Colin McRae: DIRT Review

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Graphics: 9.5
Sound : 9.0
Gameplay : 9.5
Multiplayer : 7.5
Overall : 9.1
Review by Andy Levine
The Xbox 360 has already seen some great racing games including the launch title Project Gotham Racing 3 and the recently released Forza Motorsport 2. Codemasters, who have had their fair share of success in this genre with greats like the ToCA Race Car Driver and Colin McRae Rally series, were more than willing to deal with the competition. DiRT essentially continues the Colin McRae series, except this time around it’s geared toward a wider fan base that doesn’t revolve solely around rally racing. With several new competitive race modes set all over the world, DiRT delivers the best off-roading experience we’ve seen in a long time.

The bulk of the game rests within the Career Mode, which consists of 11 separate tiers of challenges. Each challenge rewards an amount of money dependent upon the difficulty you choose, ranging from the forgivable novice difficulty all the way up to the sim-like pro setting. Increasing the difficulty makes your opponents faster and will cause crashes to take a heavier toll on your car, but the extra money will help you purchase new cars and liveries. Each challenge has only a few designated cars that are allowed to race in it, so you’ll want to save up money to make sure you have the best ride in class. Purchasing liveries is basically pointless for the beginning driver because you’ll end up spending tens of thousands of dollars only to make your car look different, and it’s much wiser to save your money for new rides.

Traditionally, rally games only included the standard rally race and hill climb modes, which are point-to-point races where you merely compare your times against other opponents. Of course these modes still made it into DiRT, but this game really stands out with the inclusion of actively competitive race types. For starters, the CORR (championship off road racing) mode fits each driver into vehicles, such as buggies or trucks, and sets them loose on a closed circuit course. Up to eight racers at a time can compete fender to fender, which can be quite a sight considering the nature of the racing. With buggies flying and racers spinning around uncontrollably as dirt and gravel flies everywhere, it’s hard not to sit on the edge of your seat.

Rally Cross is another competitive mode where cars are pitted against each other on courses that switch from tarmac to gravel. These races are just as fierce as CORR events, except now the speeds can get really out of hand if you’re using the right car class. The courses here are a little more structured and you will automatically be reset for cutting corners (unlike in rally races), but that doesn’t mean everybody drives carefully. In these modes, expect to see barriers fall to pieces and various body parts scatter across the pavement because there’s no way to finish this event without witnessing a collision. In addition, Rally Raids are very similar to CORR races except slightly different vehicles and courses can be used. Lastly, the Crossover race mode features two opponents on the same track, but at different starting locations. Halfway through the race the two parts of the track crossover, and although you never come into direct contact with your rival, they should still be visible for most of the race.

Some competition-oriented gamers might not have preferred rally games in the past simply because there’s only one racer on the track at the time. Even in DiRT, the rally and hill climb modes have you race on some tracks that can last over eight minutes without seeing another car. While this has certainly been a problem in the past that could potentially bore gamers, DiRT delivers such an intense racing feeling and blind sense of speed that it’s hard to lose interest in any race.

The driving physics here blend simulation with arcade, as most games do nowadays, in order to appeal to a wider audience. It’s not difficult by any standards to pick up the controller and race your way to victory on the easier settings. However, just because you don’t have to complete a series of license tests to begin the game doesn’t mean that there’s a lack of depth for hardcore racers. Above everything else, DiRT does an amazing job at making the gamer nervous, in a good way of course. When you’re tearing down a bump straightaway at speeds even close to 100MPH you’ll be hanging on to the controller with your life. Even the slightest turn in the wrong direction can send you flying off a cliff or directly into your tree, so it requires the most precise reflexes to maintain control. The incredible sense of focus and attention required makes even the loneliest races far from being dull.

To go hand in hand with the intensity in racing, the varied level designs also help to keep things interesting. Tracks cover a wide variety of surfaces ranging from the easily controllable tarmac to deep dirt forests and gravel deserts. Each section has its own distinct feel that you’ll become accustomed to in time, and you’ll even find yourself developing different strategies depending on the course. For instance, you don’t even have to think twice about flooring it out of a turn on pavement, but if you do this on gravel you risk spinning out if you gas it too much. Giant jumps on the off-road tracks and lengthy straightaways on closed circuits make for some fun times, but even instances like nailing a perfect powerslide or barely escaping a wreck make the entire game so adrenaline pumping.

As if the gameplay itself wasn’t great enough, DiRT brings along some of the finest visuals and sound effects we’ve seen on the 360 to date. The car models are spot on, and the fully destructible damage modeling system can leave you with some funky looking rides at the end of an event. Even though screenshots look pretty sharp for this game, DiRT is even more jaw-dropping when you see it in full action. The lighting effects are amazing, especially when you’re racing through forests. As you hear engines whining with turbo and dirt and gravel being kicked up everywhere, it’s incredible to see the sun shimmering on individual blades of glass from the canopy. It feels like you’re racing in a living, breathing environment because everything down to the last detail was taken care of. Advertisement signs can be ripped out of the ground and safety barriers will fall to pieces, and it’s nearly impossible not to be impressed by this game’s cinematic qualities at any speed.

If there is one drawback to DiRT, it’s that the multiplayer aspect isn’t all that we had hoped for. With all of the competitive game modes that pit racers bumper to bumper, we figured there would be at least head-to-head racing online. Unfortunately, the only game modes available online are rally and hill climb. When you finally get put into a room that isn’t in the middle of a race, the gamers vote on a track and car and the race begins. The only competitive feature here is that the leaderboard at the top of the screen actively changes when racers switch positions, making it easy as racer to note if somebody is right on your tail. It would’ve at least been nice to display ghosts of the other vehicles, but sadly the only thing keeping you motivated is a list of names in the corner of the screen. It’s not to say that you can’t be competitive online here because the lobby does keep a running scoreboard, but there is certainly a lot of room for improvement in the multiplayer department.

Even if the online portion didn’t fare as well as we had hoped, there’s hardly anything bad to say about the single player career and championship modes. Racing in DiRT will make your heart pound and your hands sweat, but at the same time you’ll be yearning to floor it all the way through. The varied environments, wide selection of vehicles and game types, and the overall nature of this game all contribute to make DiRT a worthy competitor in the Xbox 360 racing genre.