Colin McRae: Dirt 2

If you take the unique motor racing experience that is rallying, throw in a whole lot of X-games attitude, and then splatter the whole thing with a thick layer of mud and dust, what would you get? You might get close to Codemaster’s latest racing simulator Colin McRae: Dirt 2. However, you would also need years of experience developing racing games, absolutely faultless graphics, a wealth of roads, tracks and stadium circuits as well as solid on-line play. But Colin McRae: Dirt 2 is more then that; it's also a nice tribute to the man whose name is on the cover, while keeping in mind that fun, thrills and intense competition are what the game is all about.

The first thing you notice about Colin McRae: Dirt 2 is that it's a thoroughly professional product. It looks fantastic with glistening, pristine cars finishing races with panels missing and covered in mud, stunning scenery, good crowds and plenty of breakable tyre barriers and stone walls. It has heaps of unlockable content, and the gameplay is easy to get into. While the actual amount of point to point rallying is overshadowed by the arcade-style rally sprints, the long road courses that have been the core of the franchise are still there and have never looked, or played, better.

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All the menu options are presented in a nice little three dimensional environment in and around your trailer. Inside you have access to the world map, online options, an extensive list of statistics and accomplishments, and a few extras including videos and down-loaded content. For a menu screen it looks great and is an example of all the nice little touches that add to the game’s overall experience.

Outside your trailer there's a crowd and a few signs letting you know if you're in Baja, Malaysia or one of the half dozen other locations. On a bench in between your car and a barbecue is a list of available cars. Here you can buy new rides and upgrades or change paint jobs or accessories. Nearby is a copy of an EXPN magazine where you can quickly check on your game progress and check on online time-trials. In the time-trials you get a few days to post your best time on a specified track for experience points and bragging rights. But before you can break into the top ten percent you'll need to build up your skills and get plenty of practice on the numerous courses and in the dozens of available cars.

The game's basic controls couldn't be simpler. The front triggers control the accelerator and brakes, reverse and change of view, and it's as simple as that. But don't think you'll spend too much time in that first car or on that first course because racing gains you experience points and cash, and you’ll quickly have a long list of cars, race types and courses to choose from.

The courses in Colin McRae: Dirt 2 are accessed through the world map. All the available countries, from the U.S. to Japan, and Morocco to China, can be pretty quickly unlocked. Each is fairly distinctive with the hilly greenery of Croatia contrasting with the Utah flats. Add to these mountains, villages and rain forests, together with city road courses in places like L.A. and London, and the variety couldn't be better.

Driving the different locations takes a bit of getting used to. Muddy tracks, sealed roads, deep sand and gravel all react completely differently making that first look at a race a real learning experience. This coupled with the unique attributes of each car, be it the Nissan 350z, Hummer, custom Buggy or old Ford Escort, means that finding the best combination of driving style and car is essential to having success on a particular course.

However, often there feels like a bit too much trial and error in finding the right car. Each car's attributes are listed when it becomes unlocked. They are all rated for speed, acceleration and handling. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to carry much weight once you're on the track. Sometimes the most highly rated handling car, with just a touch too much pick-up can be so loose that it's almost impossible to control. While a car with apparently poorer handling might be just fine. In these cases its a matter of buying all the cars you can afford until you happen on a good one, and then trying to remember which car to upgrade when you go up a level.

Moving through the levels is fairly straightforward. Competing in races gets you cash and experience points. Winning races gets you more experience points and yes, more cash. You start out a rookie but soon you will be moving from the ranks of Pro to All-Star. As you progress, not only do your opponents get better and the tracks harder, but you start competing in two and three race series rather than single races. Your cars will also need to be upgraded to qualify for the higher level races so winning those bigger purses becomes important to progressing though the game.

The game also includes a number of different race types. There is of course the standard point to point rally's. When competing in these you have the aid of one of two co-drivers. This is the next generation, high-def rally simulator that fans of the WRC have been waiting for. It's as good as it gets in everyway. Except of course that there isn't much of it. Sure, there are trailblazer races where you don’t have a co-driver and there is a lot less time between the cars, so there’s plenty of catching and passing, and gate crashers where you hit targets to gain time bonuses, but standard rallying makes up a small percentage of the game.

The rest of the game is all about rallycross on city circuits, multi-car landrushes and raids, timed domination events and last man standing races where its all about bumping and bashing your way around tight street courses with plenty of jumps, and drifting and wrecks.

