Format: 360 (version tested), PC, PS3
Release: September 10
Rallying is dead. Long live Xtreme Offroad Racing! That’s the message from Codemasters, anyway. Dirt 2 is a very deliberate stride away from the austere-but-multifarious racing of the previous Colin McRae game. The series is off into a new and youthful realm of hip corporate sponsorship and famed extreme sports advocates such as Ken Block and Dave Mirra. This move is reflected in everything from the menu onwards: where the original game’s user interface was a clean, white, elegant thing with too many stages, Dirt 2’s is a busy, noisy, colourful, complex creation with too many stages. The amount of time it takes to actually get into a race again proves to be quite a grind.
Once the action begins these complaints are largely forgiven and the corporate rock drops away to leave us with the sweet roar and perfect chatter of turbo-charged engines. The tracks themselves oscillate between recognisable and familiar rallying courses in Croatia and Malaysia, and rather more spectator-based events such as fictional rallycross tournaments in a converted Battersea power station and towering downtown Tokyo. The environmental details make a fine backdrop to your aggressive powerslides around acute corners, making Dirt 2 the most visually appealing of Codemasters’ in-house racers to date.
The driving is dependable as always – solid and never a strain. Thanks to a time-rewind function, adopted from Codemasters’ own Grid, even the worst mistakes can be rapidly corrected. While Codemasters’ racing engine will not please simulationist zealots, it is earnestly predictable and delivers a sense of speed with calculated precision, the drift and acceleration melding unchallengingly into a familiar racing experience. So it’s not just for hardcore racers: anyone could pick this up and feel like they were having fun slamming into the Subarus of America’s highly paid motorsports stars, but it does reward the investment of time.
The original game’s super-trucks have been given the chop, so here you’re racing in buggies, souped-up 4x4s and traditional rally cars. Of these three only the latter option is truly satisfying, however, delivering a raw, responsive and bone-shaky ride, while the big-wheeled, heavy beasts that seem tuned for the American market feel sloppy, floating unresponsively across sandy tracks. And realistically so, of course, because these are terrible racing machines – but their authenticity doesn’t make for a better game.
Fortunately, the 100 events on offer mean that you can keep to the kind of racing that is more to your taste as you progress and open up the event calendar. This time it’s a map of the world, with your driver’s level dictating which events he has access to, as well as what other trinkets, liveries and other clutter he has unlocked. The game also supports options for you to set up your own events, which makes the multiplayer game rather more versatile.
The presentation and X-Games affiliation don’t feel like the most natural directions for the series, nor the most effective, and often Dirt 2 seems like it’s simply trying too hard. But look beyond that and it’s clear that Codemasters is as attuned to track-building and racecraft as it has ever been.