Review: Colin McRae: DiRT 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Colin McRae: DiRT 2
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Genre: Racing
Release Date: 09/08/2009

At first it seems strange to see the late Colin McRae’s name attached to DiRT 2 considering the rallying legend died two years ago, but upon reflection it seems a fitting tribute to the man who had lent his name to racing games made by Codemasters since the original ColinMcRae Rally in 1998.

To the consternation of many of the original series’ fans, the original DiRT drifted away from being a straight up rally driving game into a more rounded, dare I say it more arcade like off road experience, opening the game up to a far wider audience. Will DiRT 2 improve on the foundations laid by the original?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

The game starts off by putting you in the shoes of a rookie driver with a single car, once driven by Colin McRae. The game’s hub is an RV, which acts as your base of operations in each country you visit over the course of the game, helping to immerses you into the world of off road racing. Instead of offering up a list of menus, the game uses a first person view, moving you around the RV as you chose a different menu; race locations are chosen by a map on the table for example.

There are a total of nine different locations in the game, with a selection ranging from Battersea power station in London to the more exotic Malaysian jungles and mountains of Utah. Only a few locations are initially unlocked, with more becoming available as you move up in rank.

Although rally fans are still smarting at the inclusion of other racing disciplines, the rally courses on offer are top notch; some are point-to-point races with a co-driver giving you notes on the course ahead, while the Trailblazer mode is similar, but without the co-driver. Trailblazer events with the HUD mini map turned off can be extremely exhilarating as you speed along, not knowing what twist and turns lie ahead. Lap based race types include Domination; which splits the lap into sectors with the winner being decided by the driver who is fastest over the most sectors; Last Man Standing, in which the last place driver is eliminated at twenty second intervals until a winner is crowned and Gate Crasher which gives you the task of smashing through as many gates as possible to add time to your personal timer, with the victor being the driver with the most time left on the clock at the end of the race.

I was less enamoured by the Landrush events, but that’s mainly due to the selection of vehicles rather than the races themselves, the buggies and trucks available just didn’t do it for me.

As you start to win races, you will gain XP which in turn will cause your rank to increase, unlocking special events like the X Games and a Colin McRae tribute event. Rank up enough and you’ll be able to take part in Pro and All-Star events which increase the number of races per meet. There are also team events which will see you racing alongside a driver of your choice and Thowdowns, which are one on one races that other drivers challenge you to.

The traditionalists may not be happy; but the range of modes does give the game an edge it wouldn’t have if it were just restricted to rallying.

Story/Modes Rating: Great

2. Graphics

Without wanting to come off as gushing, the graphics in DiRT 2 are first-rate. The game is really bright and colourful, but without being too garish. All the locations look excellent and are well detailed; from the lights of Battersea power station reflecting in the puddles on the track, to the dust rising from the ground as you drift around a tight corner in Morocco.

As is standard in racing games, there are a number of different camera views to chose from by hitting LB; the highlight being the cockpit view unique to each car, which really helps to enhance the feeling of being behind the wheel. It’s the small things that make a difference, like mud being splattered across the windshield to obscure your view before being wiped off by the wipers.

While it may not be the best looking racer on 360, the Ego engine doesn’t miss a beat, handling all the games detail without any noticeable drop in frame rate. You can customise the look of your cars by choosing a number of different liveries, although if you’re anything like me, your car will be so dirty and smashed to pieces by the end of each race, you won’t be able to see them anyway.

Obviously the games isn’t without its flaws; the cars don’t seem to get wet after driving through a puddle, even though they do get dirty and there are no different weather effects, so no rallying in the rain or snow. Track deformation as seen in the most recent version of Sega Rally would have also been good to have.

Graphics Rating: Great


3. Sound

How you feel about the sound in DiRT 2 will probably depend on where you live; the presentation style is very americanised, and the constant congratulatory comments from the other drivers can become a bit grating for us Brits, but otherwise it’s extremely authentic. The choice of having a Scottish or American co-driver for the rally stages is a definite plus.

The sound effects are realistic enough; you’ll hear the gravel crunching underneath the wheels, the satisfying growl of the engine revving and even the crowds along some of the tracks will cheer you on as you speed by.

Whether or nor you will enjoy the soundtrack itself is down to your own personal taste in music, but I did enjoy hearing bands like Scars on Broadway and Queens of the Stone Age while watching race replays.

Sound Rating: Very good


4. Control and Gameplay

As with any racing game, control is all important. No matter how good the rest of the package is, if the handling isn’t up to scratch the game won’t be worth playing. Luckily Codemasters have come up trumps with DiRT 2, as the cars handle exactly as they should for an off road game. It may take a couple of races to get used to the cars responsiveness, but when you do it’s easy to see that Codemasters have found the right balance between arcade and simulation.

Before each race, you can chose to turn on car damage and there are a number of tweaks to set-up you can make if that’s your thing. Each class of car has its own traits; the Rallycross cars are able to make tight turns without a problem, while the buggies and trucks do feel heavier and less responsive. The old cliché “Ëœeasy learn, difficult to master’ unquestionably applies here.

