The age old phrase “where on earth will they go next?” has seldom been as prevalent as it has for the Colin McRae series. Back in 1998 the original Colin McRae Rally was a hit with the masses, bringing rallying into the eye of the mainstream at a time when 3D racing games were only just starting to gain recognition. It enjoyed great success in its run of 6 successive releases, but the future of the series was put in jeopardy after McRae was tragically killed in 2007, a mere 4 days after the latest game, Colin McRae: DiRT, was put on the shelves.
Despite concerns that this also marked the death of the Colin McRae games franchise, here we are two years later with DiRT 2, still intact with the McRae embroidment that was given full consent by family members.
The talented developers of Codemasters have retained a reigning reputation for developing high quality racing games over the last decade, with genre staples such as Race Driver and, of course, the long running Colin McRae series. It’s fair to say that expectations have been riding high on DiRT 2’s soggy suspension. After all, it’s taken on the task of representing the late Colin McRae, but does it do the rally legend the justice that he rightly deserves?
Right from the start, the polish that has been applied to DiRT 2 is immediately evident. I have always maintained that the original DiRT was presented with one of the most pleasingly lavish menu designs I have ever witnessed, but DiRT 2’s presentation manages to go one step further.
Rather than sticking to the conventions of aesthetically drab text based menus, DiRT 2 makes the experience more involving to the extent that you have to navigate through a virtual environment – everything is presented via your central tour vehicle through an immersive first person view. It’s a clever dynamic, but sometimes it feels just a bit too cumbersome, often taking too long to load and navigate. Truth be told, I miss DiRT’s slick hierarchy of interlacing menus, but this new method is undeniably innovative and attractive.
DiRT 2 takes many of its cues from Codemasters’ last offering, GRID, one of which being the initial setup that requires you to enter your name. This may not sound particularly groundbreaking, but after you have chosen from a list of names the game will then vocally address you by that name throughout the course of the game. This would be fine, but to my annoyance they seemingly haven’t heard of my own name, instead opting to refer to me as “Mart” which is obviously way cooler than “Martin”. It must be said that hearing “hey Mart!” every single time I win a race becomes repetitive rather rapidly, but all of this brashness serves to pre-empt the decidedly “rad” American veneer that the original DiRT hinted at. Ugh.
This Americanisation continues when you take a peek at the list of starring drivers. Dave Mirra? Ken Block, the dude from the Interweb? Who are these imposters? Well, for the unacquainted you will soon get to know them as several US drivers have lent their voice talents throughout the game, with Ken Block’s dimming vocal cheese at the forefront. Of course, all of these racing drivers are here for a reason – it turns out they want you to compete against them in a series of off road challenges, as doing so will gain you their bodacious respect.
DiRT 2’s expansive career mode comprises of a mammoth 100 racing events, which are all divided across a globetrotting map encompassing nine real world locations. Progression is clearly defined, as you initially start with the obligatory rookie events which soon unlock the higher tiers of pro and all star difficulties, the latter proving to be quite a testing series of challenges.
Alongside these streamlined tiers are specialised X-Games world events which act as glorified tournaments, and several world tours which take you through a segregated set of specific race types. Successfully completing races unlocks cash rewards and gimmicky goodies such as dashboard dice and mounted Ken Block caricatures, should you have no taste. It’s all easily accessible, yet deeply challenging and rewarding as the game unfolds which results in long hours of relentless play.
As with the previous DiRT, there is a good depth of variety to be found in the racing events. After issuing you with a Subaru Impreza which belonged to McRae himself, your very first race drops you into the thick of the action in one of the game’s intensive Rally Cross events, which are simple lapped races against 7 other competitors that rarely end cleanly. Last Man Standing events intensify the Rally Cross formula by eliminating the unfortunate racer in last place until only 1 driver remains, and Domination races are equally intense whereby the overall winner is measured by their performance in each lap. And then there’s Gate Crasher, which is a more light hearted event that tasks you to smash through as many gates as possible in order to replenish the countdown timer.
