Platform: Xbox 360
Online multiplayer (2-8)
System link (2-8)
Force Feedback Wheel
There’s just something about rally racing that sets it apart from your standard racers. Perhaps it is the environments and lack of traditional tracks. Perhaps it’s the damage. Either way, Codemasters continues its Colin McRae rally franchise with DiRT 2 and I have to say that I am duly impressed with the final product.
Visually, DiRT 2 is top notch. It sports a rock solid 30fps frame rate with very little screen tearing and very little glitches. Car models are realistically detailed and the environments are richly detailed to match. It’s nice to see this amount of detail without having to sacrifice how smooth the game plays. Codemasters does a great job creating a realistic sense of lighting in all their games and DiRT 2 is no exception. This may sound funny, but it really adds to the effect when you’re racing in the Baja environment, for example, as the lighting helps to make things look hot. Good stuff.
There is an excellent in-car/dash view in DiRT 2 that is extremely playable. Unlike some other racing games, there is no difference in framerate between any of the views. The in car view probably has the best sense of speed though. Personally, I found myself using the behind car views to help me anticipate upcoming corners and track elements.
Additionally, DiRT 2 sports some very impressive destructibility. Textures don’t just scuff your car and parts just don’t fall off. Body parts actually bend and deform to a breaking point before they fully remove themselves from the car’s structure. The same goes for trackside objects such as fences and whatnot. Objects are also persistent so if you leave your bumper behind on one lap it will still be there next time around. Same for that tire wall you just ploughed through! It should be noted that there is a slight change in the framerate between the single player and online portion of this game. It’s certainly not a deal breaker but just something that I noticed.
DiRT 2 sports a large collection of music tracks that are seemingly influenced by the extreme sports and X-Games culture. Lots of punk-like tracks. The key here is that the music is catchy and fits well with the presentation of the game. There is plenty of voice acting from the game’s characters who happen to be real life counterparts, and the game provides a large list of real and nicknames for you to choose from in terms of your in-game character. The NPC’s then call you by the name you choose throughout the game which is a nice touch. “Hey Fluffy Nuts” hasn’t gotten old yet!
Codemasters has always been known for the level of detail when it comes to sound effects in their games. Rally racing really allows them to show this off. With a surround sound system, you will hear every last piece of gravel rattle around in your wheel well. If I have to find one minor criticism, I thought the engine sounds were the slightest bit tinny. At the end of the day I would have to say that the sound effects are yet another strong part of the game.
While his name has been removed from the title, Colin McRae’s presence is very much felt in DiRT 2. DiRT 2 takes the rally formula which has traditionally been more of a European sport and brings a very North American feel to it. DiRT 2 goes beyond pure rally races and the like while adding several new race types such as elimination, gate crasher, and super truck events. These events help to add new things to the Dirt formula, but I did find that at the same time they do take away from the pure rally focus that many gamers may be looking for.
In terms of the control, the game’s handling is fantastic. I found the first Dirt a bit too unforgiving and the cars seemed to pivot around on a central axis. While I enjoyed the first game I found the control somewhat unrealistic considering Codemasters’ expertise in racing games and car physics. Thankfully, DiRT 2 handles in spades. Vehicles have a better sense of weight to them but it’s still nice and easy to throw them into aggressive angles around corners. The controller inputs are a little sensitive at first but give the game a little time and you will come to grips with the sensitivity. DiRT 2 does support play with a force feedback wheel; however I favoured the controller due to the sensitivity of the controls.
Equally important as the vehicles are the tracks and the computer AI. There is no presecribed racing line for the AI to follow which is nice. You’ll see them act aggressive against you, defend their positions, take runs at your position, and even screw up. This all gives the game a nice realistic feel to it, far more than other racing games where you seem to be just racing against a procession of other cars. Tracks are varied from the tight confines of rally events to wide open courses for rally raid and truck events.
The rewind feature found in GRID has made its way into DiRT 2 and I think the game is better for it. While I rarely used it when playing GRID I was using it here at least once or twice per race. This is a welcome feature so that you do not have to incur multiple race restarts. If you do have to restart a race, I appreciated the fact that there is no re-loading. The race just starts right away again.
The “campaign” portion of the game revolves around your rise through the ranks of the different racing events and how it mingles with several extreme sports stars such as Dave Mirra, Tanner Faust and my personal favourite thanks to Nitro Circus, Travis Pastrana. Success in races builds relationships with these characters which lead to new types of events and bonuses. Bonuses can be a new car, new liveries, or even cool dashboard objects or horns to customize your ride. These last two things may not sound like much but they transfer to the online play and offer a fun degree of personalization to the game. Inclusion of the X-Games branding is a nice touch.
Speaking of online play, DiRT 2 again delivers a smooth and robust experience in this area. My time online saw absolutely little if any lag. That’s impressive especially since too many games today seem to suffer online in the first few days post release until something is updated. Other developers should take note of this benchmark. Codemasters has been providing a solid online experience back to the last generation of consoles and DiRT 2 another example of their expertise. Furthermore, online play is fully featured and for the first time in a Codemasters game you can race any type of vehicle on any track. This is great for those casual games where you have a room of friends and are just looking to mess around. Well done.
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