DiRT 2 – The PS3 Attitude Review
It’s been almost exactly two years since Codemasters released the original ‘DiRT’ racing title. When it hit shelves back in 2007, it was very well received by most, and some even hailed it as the greatest rally-racing game money could buy.
Now, Codemasters have given us DiRT 2, complete with a larger bag of tricks and more polish on the outside.
But can it live up to the success of its predecessor?
The death of Colin McRae was a real tragedy, especially for anyone that knew him first hand, which is most of the staff at Codemasters. With a heavy heart, the team that had worked with him for so long trudged forward, trying to live up not only to the Colin McRae name, but to the rally-racing bar that they themselves had set two years ago.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about DiRT 2 is the interactive menu system. You start in a dirty trailer that follows you from event to event, and for every option of what to do next, you go to a different area of the trailer. Once you’ve decided on an event, you leave the trailer and head out to the race area. From there, you have the option to select different vehicles, change the liveries of your ride, as well as a few other small cosmetic details.
You start out as a ‘noobie’ to the rally-racing world, but you have friends such as Dave Mirra and Travis Pastrana to help guide you through the game. As you complete specific events, you can eventually make ‘true friends’ out of all the in game characters, and then you can use them as partners in certain events. They even talk to you (and each other) as the races go on.
Their voice-overs are plentiful, and towards the end of our time with the game, we were still hearing new lines. Though the presence of their voices didn’t really add anything extra to the game, it never got to the point of being an annoyance, either.
When you launch in to your first race, you’ll immediately see how stunning this game looks. Codemasters have again utilized the ‘Ego’ engine that was used in both the original DiRT game as well as their paved-racer, Grid. The engine is now in its third generation and, quite frankly, it’s never looked better.
Everything about this game shines. Car design, textures, lighting effects, track detail, water, mud. You name it. The entire package looks and runs like a champ.
Frame rate stays very stable through even the most hectic single-player conditions, and the only downside that can be found visually is some occasional screen-tearing. Even with that, it’s pretty rare, and does very little to take away from the overall graphical prowess of this beast.
The game sounds are also top notch. The cars sound amazingly real, all the way from the growl of the engine to the backfire from the exhaust. In the cockpit of the car, you hear the constant pounding of gravel and dirt on the wheel-wells. Even the ambient noises come across well. When racing past a crowd of spectators, you hear the roar they let out, and on one track I even heard the faint sound of fireworks popping in the background as they exploded in mid-air.
On the music side of things, they loaded the game with a fantastic soundtrack of almost 40 tracks that range from pop to hard rock, featuring artists such as Rise Against, Black Stone Cherry and Queens of the Stone Age.
By default the music is turned off while racing and – assuming you keep it that way – you’ll still be hearing new songs in the menus after many hours of game play. The sounds of the races are so fantastic you might not want to add music to it, and most races don’t last long enough to get through an entire song anyway.
The single-player experience that you race in is called the ‘Dirt Tour’. It’s comprised of only a few venues to start out with, but that changes very quickly. As you win races, more locations and races open up to you. It gets very dense very fast, and there are points of the tour where you have so many races available to you, it can almost be overwhelming.
The events in the dirt tour are extremely varied, but the classic racing modes of rally, land rush and trail blazer still remain. Aside from those you can also find a few more unique modes to race in, such as domination, where you try to be the fastest at each individual segment of the track. There’s also last man standing, which is kind of like an elimination race where the driver in last place is removed every 20 seconds. One of the modes that’s a little more rare (but still extremely fun) is ‘gate crasher’, which is you by yourself racing against the clock, and other opponents’ times. Crashing through each gate shaves a couple of seconds off your overall time, so the idea is to finish as quickly as possible, while hitting as many gates as you can.
The progression of your career is gauged by an experience point ranking system. The more points you gain, the more events of varying difficulties you unlock. Besides simply gaining points by winning races, there are also a wealth of ‘missions’ that can be completed to gain additional points. These missions consist of objectives like overtaking a certain number of vehicles, or being airborne for a certain amount of time. Most of the missions are completed automatically by racing, but it does add one more dimension to the ranking system.
After you reach a certain rank, official X-Games tourneys become available to race in. Not only will these events net you more cash, they’ll also provide you with more experience points. Once you’ve passed that, you’ll start unlocking ‘world tours’ to join. World Tours are comprised of a greater number of races, with stiffer competition than your average event.
As you continue to climb through all the events, you’re pretty much required to buy new and faster cars so you can keep up. As you advance, you also buy class upgrades for your vehicles, which allow you to race them in harder events without buying new ones. Despite being able to upgrade each vehicle to three different classes, there are no real tuning or individual part upgrades to be found.
Most events require a certain type of vehicle, which can be as big as a trophy-truck or as small as your standard rally-cars. Some of these events will even put buggies and trucks against each other, but you’re always left with the option of which you want to race with.
With every event you enter, you have several different difficulties to choose from. They’re very well balanced with the easiest levels catering to even the most casual racers, and harder levels becoming a real challenge for even the most experienced racers.
The Dirt Tour as a whole is very dense, but not so loaded with content that you’ll never be able to finish it. Within 10 hours of game play the average racer should be able to unlock and complete all the world tours, but it will take an additional 5-8 hours to complete every single event offered.
The whole game just… works. Most of the vehicles handle very well, and Codemasters did a great job figuring out how to walk that extremely fine line between arcade and simulation. It’s just real enough to bring in the hardcore crowd, but just soft enough to keep the fun-loving laid-back gamers playing.
The is also a lot of fun to be found on the multiplayer side of things. Other than the standard frame rate running a bit slower than it does in single-player, there was no real lag or slowdown to be found. All single player modes are available on-line, and the complete experience is fun and entertaining, especially if you have friends to with race with. All multiplayer modes utilize a full lobby, matchmaking and cross-game invite system, and even allows you to separate chat channels if you don’t want your opposition hearing the conversation between you and your friends.
One of the immediate downfalls that can be found is the lack of an arcade or time-trial mode separate from the single-player career. The same can be said for a hill climb event, which up until now has seemed like a standard for both rally-racing games and any game that featured Colin McRae in the title.
There’s also something to be said for the handling of the trophy trucks. They’re just so bouncy and unforgiving that any event that requires you to race with one immediately becomes more difficult. This transforms into the ultimate form of frustration when you race them on the harder difficulty levels, because you’re forced to try and race a perfect line just to keep the competition in sight, yet any small bump or dip in the road could potentially send you flying off course.
Overall, DiRT 2 is an extremely solid and competent racer. It does just about everything well, and even its few downfalls just aren’t enough to keep you away from all the great things it has to offer.