DiRT 2 is a loud game. It blasts rock music in your face and then bombards you with the heady electricity of a big race event. It’s also the most immersive racing title you’ll ever play, dropping right into the thick of the pre-race activity where you make preparations from inside your very own private RV trailer. In DiRT 2, you are a rallying star in the making.
This is off-road racing X-Games style, taking its cue from the first DiRT, moving further away from the series’ pure rally roots. DiRT 2 encompasses a variety of off-road race types, from Rally Cross races, point-to-point Landrush events and more. The first McRae title to emerge since the legendary rally driver died tragically, DiRT 2 is a fine tribute, starting you off by bestowing you with his famous No Fear branded Subaru Impreza he drove to win the 2006 X-Games, before hurling you headlong into the racing world he became synonymous with.
Notice Battersea Power Station in the background. The atmosphere and sense of place in DiRT 2 is awesome.
Don’t be afraid to get stuck in and tussle with the rest of the pack. Being tentative will get you nowhere.
Viewing the action via a first-person perspective, you’re put front and centre, right amongst the glamour of racing, forging relationships and rivalries, while rubbing shoulders with your fellow drivers. The atmosphere and tension that builds towards each race is palpable, as you globetrot between numerous exotic locations like Morocco, Malaysia, Baja, Los Angeles, Utah, Croatia, China, Japan and er, London.
Each venue is host to a mixture of several differing events based upon multiple racing disciplines, so there’s always more than ample variety to keep you completely engaged. Every race you complete earns cash and XP, which counts towards purchasing extra vehicles, acquiring new liveries and dashboard or windscreen adornments as well as unlocking more races.
On the track itself, DiRT 2’s racing is predictably superb, with the third-generation of Codie’s proprietary EGO Engine producing not just stunning visuals, but a fantastic driving model that makes powersliding around corners an incomparable, visceral joy. Every race can played while set to an individual difficulty, so casual, intermediate and advanced driving fans are well catered for with six levels to choose from.
Setting the degree of challenge has an effect on how much cash and XP you earn, as well as the number of ‘flashbacks’ you’re given. Flashbacks are lifted straight from GRID, giving you the chance to rectify any mistakes with a swift rewind to a point before you spun out, rolled or crashed your ride. It’s a great feature that we’re seeing included in more and more racing games (Forza 3 included), as there’s nothing more frustrating than executing the perfect race before wrecking all of your hard fought efforts with a single, momentary lapse in concentration.
Still, finishing a race regardless of position always grants a reward of some kind, so there’s always a genuine sense of progression following every contest. Yet, winning is all the more satisfying for the substantial finance and experience boosts you receive, especially if you’ve taken the time to set up your car.
An easy right-hand bend, yesterday.
Why does driving through enormous puddles never get old?
Tinkering with your ride’s setting is completely optional and can be switched off along with damage effects, but in order to get the very best out of your car, you might want to consider tweaking the differential, suspension, gear ratio, ride height, brake bias and downforce, which are all adjustable via a series of sliders. And nothing beats the gratification of trouncing the rest of the pack as a result of your own custom configuration, so it’s entirely worthwhile.
Experimenting with race set ups is incredibly simple too given the complete lack of loading between restarts, so if, for instance the low ride height and short gear shifts aren’t working for you, simply restart, fiddle with the sliders and have another crack. Of course, you can have the best set up and still lose horribly if you fail to drive well enough, which is why you’ll quickly learn that conservative racing will get you nowhere.
Riding the brake and safe driving certainly won’t win races in DiRT 2. Victory demands aggressive driving, which means approaching hairpin bends with nerves of steel, throwing out the tail end on corners with just a cautious dab of the brake to keep you on course. Consideration has to be made for the track surface too, which can be a mixture of loose gravel and tarmac, sand, mud - you’re never quite sure what the next race will throw at you, so sorting your car can be of paramount importance.
If you do opt to play with the pre-race set up attributes, you’ll feel the impact upon your ride right away, which is testament to the great work Codie’s racing studio have performed in creating the sublime driving model. Fail to tune the differential incorrectly for example and you’ll end up with too much over or understeer, so sometimes it’s a good idea to leave the settings alone if you’re not too sure – you’ll still have a blast tearing across DiRT 2’s trails.
During races, the radio chatter between you and your fellow drivers adds to the sense of inclusion amongst the racing fraternity. If you plough into someone, you’ll be rightfully called a stupid idiot, but then if you can strategically nudge someone’s tail end causing them to unceremoniously spin off the track, a sharp reprimand is easy to shrug off as you cruise through the pack. Drive well, on the other hand and you’ll get a nice compliment, which is very sportsmanlike indeed.
Like every great rally game, there are a variety of surface types in DiRT 2. From gravel, to mud, sand and asphalt – they’re all here and all DiRTy.
The amount of debris and detritus you kick up from the track makes driving using the in-car perspective nigh on impossible. The windscreen wipers have to work overtime.
There are 100 events to beat in DiRT 2, taking in nine stunning hot spots from around the world, so there’s a whole load to see and do. Eight different race disciplines mean that you can pick and choose the type of race to best suit your mood, ranging from the straightforward arcade thrills of Gatecrasher - where you drive through breakable yellow barriers against the clock - or the raw mud and gravel rallying experience, just like the McRae games of old.
Top game moment:
COLIN MCRAE: DIRT 2 VERDICT
DiRT 2 is without doubt the most comprehensive and utterly playable off-road racing game we’ve ever played. The overall racing experience is never anything but pleasurable, the depth and range of challenges on offer lending massive longevity and the presentation is also nothing short of exceptional. A pitch perfect balance between immediate arcade playability and detailed realism make DiRT 2 a rally game for every race fan out there. Put simply, this is without doubt the best racing game you’re likely to play this year.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Surviving a spectacular smash before rewinding it to put right what went wrong. A bit like Quantum Leap’s Sam Beckett in a crash helmet.