Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Driving Sims
Developer - Codemasters
Publisher - Codemasters
System link: 2-100
Force Feedback Wheel Support
Online Multiplayer: 2-100
Anyone who is a rally racing fan, and who enjoys videogames, knows that there have been slim pickings for videogame versions of this racing series. The main stay of console rally racing has been in the form of either the long running Colin McRae racing series from Codemasters or the two time published Rallisport Racing from Microsoft. The former has always been more of a simulation experience while the latter has been arcadeier. Well Codemasters is the first developer to give the next generation consoles a new rally racing game, aptly titled DiRT. This game is essentially the next generation Colin McRae racer, but it seems to have a bit more of an arcadey feel then its predecessors. Does this latest iteration of the series hold up? After some extended playtime with the game I would say yes.
When you first fire up DiRT and enter the menus you realize that this game has some great visual polish. And once you enter virtual world of racing, that level of polish is amped up incredibly. DiRT is definitely a great looking game. Codemasters has developed their own proprietary graphics engine called Neon and I have to say that I am quite impressed at the results. The level of detail found in this game from the vehicles to the tracks is downright amazing. The car models are very well rendered and look quite realistic. Cars start off nice and clean and depending on the track's surface, they accumulate dust or mud as you race. As you race you can choose from various views to race from as well, and once you play from the helmet cam (a pulled back cockpit view) you will come to appreciate the work that went into this game. Each cockpit is made up of over 7000 polygons. I actually felt like I was piloting my own rally car down the track from inside the car.
The environments are also very well done as everything from the track detail to the draw distance is quite impressive. It was great to see gravel and dirt tracks kicking up rocks and sand while racing, and it is my opinion that small details like this give this rally racer a little more visual oomph. Track side details are also well implemented. From desert tracks surrounded by small bushes to forest tracks lined with trees to road courses enclosed by small hills and vegetation, all the varying environments have different levels of track side detail that is real a treat to see. It is clear that Codemasters really took the time to make each track look and feel different. Although I have not been to each real life version of all the courses I would assume this effort makes each track look like the ones each are modeled after.
The damage effects in DiRT also deserve mentioning in their own separate paragraph. The way the cars take on damage is undoubtedly one of the most realistic that I have ever seen to date. Cars will become scratched or deformed depending on what you collide with. The damage can range from paint scratches, broken windows, missing mirrors, and broken tail or headlights to more noticeable things such as missing bumpers, hoods or aerodynamic wings or body panels. Should you be unlucky and really hit an object too hard, you may even leave your car in a heap of metal with all of the above damage and no tires on your ride. Bottom-line, the graphics engine that Codemasters developed for this game really produces some pretty incredible damage modeling and you will come to appreciate the work once you play this game.
For all the positives that are in the visuals there is one negative that is worth mentioning. DiRT's frame rate does take a hit now and then during play and it is somewhat noticeable. It really only becomes an issue when there are a lot of cars on track with you especially when all the cars are in a bunch. With that in mind this will only be visible on the tracks where you are racing against a lot of other cars (e.g. CORR Series). This being said I found that during times when the frame rate did take a hit the game did not become unplayable and it did not hamper my overall enjoyment experience, so overall this slow down more of an annoyance then a major issue affecting the gameplay.
DiRT also manages to sound pretty good. In the information package that Codemasters provided with the review copy of the game they state that the sound is controlled and managed by their revolutionary CmStream code libraries for acoustical correct audio. Whatever the technical method used the game's sound is pretty darn good. From the sound of the vehicles engine or turbo to the sound of the car's shocks bouncing on any given track and the car's wheels spraying up gravel or dirt, everything is crystal clear and manages to sound quite realistic. Each vehicle manages to sound unique too, so different characteristics of different vehicles manage to affect the sound. I was happy to hear a CORR Super Buggy sounded distinctively different from a Ford Focus rally car given that they are two different vehicles.
The soundtrack is nothing major, and as I would suspect in a rally racing game, it does not play a major part. It is noticeable during the game's menu screens, as well as the replays, and manages to make one's venture through these sections enjoyable. Should you choose to race to some rocking tunes though it will be your responsibility to load up any given music track from your own custom playlist and you will have to choose to play it via the 360's ability to play custom soundtracks for most games.