Add to this the rewind element where you can pause at any point in the race (usually about the time you wipe out) and rewind the video to just before you lose it. You can then restart the race, having a go at a particular jump or corner, hopefully with a better outcome. The whole rewind thing, while being immensely helpful, makes Colin McRae: Dirt 2 far more an arcade racer than racing simulator. Although the one nod towards the racing sim is the ability to access and tweak a car's attributes like brakes, height and downforce when racing in on-line time trials.

Also adding to the friendliness of the game is the fact that damage is instantly fixed the moment you finish a race and the difficulty settings. In Dirt 2 you can run through the entire game on easy. Not only can you unlock the locations, races and cars, but you also get through all the X-games knockout events, as well as qualifying for the race specific multi-event world tours and the Colin McRae tribute cup.

Of course this all goes out the window when you play against real people. While there's is no split-screen you can compete to your hearts content over a lan or online. Although occasionally it takes a few minutes to find a race to join, a good chance to try to get into the top thousand of the latest time-trials, once there the racing is intense, embarrassing (for those of us strangely attracted to last place), and seamless. You have the options to invite your friends to your own race or hook up with a pro tour or jam session. In jam sessions you pretty much get what you're given, while in the pro tour you can be more selective. Here there's no rewind, you better know what car to race on what track and you better be ready to get shamed.

The fact that it's called Colin McRae: Dirt 2 and is not in any way connected to the WRC means that rallying has been, to some extent, left in the dust. The focus on X-game favourites like Dave Mirra, rather then any of the really big-name rally drivers, means that this should come as no surprise. If you accept that going in you'll find a very polished, user friendly game that's packed full of fun and caked in a thick layer of dirt.

"Arcade racing meets serious rally sim."
- Colin McRae: Dirt 2
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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Comments Comments (10)

Posted by emetic
On Tuesday 13 Oct 2009 11:42 AM
pro tour and jam session are kind of more like the other way around.
Posted by Moneyshot
On Tuesday 13 Oct 2009 11:45 AM
Poor Mr McRae and his boy. I enjoyed the older ones on the PS1 and 2.
Posted by Fatmike
On Tuesday 13 Oct 2009 12:48 PM
emetic - you're right. My bad.
What I was trying to do was compare pro tour to the quick join option in jam. Jam has the custom race options but messing with those are only good if you're inviting friends to play. Changing anything there automatically stopped it finding a race for me.
Posted by Oliver
On Tuesday 13 Oct 2009 2:11 PM
13 October 2009, 11:45 AM Reply to Moneyshot
Poor Mr McRae and his boy. I enjoyed the older ones on the PS1 and 2.
Yeah I prefer me some good old fashioned rally racing with a good career mode. This is far too Americanised, and guess what? America doesn't have proper rally racing! (last I checked)

I guess I want more of a WRC Sim. I used to love the first Colin McRae and WRC games.
Posted by stevenz
On Tuesday 13 Oct 2009 2:55 PM
I still reckon that the best rally game this generation is the original Xbox Rallisport Challenge 2 running on an Xbox360. I've got Colin McRae Rally 2 for the PS2 which I play on the PS3 but it seems a lot more dated than RC2 is.
Posted by PandaJenkins
On Tuesday 13 Oct 2009 4:59 PM
Dirt 2 is a great game, anyone who likes racing games should definitely play it.
Posted by brettz0r
On Tuesday 13 Oct 2009 6:37 PM
13 October 2009, 02:55 PM Reply to stevenz
I still reckon that the best rally game this generation is the original Xbox Rallisport Challenge 2 running on an Xbox360. I've got Colin McRae Rally 2 for the PS2 which I play on the PS3 but it seems a lot more dated than RC2 is.
Colin Mcrae on ps2 is nothing like the dirt games...
i recommend this game
Posted by Ninja-15
On Tuesday 13 Oct 2009 8:35 PM
My fav rally games are... Sega Rally back in the mid 90's at the Arcade, V-Rally 2 on PSX, Colin McRae 1 on PSX, WRC 1 on PS2... Top Gear Rally on N64 wasn't too bad too back in the day :P
Posted by thejuror84
On Wednesday 14 Oct 2009 8:46 AM
even though it is more arcadey and less traditional dirt 2 is leaps ahead as the best rally game ever made.Anyone who has even played the demo could tell you that
Posted by emetic
On Thursday 15 Oct 2009 2:37 AM
The last paragraph of the review says it all, really. Once you get over the fact that this isn't a rally game, you can appreciate that it is a good game.

Pity they're not making a proper rally game (one worthy of the Colin McRae name..?) with the Ego engine, I suppose.