Traditional rally time trials are also present, but sadly they feel far too underused. Enlisting the help of a fellow co-driver, your goal here is to set the fastest possible time whilst navigating through a series of treacherous courses, which is where the series has always shone at its brightest. I therefore can’t help but feel that the lack of actual rallying events detract from the very sport the game set out to portray, but then the name change says it all – this is now Colin McRae: DiRT and not the former Colin McRae Rally, which may be hard for some fans to take in.
The variety of events is indeed admirable, but the career mode seems to favour the non rally stages such as Rally Raid races, whereby you take the wheel of a beefed up pickup truck or buggy – it’s distinctly American and feels out of place. Still, all things considered, the career mode is pleasingly exhaustive, meaning that you are never short of events to try out. It’s flexible too, as you can tackle any location and given event in any order you wish and can even change the difficulty level without having to restart your career.
The track designs are noticeably more exotic this time round, spanning nine dazzling world locations that have you traverse from the picturesque mountains of Croatia to the beaming deserts of Utah and Morocco. As you work through the career, the tracks become increasingly hazardous and therefore more thrilling, but unfortunately there isn’t any dynamic weather present. Nevertheless, the design work is absolutely impeccable. Also, Rally Cross events take place in enclosed fictitious arenas such as London’s Battersea Power Station, which is well crafted but sets an overly grandiose tone that again strays from the spirit of Colin McRae.
If there is one feature that highlights DiRT 2’s accessibility factor, it’s the flashback feature which has been borrowed from GRID. Marvellously, this time saving feature allows you to view an instant replay and bring back time if you have a severe accident for example. If you have any flashbacks available you can then resume play from the point before you crashed, thus eliminating any unwanted frustration. Hardnosed players will no doubt argue that this is essentially cheating, but there is no denying that it’s an inherently useful feature and there is an option to turn it off altogether if you really object to its inclusion.
The car handling in the original DiRT was a bit on the woolly side, but DiRT 2‘s handling is thankfully a marked improvement that strikes a perfect balance between arcade and simulation physics. It’s nothing short of sensational, allowing you to effortlessly slide around sharp corners unlike before, which is made all the more satisfying with the addition of a steering wheel. Control is sharp and precise; it really does make you feel like a professional rally driver as you narrowly avoid the blurred scenery. In short, it captures the danger and excitement of rallying with unparalleled proficiency. It’s fast, too. Ferociously fast.
And then there’s the car list, which, to be honest, is slightly disappointing and once again reveals the continuing change in direction. Gone are the classic rally cars such as the Peugeot 205 and Lancia Stratos, instead replaced by muscular SUVs and unwanted buggies. There are some rally cars of course, namely Ken Block’s signature Subaru Impreza and the high powered Mitsubishi Eclipse Ralliart Concept, but there are also some questionable inclusions – a racing BMW Z4 in a rally game?
What’s most striking about DiRT 2 is the fact that it’s, predictably, a very pretty looking game. A mud splattered car has never looked so beautiful thanks to Codemasters’ advancing EGO engine, which boasts some terrifically life-like lighting effects and vibrant reflections. Even water is rendered with astounding realism, causing mud to splatter convincingly across your windscreen – the sublime attention to detail cannot be faulted. Codemasters’s renowned damage modelling is also on top form here, once again enabling you to batter your car beyond recognition and the sound effects for just about every facet are equally vibrant.
To top things off, online play advances from DiRT’s somewhat limited first attempt. This time around, up to 8 players can compete against each other in a series of ranked matches, or alternatively you can venture into the game’s gratifying jam session. Here, any race type, track and car combination is permitted, making for some dim-witted race possibilities – trucks on a rally stage anyone?
DiRT 2 is an unmissable package for racing enthusiasts. It may have strayed even further away from its original rally roots but the execution is near perfection, reinforcing Codemaster’s racing pedigree in the genre.
A solid framerate accompanies some truly stunning graphics. DiRT 2's visuals simply cannot be praised enough.
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A sublime racing experience marred only by its overexposure of unwanted truck and buggy events.
The car sounds are suitably thunderous and the rocking soundtrack compliments the game's theme. Driver taunts soon become arduous, however.
100 increasingly challenging events make up the game's touring career mode, and the online gameplay is vastly improved.
The more Americanised approach to the series may scald some long time fans, but DiRT 2’s core driving experience remains a consistently superb and thrilling ride from start to finish.