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Colin McRae: DiRT 2 Review

Published September 26, 2009 by |

After his tragic death in 2007, publishing group Codemasters took the difficult decision to continue the successful Colin McRae franchise. Given the critical acclaim the first received, the decision was justified, as the original Colin McRae Dirt was successful in revamping a series that was in danger of getting a flat tire. Now, ten months on from its first announcement the tires have been changed, the engine tuned and the series’ reputation now rests in the driving seat of the seventh and most recent excursion.

Fans of the first will remember the slick menu system that allowed users to drive through the races with little effort, as well as events, settings and cars that could all be accessed with ease. Codemasters in their infinite wisdom have decided to remove it. In its place is a brand spanking new menu system that, rather than having minor alterations here and there, provides a somewhat novel but over-elaborate navigating experience. The Menu screen resembles some sort of backstage area complete with people faffing about in the background and pseudo graffiti style fonts emblazon the world map that is the event menu, while cool words like ‘rides’ and ‘throwdowns’ have replaced cars and challenges. It’s as though Codemasters have attempted to bestow an image that is more akin to an extreme sports title than a serious natured racer that has become expected of the franchise.

This theme continues into the campaign mode, called ‘dirt tour’. Outside of the ostentatious menus, the actual tour mode works well utilising an experience/prize based system. Gain experience through winning races to unlock more races, cars and accessories; the cash prizes that come with a hard fought win can be used to purchase said items. Career mode down is let down through because of Codemasters attempt to create a sense of involvement. Other drivers will engage in pre, post and in race banter, an unwarranted aspect in itself, however it’s made even more aggravating through the tedious nonsense spouted by them. Each utterance from drivers is some sort of well wishing, fine at first but irritating after each race, and it seems drivers don’t now how to start a sentence without saying ‘hey’.

At first glimpse there is little to recognise from the previous instalment, the menu system being at the forefront of some major revamp work. However, enter into an event and the intense packed race action that made the first title so appealing all comes crashing back. Events such as land rush, trailblazer, gatecrasher and last man standing each provide a different take on the normal racing formula. Although it’s nothing groundbreaking, the variation in events is enough to avoid repetition and maintain each events excitement. Of course, the rally events is where Codemasters excel and after seven attempts the developers have perfected it. Dirt 2 doesn’t disappoint- the sharp corners and dangerous drops as the navigator calls out directions provide a racing experience that no normal race can match. That said, the navigator does let down the experience when it comes to the inevitable crashes, as his comments are inconsistent at best and often don’t match the damage received. A slight knock receives shouts of ‘careful’ and ‘watch out’, flip over several times almost wrecking the car and he’ll remain silent. He’s not dead though, as he continues giving instructions in his calm demeanour.

A new feature to Dirt 2 is the rewind system; known as flashbacks. Borrowed from Grid, it allows the last few moments of a race to be rewound so it can be redone. Crash into a barrier? Rewind it. Get taken out? Rewind it. Some might consider it ‘cheating’ but who doesn’t restart a race when it doesn’t go to plan? In which case, it has it’s practical uses.

Race simulations have always been at the forefront of pushing a console’s graphical limits and Dirt 2 is no different. Vehicles look immaculate even after a hefty shunt into a barrier and a backdrop maintains its splendour even as it whizzes past. Lighting steals the show though; few titles will beat the manner in which Codemasters have captured a sunset cascading over the Moroccan desert. Environments themselves respond well to the car that so rudely careers its way through. Old walls will crumble when knocked into and dirt will cake the car to the point where the paintwork no longer shows through. This most satisfying in the Malaysian rallies, where a once bright red BMW will be a healthy brown when crossing the finishing line.

Colin McRae Dirt 2 has totally separate identity in comparison to the first; while the first had a clean aesthetic, the latest instalment has ditched that in favour of a more vibrant appearance. If it were down to colour schemes the attempt to create a new identity, however the new menu system that has been implanted just doesn’t feel right. Add that to the constant vocal ‘high-fives’ received from the other drivers, mid race fireworks and inclusion of X-Games (the extreme sports equivalent of the Olympics for those not in the know) competitors over current rally drivers feels like an attempt to Americanise a traditionally European based sport. It’s also a shame that for a game baring the name of one of the greatest rally drivers of all time it includes minimal rally events. Nonetheless the driving is still intense and it still looks fantastic, but it’s just not the same. Dirt 2’s heart is there but lacking its soul.