Rally racing sequel one-ups its original
Posted 3 years ago By - JD Speedy
I’ve got to say, and maybe this speaks to my ignorance here, but when I agreed to review DiRT 2, I had no idea it was a Colin McRae game. I wasn’t even really sure it was a game about rally racing. All I knew was the previous games’ cover made it look like some kind of low budget Mad Max video game and couldn’t shake the ‘just walk away’ line from repeating over and over again in my head every time I saw it.
Thankfully, DiRT 2 has a much more appropriate cover and playing it brought me back to the 90s and particularly my experiences with the older Colin McRae games.
You see, this isn’t my first Colin McRae rally game. I can remember spending long afternoons in sixth grade at a friend’s house playing what was probably the first Colin McRae on his parents computer, laughing at the co-driver screaming pacenotes like “HARD LEFT” and really enjoying the slippery, sliding driving style central to rally driving.
Thankfully, while technology has improved, DiRT 2 is still, at its core, a fantastic rally racing game. And it’s a good thing too, since this is the first Colin McRae game released since his untimely passing in 2007. The bar was set high for DiRT 2 and Codemasters cleared it brilliantly.
First off, the game controls superbly. I’ve got a feeling that there may be a liberal amount of video game trickery going on here and I’m not actually a brilliant rally driver, but it feels real, and can be absolutely thrilling during a tight race.
You spend more time sideways than straight-on in nearly every race, and while the game demands a lot from you at the get go (as it lacks a tutorial system, opting instead to start you right off in a race) you are rewarded with an exciting variety of race formats, car classes and gorgeous tracks.
In that way, DiRT 2 feels a lot more like skate than perhaps other arcade-y racing games, as the cars you buy and the upgrades you earn have little to no bearing on how well your car performs and those changes won’t make you leaps and bounds faster or more maneuverable than the other racers. All of your skill will be derived from practice, familiarity with the courses and the cars, and one more thing: Codemasters has included a feature that I’m not sure how I feel about, a quick rewind button.
Just like their other racing brand, GRID, if you get in a particularly nasty wreck, or if you take a turn badly and want a second chance at it, you can hit the left bumper (on 360, L1 on PS3) and use one of your ‘flashbacks’ to rewind up to 10 seconds back and make a second go of it.
While I totally respect the fact that this has saved my bacon from some race-ending crashes, and multiple times at that, it has also allowed me to be anal retentive about cornering and passing and sometimes drive sloppier than I would if there were more consequences.
What started out as a frustration saving tool that kept me from throwing my controller through my TV has now turned into almost a crutch and it’s made me a bit nervous when trying my skills online.
That said, you can easily turn this feature down (to give you less flashbacks) or completely off before every race for a more realistic rallying experience but expect to run races multiples times before you know how to take each turn. You’ll even occasionally have an AI competitor cut you off or bump you out of a race completely.
I will make a few tiny complaints about the games AI, but I’ll be brief because they’re hardly game breakers. As I mentioned above, the competitor AI can be a little aggressive in following their lines, to the point of slamming you off the road, but it’s not too much worse than real rally racing. At points, I also found that my co-driver was a little slow warning me of hard turns, even hairpins, as well as jumps. But a quick flashback made up for it and corrected my mistake. It just seemed a little glaring as the rest of the game is so good.
Graphics and Sound
DiRT 2 is a gorgeous looking game. From the car damage to the tracks, it all feels a bit larger than life. You may not notice this while you’re racing, however, as rally racing is conducted at speeds that always feel on the verge of crashing, so you may want to view your replays or watch someone else race to fully appreciate the level of detail in the game.
And DiRT 2 maintains Codemasters brilliant record of fantastic menu systems for their racing games. You’ll be hard pressed to find straightforward list menus in the game as each option involves a quick-loading POV transition and each menu is paired with a related piece of your race trailer or staging area.
An example of the dynamic menu system in DiRT 2
And the only thing more impressive than the look of DiRT 2 is the sound. The engine noise in some of the cars is just so monstrously accurate that the hairs on my arms stood up on end as I revved on the start line. Even though I drove exclusively on the automatic gearing settings, I found myself reflexively pumping the gas before my car shifted precisely because I could hear the telltale whine of the highest revs.
This is particularly nice when you get your hands on some of the more powerful vehicles in the game like the trophy trucks. Spinning your tires through a turn is not only an exhilarating experience because of the controls, but also because of just how aggressive it sounds.
And my only complaints about the presentation in DiRT 2 are such throwaways that I almost didn’t feel the need to mention them: I found the chatter between drivers was a little stilted and felt so pre-scripted that it rivaled the poor commentating found in sports games in its repetition. Still, I guess it was nice to have a slightly more personal connection between drivers and their cars, instead of faceless drone opponents.
Landing a jump in Ken Block’s Subaru Impreza WRX STI
There was also some questionable design choices when it came to the in-car unlockables like the dashboard ‘toys’ and bobbleheads. They just seemed really out of place with the rest of the games’ aesthetic. Luckily, however, due to my inability to race in cockpit mode, I didn’t have to look at any of them. I just kept racing from my third person perspective, enjoying the gorgeous expansive landscapes and the roar of the engines.
DiRT 2, for better or worse, is primarily a rallying game. There are a ton of different ways to showcase this, including some very diverse playstyles and vehicles but if you don’t like balancing gas and brakes through a sliding turn more often than gunning it straight, you will get bored and frustrated quickly.
But with very ‘gamey’ modes like gatecrashers, that involve trying to reach a finish line against a ticking down clock, adding time by hitting stacked boxes across the entire course, there is a ton of content to experience, that is, once you have the main driving skills down.
And on top of that, all of those modes are playable online, which will keep the game fresh months after purchase.
I know that I’ve probably overstated it, but really, for rally fans and people who enjoy a different racing experience, this is the perfect package. It is the quintessential rallying experience and really your only option for a racing game that not only gets the spirit of rally right, but also features it as the primary game mode.
It’s fun, exciting, and the first game in five years to get me perched on the edge of the couch, coaching my car through turns by twisting my controller in the air. It’s brought out my inner five-year-old and I couldn’t be much happier.
- The cars sound brilliant and realistic
- Leveling system allows you to progress without always winning
- Lots of game modes that still stay true to the driving focus
- Great selection of cars and liveries
- Competitor AI actually crashes sometimes, making it more realistic
- Chatter sounds stilted and repeats often
- Weird design choices for unlockables; dash toys, weird horns
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Release Date : 2009/09/08
System : PlayStation 3
Publisher : Codemasters
Developer : Codemasters
Category : Racing
ESRB : T
7.0 / 10
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