INFO: This is a review of the PC version of DiRT 2, which is identical to the 360 and PS3 version. I have no experience with the DS or PSP versions of the game, therefore this review has absolutely nothing to do with them.
“A respectable sequel that takes a few steps forward, but also a few steps backwards as well.”
A few years ago, Codemasters released DiRT, which was then the newest installment in the Colin McRae Rally series. The game was received favourably by gamers and reviewers alike, so it was only a matter of time before they capitalized on the success of the first DiRT game and released a sequel. Last year, DiRT 2 was released and received an even greater reception than the first. As for me, well, I think I might like the first one more.
DiRT 2 borrows heavily from a racing game that Codemasters had released just prior to it, GRID. The overall presentation of DiRT 2 has more in common with GRID than the previous DiRT game by a landslide.
Gameplay features and menus are almost ripped straight out of GRID, which makes the game give off a sense of deja vu that it truly should not have. GRID was an arcade racer and DiRT is a semi-serious rally game. It just feels awkward that the presentation of the game is so similar between DiRT 2 and GRID.
The profile function from GRID, which allowed the game to call you by your name, makes a return as it lays nestled in the game’s menus which, while cleverly scattered across a 3D environment, are borderline carbon copies of GRID’s menus. Another feature that returns is the flashback ability. Five times in each event or race, you can rewind time to before you make a bad corner or before you crash, and you can pick up and play from that point on. This essentially allows you to undo your mistakes, which I didn’t approve of in GRID and I certainly don’t approve of in DiRT 2.
The game’s presentation is very flashy and loud, which is a huge contrast to the calm and vivid presentation of the original DiRT. Codemasters aimed for style with this game, throwing in loud punk rock tracks and making half of the text in the game look like graffiti. It’s clear that, with DiRT 2, Codemasters changed their marketing campaign and aimed for DiRT 2 to appeal to the mainstream audience rather than the semi-hardcore fans of the old Colin McRae games.
The game itself is presented as a full career mode. As soon as you start the game, you are thrown into your travel trailer which is rendered in full 3D. From in here, you can select race events, check relationships with other drivers, and purchase DLC. When you exit your trailer, you can check out your purchased vehicles, go racing, and tweak the game’s options. I find that this menu system is a little cumbersome. Sure it looks good, but the game wastes a lot of time moving the camera around when it could instead be hurrying along and showing you whatever you’re trying to access. To hop into an event, you have to first select one on the event map that is laying on a table inside of your trailer. This can take several seconds or more to find an event that you want to do. When you choose one, the camera pans back and takes you outside so that you can select a car. Once you do this, the camera then moves to show you your car, and it is here where you press the confirm button/key to finally go racing. What takes only a few seconds in conventional racing games can take a minute in DiRT 2.
In terms of events, I was a little upset to find that there is a huge lack of actual rallying in DiRT 2. Most events are competitive races, meaning multiple laps and a full field of opponent racers. Look, the old Rally Cross games were not rally racing, nor are more recent games such as MotorStorm. DiRT 2 isn’t a rally game either, it’s just a racing game that features rallying.
Some events are even more peculiar and questionable, such as the gate crasher races. These play as point to point rally stages, but there are many breakable checkpoints all along the course, and to win you essentially have to break through more of them than the opposition. Does this even sound like rally racing anymore? This isn’t a minigame or an optional game mode, these are mandatory race events.
The event that you take part in is decided by the country you choose on the map. The available countries for you to race in are China, Croatia, England, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, and the United States. Since I bought DiRT 2 to play a rally game, I find myself sticking mostly to Croatia and Morocco, where I find most of the enjoyable rally events to be located. While mentioning the countries available, I want to touch upon Malaysia. I find it very peculiar that Malyasia, on the ingame map, is Madagascar. China’s name strangely appears over Malaysia instead. I don’t want to question Codemasters, but do they know their geography? Labelling Madagasar as Malaysia is quite an odd thing to do since they are on opposite ends of the Indian Ocean. It’s a shame that Canada is not featured in DiRT 2, because part of me believes that they would mistakenly label it as Ireland.
In terms of gameplay, I must admit to being quite impressed. Controls are tighter and much more responsive than they were in the original DiRT, and gone is the sensation of your vehicle feeling as if it is “floating” around the course. All cars feel like they have genuine mass to them now, and they behave as such. Actual rallying feels more developed in DiRT 2, and I really enjoy whipping around hairpins in rally cars, something that was extremely rare in the first DiRT. I truly couldn’t be happier with the rally portion of game. I do not feel that the buggy/truck racing really stands up to the rally racing, nor is the lap racing particularly exciting, but there is still some enjoyment to be had in these races and, thankfully, the quality of the racing never dips below average.
As you race, you will earn experience points and level up. This doesn’t increase any abilities that let you drive better. Instead, gaining levels unlocks new events to race as well as new liveries and car decorations. You will also be able to forge relationships with other rally drivers in the game. Real life rally drivers Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and Dave Mirra can be befriended, as well as two fictional female drivers named Jayde Taylor and Katie Justice, whom I presume are in the game to add some equality to the game. Unfortunately, the friendships that you develop hardly matter at all. A better relationship with a rival driver will really only increase your chances of partnering them in team events.
The sound in DiRT 2 is about the same as it was in the first game, meaning that the sounds of cars accelerating and crashing are about what you would expect. They sound realistic enough to get the job done, but in truth are not very convincing. The voice acting in the game is a different story though, and I find that it annoys me frequently. Throughout races, fellow drivers will make witty quips about you or the circuit, or yell at people who hit them. It’s pretty unrealistic and makes it seem that the drivers are all wearing headsets to talk to one another, making it feel more like the races are casual and friendly events that good friends are taking part in. It’s just really silly and doesn’t fit the game’s atmosphere at all when you’re driving and I find it very distracting. Co-drivers sound good and do their jobs well, and listening to them is more of a required fixation rather than a distraction.
DiRT 2 doesn’t look too bad graphically. I’m not sure what the reason is, but I found myself not being surprised by any of the graphics. Nothing really stands out as being exceptional in DiRT 2, and unlike the first game which looked absolutely stunning when it came out, DiRT 2 just looks simply good.
Overall, it’s certainly an evolution of the original DiRT. While I don’t like how the rally experience has been neglected in DiRT 2 very much, the ability to replay rally events whenever I want makes me feel a little better. For the most part, DiRT 2 is a vicious offroad racer that can be quite unforgiving at times. If you’re a fan of rallying or chaotic offroad races, then DiRT 2 is likely your cup of tea. However, if you’re looking for the next Need for Speed, then you may want to give DiRT 2 a pass.