Dirt 2 was released on multiple platforms on September 9, 2009. This review focuses on the PS3 version. This game is the 2nd in the series called Colin McRae: Dirt and the first released since McRae's ultimately death.
In this game, you play as an up-and-coming off road racer who takes part in races and other events throughout the world. As you move, so does your mobile home trailer which functions as your headquarters for the game settings, customization and suchlike. As per the usual, the simple story is to become THE BEST!
Before anything else, it should be known that I am not a fan of racing games. There is an inherent futility in most racers, where the A.I barely ever makes mistakes and winning pretty much consists of you never making any errors in the races AT ALL. Seriously, I hate when you make a slightly wrong turn, crash, and need to start the whole race over again. Burnout had a lot of potential, but was bogged down by this problem. I'm glad Dirt 2 attempts to address this problem.
Graphics-wise, Dirt 2 is excellent despite the absence of variable weather effects. All the vehicles look just like their real life counterparts, right down to your starting Subaru made famous by McRae.
The tracks are also impressive, from the countryside of Croatia to the beaches of Baja, California to the dirt tracks of London. There are tons more tracks and different types of races to feast your eyes on. My favorite environment was the grassy mountainsides of London whilst racing in a Raid. Due to the shortcuts necessary to do well on this event, the player really gets a sense of the details present in the graphics, from the individual blades of grass to the rocky terrain.
I'm not usually a fan of a multiple camera system in video games, but Dirt 2 has several that really serve to enhance the visuals. My favorite is the dynamic camera that shifts from a driver's view to a 3rd person to a 1st person and so on all throughout the race. It's a great treat to see mud splash on your windshield as you barrel through a puddle and the wipers promptly come up or when your windows is cracked from a collision and you can see the damage. Codemasters really didn't skimp on the details that serve to make Dirt 2 a very nice looking game.
Music doesn't fare as well, mostly because you only hear it in the menus and similar areas. During the races, nothing. It's not like there is a lot of chatter going on to get in its way either. I don't understand why so many racing games do this: Is it a particularly bizarre arrangement of the lengthy legal process needed to obtain permission to use these songs in the first place? Picture this: Party X is totally cool with using their song, but ONLY in the menus. I can't imagine that would lead to much exposure for the group. At least, you can play your own music as a substitute.
The sound effects fare better, as tire screech around tight turns, gravel and asphalt feels like its right in your face, and the devastating crashes that bring you a little TOO close to the action.
Much like any racing game, Dirt 2's gameplay has you racing in many different scenarios, race types, and in different countries. Some of the scenarios include Gate Crasher, Domination, and Last Man Standing. Crasher plays like a time trial in which collecting time token is necessary for success. Last Man Standing calls for a constant countdown in which the person in last place after a set time is eliminated. This mode makes the racing quite frantic and is a personal favorite.
For each race you complete, you get money for upgrading your cars as well as buying new ones. The better you do in each race, the more money you get. The higher the difficulty also factors in your reward. You can also use the money to buy different liveries (looks) for your cars as well as dashboard accessories. Normally I dislike item collecting, but because the camera can be used to get a full view of your special items during races, it gives your car personality that I enjoy.
The Flashback system is a neat addition to this game. This system uses the Instant Replay section to allow you to avoid fatal mistakes, like crashing your car or badly spinning out. You can use a Flashback by first activating replay then pressing X after you rewind to a suitable part of the race (like way before you crashed into those rocks...) This was very helpful on higher difficulties, where one mistake can set you back quite a bit.
Dirt 2's challenge is adjustable among 5 difficulty settings, each giving you fewer Flashback uses. This is in addition to the standard better A.I that comes naturally with the difficulty increase. I don't think I'll ever play hardcore because you don't get any Flashbacks. Short of memorizing the courses, I don't see how most players will be able to compete with the A.I on Hardcore. Overall, it is a great thing that this game makes the difficulty approachable for non-racing fans as well. I dislike whenever a game assumes you should know everything about its subject before you play it. I ask then, what would be the point of playing it?
When it comes to replay value, there is always multiplayer to keep you coming back for more. Outside of earning 100% completion (for which you get nothing but achievements) there isn't quite as much to do in single player mode. This doesn't come as a surprise, so I will not fault the game for it.
In summation, Dirt 2 is a fine continuation of the series and as great as an introductory rally racing game probably can be. I'm still not a fan of the genre, but if some friends wanted to sit down and play, I certainly wouldn't say no. For racing games, this game is one of the finest available on the market. You get everything that Colin McRae: Dirt had and then some. Or so I'm told. Either way, Dirt 2 is a well-put together game that puts on a good show.
- Ugly Bob