Colin McRae will go down as one of rally sports most famous men. No one could match the grit, determination and energy that flowed through the legendary mans bones. And it was sadly in 2007 that the day before Dirt 1 was released, he died in a helicopter crash.
So have Codemasters heralded a return to the roots of McRae and his rally racing or a complete emphasis on ‘change’ with a dash of rallying? Anyone who played the original Dirt will know it steered away from the roots of the series and Dirt 2 has taken this one step further.
Some may say this isn’t the fitting tribute to the rally king, but who can say that extreme off-road racing isn’t fun? Dirt 2 packs the dust and grime into a neatly formed packet. Whilst rally fans will be disappointed, the new direction the series is taking has given it a strong foothold with audiences especially in America.
The original Dirt was stunning graphically and was possibly the first game to really showcase the amazing ability of the visuals on the Xbox 360. However it was dogged by frame rate problems despite the glossy looks. Thankfully the visuals this time around still have the ‘wow’ factor and the problems of past are eradicated.
Most games focus on the forefront of graphics; the cars, the immediate track, but what strikes you with Dirt 2, is the focus on making everything beautiful. The backgrounds, the sun setting, the water splashes, the foliage; it is all crafted to perfection.
Slam headfirst into a wall and it’ll crumble around the car. Drift off-road and through small trees and they’ll be crushed under the vehicle. Head full-pelt into a small tree and you’ll destroy the car. Slide into a fence and you’ll take out the panels. This is the sort of environmental damage that some games dream of.
Each speck of dirt and dust will fly onto the car as you thrash through the mud. The lush jungles of Malaysia herald some of the games trickiest tracks, with each tree and piece of foliage proving a problem. Meanwhile over in London, at the Battersea Power Plant, a makeshift track crafted in the bright lights and smoke of the city provides something different for fans of the extreme racing. Equally damage to the cars is superb, every bump and grind causing some sort of damage to the under-carriage and each smash, creating a new dent in your vehicle. Total the car and you’ll have wheels falling off and bonnets being crumpled like pieces of paper.
The X Games is the new kid on the block here, with three tournaments taking you around the world on a series of circuits featuring buggies, rally-cross challenges and domination events. This has been used to give the Americans something to enjoy, but doesn’t alienate the British audience. Nine venues give gamers a little taste as to what each country offers though the one big problem with Dirt 2 is repetition.
With so many different countries on offer, you’d think that there would be some variety but the majority of tracks are based on gravel. Where is the snow and ice? And there certainly needs to be more mud based tracks to give it more variety. As you progress through the game there are around 100 events to complete, but even once you’ve done about 40, you’ll feel like you’ve been there and done this before. The same tracks crop up, the same competitors and the same voices. It all gets a bit dull, ever too soon.
Each track you complete gives you XP to level up which unlocks new events and vehicles. There are three rankings of events which need to be unlocked and mean faster cars and harder competitors. You can also adjust the settings from casual to serious and turn damage on to earn more money.
The options give the casual user a better grip of handling but those who are used to the serious handling from the original game will be disappointed. The cars have a tendency to slip and slide more and sometimes you feel like you’re losing the car at its back end despite the best efforts to try and maintain a straight line. Yes the options can be tinkered with, but you get the feeling the game is being pushed to a new audience and the sturdy and streamline handling of old is replaced by cars that feel like they are driving on ice. That said each car differs and there are plenty on offer from the classic McRae favourite, the Impreza, to a variety of larger vehicles like the Hummer and dirt buggies. A few classics crop up which offered some of my favourite sections of the game including the MK II Ford Escort which is put to good use in the one of the best sections of the game.
Around 60% of the way through, you’ll get to take the Colin McRae challenge, a serious of events on all the rally tracks featured in the game, in this classic Ford car; one of the first he drove in competitive rallying. This was my favourite event during the whole game and ends with a fitting tribute to the legend, with an iconic video which may just make you shed a tiny tear.
The engines from the cars sound spot on with their larger real-life counterparts and a variety of drivers will communicate with you during the races, which really spice the competitive edge up. The soundtrack is also superb with a variety of rock and dance tracks which really suit the seamless menus which Dirt 2 offers. It’s all integrated to do away with the traditional menus and although a little slow and clunky in sections, it works well, especially with the music which lyrically jumps in and out as appropriate.
If you fancy taking the competition online, you’ll be able to play in both ranked and the Jam Session which allows you to customize the settings. The online servers for Dirt 2 are solid and each player has an icon which informs you if they have a habit of bashing cars and driving dirty or keeping clear of the pack and being a decent player. It’s a nice touch and allows you to avoid the guys ‘in red’.
That said the online element is still plagued by dirty driving and it’s a little sad to be leading a few laps of a circuit, only to be taken out on the final bend and loose the race. Lag is not prevalent though and it is good to enjoy each mode without the slowdown that plagues certain racing games.
Aesthetically Dirt 2 is incredible. On the inside though it is flawed – the arcade nature of the game has changed the handling and feel to the game and for that, it could well be the downfall for the title. Let’s hope the next instalment which will probably feature without the Colin McRae subtitle, will improve things, otherwise repetition and off-road racing is not a good mix. Dirt 2 is a definite recommendation and worth a rent, but it’s not riding on the success of the original.