DiRT offers a whole new series of events this time around. For those traditionalists looking for an old school rally racing game where it is you against the clock, this game is so much more then that. DiRT offers six types of racing experiences this time around including point-to-point rally racing, Hill Climb, Rally Raid, Rally Cross, Crossover and the CORR (Championship Off-Road Racing) Series from the U.S. These events can be played during single races or events as well in a series of championships, but where the meat of DiRT lies is in the career mode. Here you work through a virtual pyramid of events in various racing modes where winning earns you points and these points unlocks new parts of the career mode as well as awards you money. The cash allows you to buy new vehicles and liveries for the new vehicles. The career mode will take some time go get through and it is definitely an exciting mode. For those more daring crank up the difficulty of the game. Doing so makes for heart pounding racing and a feeling like you really earned your victory.
The tracks that are represented in the above six different racing modes are based on real world locales. You will find such tracks as Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Bark River Off-Road Raceway (Michigan - CORR Series) or Croft Circuit (North Yorkshire, England - Rally Cross). The addition of real world tracks is quite interesting as it allows you to try to break the real life world record times for each. I can honestly say that there is no chance I will ever come close to breaking the world record time on the 20 km track for Pikes Peak. The inclusion of real world settings adds to the realism of DiRT and actually makes for a somewhat better experience.
What would a racing game be without cars? Well in DiRT you will find yourself racing in more then just rally cars. You will get dirty in CORR Pro 4 trucks and Super Buggies, 4x4's from BMW, VW and Nissan, Hill Climb trucks and 800+ BHP unlimited hill climb cars, rally cross cars from Lotus and Audi, and even massive racing rigs. The amount of vehicles is crazy. And of course let us not forget the traditional rally racing cars too. From classic rally cars, rear wheel drive, two wheel drives and the newest four wheel drives, including Colin McRae's own prototype the R4, are all present and accounted for. Bottom-line, there should be a vehicle for every gearhead to enjoy.
For any of you Colin McRae veterans out there, once you take DiRT for a spin it becomes somewhat evident that this is not your old Colin McRae series anymore. Something that is very clear in this latest version of this racer is that the ability to control the game's numerous vehicles is open to any gamer at any skill level, from a novice racer to the diehard racing fan. Anyone who has seen rally racing on T.V. knows that the style of racing is a real "by the seat of one's pants" experience. From flying down narrow streets at high speeds to throwing the backend of a car out to negotiate a tight hairpin corner, rally racing is truly a crazy sport and Codemasters does a great job of translating this feeling to the virtual world of the Xbox 360 for any gamer to experience. This is where the game feels a bit more arcadey then previous games of the past. The series has tended to be a more realistic experience where realism took precedence over simplicity. This time around novice gamers will have relative success at the lower skill levels. Fans of the series original feel will still get a good challenge from the higher skill levels that are available as well. Veterans will also still find the ability to tune their cars to their hearts content giving them the chance to shave of precious seconds off their time. Overall I think that the direction Codemasters went in this version was the right way as it makes the game accessible to anyone who wants to give virtual rally racing a go while still allowing the veteran player to enjoy the challenge at hand.
If there is any negative it would have to be in how the cars actually feel. The best way to describe the feeling would be they are somewhat floaty. This was first evident in the demo that was released on XBL Marketplace prior to the games release. At that time I attributed this feeling to the fact that I was playing a demo and not the final version of the game, however once I had some time with the final version I was kind of surprised that the same floaty feeling was still evident. Basically it feels like your car is not fully connected to the ground below its wheels and you can not really feel the weight of the vehicle. Now I have to admit that I have played a lot of Forza 2 prior to playing this game, so my feel of racing games is quite simulation oriented given the work that went into Forza 2's physics system. That being said, I still think that this DiRT could have benefited from a tighter feel in this area. This will not particularly hamper ones enjoyment of the game though, nor does it hamper the overall control per se, it is just that racing fans as a whole will get the feeling that the cars are floaty and it may affect some of the realism in a minor way.
The biggest gripe I have with DiRT is in the multiplayer arena. Racing games today are pretty much expected to have an online racing component where you can race other people, and with any game on the Xbox 360 implementation of online components are a given with the widely popular Xbox Live arena being available. Codemasters take on the online racing is somewhat disappointing in DiRT. First off you can only race in two of the six possible racing modes, rally and Hill Climb. Secondly, the online experience is only against the clock and not other players. During your online multiplayer experience you will be racing with up to 100 other people who are racing the exact same track as you, only each of you will do it alone while only having the ability to talk to one another during the race. You will see no other racer on screen except yourself. Now I know that real world rally racing is essentially racing against the clock to beat the times of other racers, but DiRT introduces some new racing experiences which lend themselves to online racing (e.g. rally cross or CORR Series comes to mind). I really think that Codemasters missed the boat on this aspect of this title and the online multiplayer component really could have been so much better.
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