, and, most importantly, a physics engine that can at times make certain levels incredibly difficult.
In early levels, the practically moon-like physics of Dirt 2 seemed like a big asset to the game. Since it’s very difficult to simulate a sense of speed and urgency on the PSP, the physics help you feel like you’re racing on the edge and you could careen off the road at any time. It added some much needed tension. However, there is one particular level that nearly ruins the entire game with how poorly designed it is.
It’s a Moroccan off-road course that combines the usual floating physics with a course that has bumps and curbs all over. The result is a level in which it is nearly impossible to keep your car upright or to finish the race without careening off into a wall. All of the game’s other levels are fine, but this one just frustrated the living heck out of me. The race is possible, but the best way to finish is by racing at a dull, constant speed of 40 mph, and then wait for your opponents to crash. It’s good that there’s a way around this fault, but I seriously doubt any racing fan wants to pay money for a game so that they can drive 40 mph. Most of us can do that on our own.
This wouldn’t be as crippling of a problem as it is if the PSP version included the same time-rewinding feature included in the console version of the game, but sadly that feature is absent. Ever since the time-rewinding concept was featured so prominently in Grid last year, just about every major racing game to hit the market knew they needed to get that feature into their game as soon as possible. It’s been so unanimously agreed that time-rewinding is a perfect fit for racing, that its omission seems glaring even in a handheld game. Especially in a racing game where sometimes just hitting a small bump in the road at the wrong speed or angle can ruin an entire race.
All of the other components of a great racing game are there, though. Great racers on the PSP always have to contend with that problem of making the player feel a sense of speed and tension, and as previously mentioned, Dirt 2 manages to get over that hurdle.
Graphically, it’s also a fantastic game, especially for its budget price. It won’t blow you away like other racers might, but the locations are beautiful and varied, and the cars all looks distinct and cool. However, there are some problems in terms of graphical variety. There are not very many different courses in Dirt 2. Any sort of race variety comes in the form of ‘mirrored’ tracks (tracks that you race backwards), which is a nice, cost-effective way to change things up, but it doesn’t help to give players some different settings to race in since it’s still precisely the same level. The cars all look great though, which is easily the best thing that survives from the console version.
In terms of audio, Dirt 2 is a bit of a mixed bag, but then again the PSP has never really been known for its amazing sound capabilities. Cars don’t exactly sound great, and most of them are kind of whiny and high-pitched. However, they are distinct, and I think that’s the more important thing here. You can tell the difference between most cars just because of the noise their engine makes, which is a pretty solid feat for a handheld game. Furthermore, as cars traverse the course, the sound of their engine changes depending on the movement and position of the car. Obviously, if a car is in mid-air (or at least is elevated to take the stress off the wheels) the sound of the car is different, and the sound effects in Dirt 2 work perfectly well to reflect that.
That said, this game would have seriously benefited from an in-race soundtrack. As it stands, there is nothing to hear during a race than the whir of the engine, and it can get pretty lonesome after a longer race.
The controls are quite well-executed on the other hand, and I very much appreciated the way the developers essentially stacked two completely separate controls schemes operating at once. At any time you can switch between the right trigger and the X button to accelerate. Braking is also mapped to both the left trigger and the square button, and you can steer with either the analog nub or the D-Pad. I found this to be a particularly great thought, because when playing for any extended amount of time on the PSP a gamer’s hands are almost certain to get cramped and begin to hurt. Having two control schemes to switch to easily allows people to change their grip and use different muscles in their hands when it starts to get uncomfortable.
One of Dirt 2’s strongest points is that all of its cars are drastically different. These are not just the same cars re-skinned to make it look like a truck. Every car not only looks different but has a different play style as well. It adds a considerable amount of variety to what otherwise would have been a pretty bland game. From big lumbering trucks with bouncy shocks to ultra-fast race cars, Dirt 2 offers great variety.
At $30, Dirt 2 on the PSP is cheaper than most PSP racers but is still a questionable value. Overall, the game probably won’t take you more than 5-6 hours to complete, and some of that content can be very frustrating. If you’re a patient racing fan who doesn’t mind the old-school style racers in which a single mistake at any point in the race can cost you the win, then you’ll be able to look past Dirt 2’s frustrating moments. However, if you’re easily miffed, this probably isn’t the best game for you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Graphically Dirt 2 is one of the best looking racers on the PSP. The courses, though few in number, are gorgeous, and the cars are just as well polished. 3.9 Control
Racing is still a difficult game type to map to the PSP buttons. Play sessions of more than 20 minutes will most likely result in some aches in your hands, at which point the dual control schemes mapped to the controls at all times will allow you to change your grip – a small yet welcome addition. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There are some solid sound effects here. It’s nice to be able to notice the change in sound from car to car, or even hear the sound effects change as the tires are more or less stressed. The sound track is pretty sparse though. 3.0 Play Value
At $30, Dirt 2 is a bit cheaper than most racers on the PSP, therefore we’re more willing to forgive some of its faults. It’s not a bad value, and the challenge modes will keep you entertained for a while after the initial tracks are beaten. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.