Formula 1 racing just isn't all that challenging. The problem is, your car goes where you point it. What with the huge sticky tires and enough downforce to gobstop a dwarf its hard to go wrong. No, what really challenges a good driver is a half-broke pickup truck barreling around a dirt track faster than Evel Knievel would find advisable.
And that's what DiRT2 is about. You start out in a humble (yet storied) Subaru and the kind of RV a frat boy wouldn't set foot in. But you have a dream – you can be the dirtiest, bug-eatenist, least-heedful-of-personal-well-beingness guy/girl to ever race around a bunch of mud. This will lead you to the promised land – The XGames and the associated XBabes/XDudes(tm). There, finally, extreme people will extremely appreciate your extremeness in an extreme manner. Also, your RV is amphibious, so going to races in Europe and Asia is not a problem.
Along the way you will meet, hear from, and make friends with various famous personages who have gone before. Well, not literally. I mean, Colin McRae is dead, sure, but if he were alive he'd want his car back, so it's a good thing for you he's still dead. The other voices are still alive, as far as this reviewer knows. Really, though who knows (except for them, maybe) as I'm sure they'll get dropped from the XGames the minute they have a bad race. The XGames goes through athletes like MTV goes through VJs. (Do they even have VJs any more?)
Anyhow, DiRT2 is a racing game. This means you mostly pick a car, go around in circles, and see how things turn out. There are five racing disciplines: Rally, Trail Blazer, Raid, Land Rush, and Rallycross. Sadly, there is no spanking, so the emphasis is on the racing part. The different disciplines serve to provide a mix of experiences. Some are tracks while others are straight-line, some are twisty, others are turning, and some are all over the place. This breaks up the monotony while confusing NASCAR fans.
Your vehicles come in three major flavors: car, buggy, and pickup. Each handles differently and has certain races to specialize in. Damage can be turned off, made cosmetic-only, or be full-on. Damage modeling is good, if forgiving at the extremes. This reviewer, despite head-on collisions with bridge pilings, never completely demolished his ride. As a nice touch, bonuses are available which allow you to pimp out your ride (just like your sister) for that custom feel. This reviewer came to own several rides which he kept in his garage and got in and out of at will (just like your mom).
Pre-race adjustments of your vehicle can help tune it for optimum performance in the coming race. Effects are similar to the overall physics of the game – the effect is noticeable but not overwhelming. As a whole the in-game physics follows two rules. First, it is obvious what should happen. Water slows you down, dirt is slippery. Second, physical effects add to the fun of the game without being the game. This is not a simulation. It is not an arcade game, either. It is a way to have fun driving around in the dirt. It should not be taken too seriously, but enjoyed for the fun and appreciated for the skill that obviously went into it. Much like this review.
Adding to the fun is a bit of forgiveness. Each race provides a number of flashbacks. A flashback is an opportunity to roll back the action a few seconds to before you screwed up. Very handy when one doesn't hit a jump square. Rumors that the Prince of Persia wants his gimmick back are premature. This is also the primary effect of the difficulty levels, in that the easier the difficulty, the more flashbacks you get.
As you progress in your career you will come to the notice of the “famous”, “not-dead-yet” “racers” mentioned earlier. The most immediate thing you'll notice is that you start hearing their voices when you race against them. You'll still run them off the road but at least you'll know what bastard just cut you the hell off, may he rot in hell. These friends can also do good things for you, like invite you to races, and give you money. The $45 this reviewer spent for his DualShock controller was worth every penny.
The game itself looks very good. The vehicles are detailed, the dirt is dirt-y, the mud splatters all over. Frame rates are high, even online. The feeling of speed and action while in-car is good. The variety of different venues are well-represented. The gamer doesn't fell like they are just racing around the same mud ball every race. There are jungles and deserts and stadiums and lots of other terrain to provide a varied racing experience. Even the sound is good, with satisfyingly bone-crunching crash noises.
The interface tries to keep the feeling of immersion going. Rather than being dropped at a results spreadsheet in between races, the player returns to his RV. All important in-game functionality is reachable from here by interacting with on-screen elements. There is a map to pick the next race, a garage to review your vehicles, and so on.
After you've mastered the single-player career mode (itself a good length), there is an on-line mode. The official web site keeps track of points and all that sort of stuff. There is no split-screen mode, but this could be a fun game to play against friends over the net or at a LAN party.
The learning curve is not steep. The hardest part was learning to drive in the dirt. There is a lot of sliding about and four wheel drifting. Some headroom exists for complexity in the pre-race adjustment settings, but the emphasis is definitely placed on being able to handle the vehicle. This may be a bit off-putting for fans of the original Colin McRae series. Actually, a lot of things about the current game probably will cheese off fans of the original series (the more arcade-y feel, the simplified setup options, the variety of racing disciplines) but they can go eat dirt. This is a fun game.
More On:DiRT 2
This is a fun rally racing game that leans more toward arcade action than driving simulation. Newcomers will find it easy to get into and advanced players will enjoy multiplayer. The graphics and in-game presentation are well done.