If you’re still having trouble, the Flashback feature introduced in Grid has made its way over to DiRT 2 and gives you the chance to rewind the action should you find yourself messing up a corner and rolling your car down a slope. There’s nothing worse than having to restart a race when you crash just before the finish line, so this is certainly welcome, especially to those on lower difficulties.

The AI drivers are competing to win just like you, so they also make errors, I often drove past an overturned car on the rally stages and you’ll frequently have to dodge them as they crash on other events. If you shunt the other drivers they’ll yell at you, which was amusing at first but quickly became annoying.

All the modes I described earlier can be played online over Xbox Live. The online multiplayer has its own ranking system, so gain you’ll move up in rank as you win races. The lap based events may be full of idiots shunting you all over the place, but luckily the rally events have no contact to even the playing field. Domination is especially suited to online play, as after the first sector you could quite conceivably sit in last place and still win the event overall. Tournaments aren’t race based as you’d expect, but instead based on things like who can pull off the longest drift in the week it runs for.

I know local multiplayer is no longer in fashion, but I’m in the minority who enjoys having some friends in the same room and having a bit of competition. There is no split screen mode here sadly, so it’s system link or gaming over Live only.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability

With 100 events to complete, (some with up to five races per event) this is a game that you’ll get good mileage out of. Even when you’ve completed the tour events, you can still revisit any track in freeplay mode and download ghosts of other players laps to try and beat. There are a number of different missions to complete in both single and multiplayer; from spending a certain time on two wheels to smashing into obstacles. Each level of a mission completed gives you more XP. Add multiplayer on top of all that and DiRT 2 will surely keep you busy for a good while.

Replayability Rating: Very good

6. Balance

DiRT 2 has something to offer every level of racer; no matter what difficulty level you play on the amount of XP awarded is the same, so you’ll be able to cruise along on easy and rank up at the same rate as someone on hardcore. Players on harder difficulties will however, earn more money for winning races.

If you go on a winning streak on easy, the other drivers will suggest that you move up a difficulty level to give yourself more of a challenge, in effect creating your own difficulty curve. Unlike the original DiRT, cars are repaired after each race so if you finish the race with half your bumper on the floor and a door hanging off, there’s no need to worry as there will be a shiny new car waiting for you at the start of the next race.

There’s no set order to do the events in, so if you get fed up of say, rally events, you can try something else for a while and finish the rest off in any order you like.

Balance Rating: Enjoyable


7. Originality

The fact that this is the latest in a long line of Colin McRae games, means DiRT 2 will never win any awards for originality, but at least Codemasters haven’t just gone down the route of sprucing up the first DiRT and leaving the gameplay alone. Changes like staggered starts, ghost cars (when they work!), improved co-drivers, night races are and even the impressive menu structure are all small, but important additions that add to the overall experience.

Originality Rating: Decent

8. Addictiveness
Once you start playing, DiRT 2 has a number of different ways of keeping you hooked. As you move up the ranks, you’ll unlock different horn sounds, toys for your dashboard and the previously mentioned liveries. None of them are game changers, but I did find myself playing until I’d managed to unlock everything. Certain cars can only be unlocked by winning the five race World Tour events, which gives more of an incentive to get through the game to use them.

With events ranging from one to five races, it’s also a game you can pick up and play for a half hour if you only have limited time available. The “Ëœjust one more race’ feeling was prevalent, especially when being pipped to the line in an online race; I found the need to get revenge rather than pack the game up for the night.

Addictiveness Rating: Good


9.Appeal Factor

If you have even the slightest interest in the racing genre, this is a game that will be near the top of your wanted list. Codemasters’ reputation for producing quality racing titles together with the inclusion of names like Dave Mirra and Ken Block plus the X-Games licence all add to the games appeal. Purists may be disheartened by the move away from rallying, but an off road racing game is more attractive to a casual fan, so it’s easy to see why this approach has been taken.

Appeal Factor Rating: Very good

10. Miscellaneous

It would be remiss of me not to mention the moving video tribute that plays when you win the Colin McRae rally event; the addition of the song “Mountains” by Biffy Clyro makes it especially touching. It’s also nice to see drivers like David Coulthard and Ari Vatanen taking part in the event, with everyone driving the Escort Mk II made famous by Colin.

I will note that there do seem to be a few problems with downloading ghost laps at the moment. They seemed to fail over half the time, and a quick scout around the internet shows I’m not alone. Hopefully it’ll get fixed soon.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Great
Graphics Rating: Great
Sound Rating: Very Good
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
Replayability Rating: Very Good
Balance Rating: Enjoyable
Originality Rating: Decent
Addictiveness Rating: Good
Appeal Factor Rating: Very Good
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
DiRT 2 is the first of this years big racing games to the track and it’s undeniably made its mark at the top of the grid. With competitors like Need for Speed: Shift and Forza 3 all vying for your money, Codemasters have made a game that any fan of racing games must have in their collection.

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