Accessibility seems to be the flavour of the season for racing games. MotorStorm: Arctic Edge on the PSP has done it brilliantly and Forza Motorsport 3 seems to be all about it, but Colin McRae: DiRT 2 takes the cake by going so far to attract the casual gamer, that it’s now unrecognisable from the pre-DiRT Colin McRae games many of us have enjoyed for years. Codemasters have given precedence to the sizeable X Games loving American audience over the rally fans, and as a result, the Colin McRae series is no longer about rally, but rather an off-road racing assortment.
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As someone who loved the old Colin McRae games and even the first DiRT game, I was initially disappointed by the way rally has been abandoned in DiRT 2, but I was quickly won over by how much fun the game is despite it. You can either mope around and rue the fact that the Colin McRae Rally franchise as we knew it is dead (it is; there’s no two ways about it), or you can try and enjoy DiRT2 for what it is – a fun pick-up-and-play off-road racing game with diverse environments, a handful of vehicle classes and numerous race types.
The new approach is also very evident from the game’s presentation. The showboating, lazy-sounding Ken Block headlines a list of pros, who will race against you in DiRT 2. Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra, both better known for their accomplishments on two wheels, also join the cast, taking turns to play your guide through DiRT2. The game also boasts the X Games extreme sports franchise license, and you will participate in three X Games competitions in the DiRT Tour career mode. The more youthful, urban approach to the series is also clearly evident in the sponsoring brands that you will come across. Brands like Pirelli and Sparco make way for the likes of DC and Flip.
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Codies are masters of presentation. The menu system and loading screens in the first DiRT game were ground-breaking and they continue to impress in DiRT 2. The 3D menu is set in your tour bus/trailer, with different parts of the trailer representing menu options. You can step outside the trailer for a look at your rides and access game options. Loading screens too are chock-full of information; everything from career statistics, info on the upcoming race, and status on in-game missions and Trophies/Achievements is thrown at you to keep you occupied while the race loads up.
The DiRT Tour is your career mode, with 100 events to last you several hours. It’s presented brilliantly, with each of the 100 events visible to you together without having to dig through layers of sub menus to find the race you want to enter. Events are broken up into three levels – rookie, pro, and all-star, with only the rookie events open to you at the start. Each event earns you cash and XP; cash lets you buy new vehicles, while XP levels you up. The leveling system is pretty addictive and many events, locations and X Games shows are locked to higher levels, so leveling up is a key element. You also earn lots of other freebies as you level up, like bonus cash, bonus cars, liveries, and in-car embellishments. But beyond that, it’s nice to just be able to put a number to all the time and effort you’ve put into the career mode.
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Event types are plenty in DiRT 2, but they can be broadly broken down into two categories – races against the AI and races against the clock. In the former, you take on 7 AI competitors in various disciplines. These include Rally Cross and Landrush – lapped races around short tracks, Raid – long distance point-to-point races, and Last Man Standing – lapped races where at regular intervals, the last car in the pack is eliminated till only one remains. Against the clock, you have Rally, Trailblazer – a basic time trial, and Gate Crasher – time trials where you must drive through on-track objects to extend time and stop the clock from counting down to zero. Every now and then, a pro driver will issue a Throwdown – a one-on-one race with big cash, big XP, and respect at stake.
Now this being a Colin McRae game, I’m going to give the Rally event type its due, partly because of its unfair step-brotherly treatment, but mostly because it’s still the most fun event type in the game. Unlike past games, rally stages are different events themselves and not one overall race. Rather than taking cumulative timings of all drivers over the various stages, the game now hands out Forumla 1-like points at the end of each run, and the driver with the most points at the end of all stages is the winner. It serves a similar purpose, but it’s not as precise. You also no longer carry damage from one stage to another. In each new stage, the car is returned to you in immaculate condition. So it’s now essentially a series of time trials, with points being handed out after each of the constituent runs.
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Rally is a race against the clock on a course that is broken up into various stages, with stages often differing from each other in terms of track surface and complexity. A co-driver accompanies the driver, and helps navigate by calling out upcoming turns and their severity and suggesting driving lines and optimum speed. Teams have limited time between stages to repair damaged vehicles, and cars often carry damage over to subsequent stages. At the end, times for each stage are added up and the team with the lowest cumulative time is the winner.
Of course, a rally event, no matter how superficially represented, is no good without a co-driver to talk you through the course. In DiRT 2, you can choose your co-driver, and for those new to rally, you can also choose how they direct you. You can either go the traditional way and have them use numbers to denote the severity of an upcoming corner (1 for a hard turn, 6 for a mild bend), or choose the simple option and have them call the turns “easy”, “medium”, or “hard”. Of course, with turns coming thick and fast, it’s easy to see why the former is a lot more efficient. The format may have been dumbed down, but in full motion with your co-driver in your ear, the CMR magic still shines through in these short-lived rally events, and this is without doubt where the game is most enjoyable.
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There are around 40 vehicles in DiRT 2, and they include rally cars (Lancer Evo X, Impreza, etc), Raid T1 trucks (Hummer H3, etc), buggies, and trophy/pick-up trucks. Each event type is assigned to a particular car class. All the race-against-the-clock events – Rally, Trailblazer, and Gate Crasher – and Rally Cross races use rally cars. The Raid events use the Raid T1 trucks, while Landrush requires buggies or trophy trucks. While the rally cars are fast, nimble and a lot of fun to drive, the bigger vehicles are slow, sluggish and not nearly as enjoyable. And since each event type is fixed to a particular event type, the Raid and Landrush events will quickly become your least favourite.
Next page: Tracks, multi-player, and IVG verdict