Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (Review)

What you have here is the best rally game this generation of consoles has seen, it might even be an all time racing great worthy of the late, great Scot. It even (just) survives an ill-advised X-games style make over outside the races.

As a rookie driver you’re given a free Subaru Impreza (very nice) and unleashed on a world map stuffed with over 100 events in Japan, China, Malaysia, Croatia, Morocco, London, Utah, LA and Baja. 

Under The Hood
Racing and performing random challenges that tally up as you go (accumulating drift or air time for instance) earns you EXP that in time, levels you up and opens up access to other events on your sticker filled map.

The control set-up is completely customisable which should be (but generally isn’t) a part of any racing game. The six difficulty levels to choose from affect how many Flashbacks (see below) you get and how challenging the AI is. Damage is customisable too with off, on or ‘visual only’ to please your inner crash junkie and to see you over the finish line in one piece.

There’s a basic customisable vehicle set up menu too for adjusting gear ratios, suspension and so on. But there’re no unlockable parts to enhance performance which is a shame and would have been better than fluffy dice accessories and garish liveries. You can buy / unlock other vehicles for each discipline but chances are you’ll stick with the same early favourites throughout.

Dreading Getting Out of the Car
The menu styling and the whole out-of-car experience feels like the lovechild of Need for Speed: Pro and the Tony Hawk’s skateboarding games with its extreme sports carnival setting. It’s as bad as it sounds.

Since when has rallying been classed as an extreme sport? Since some extreme sport legends such as Dave Mirra (BMX) and Travis Pastrana (motocross) decided rallying was their thing. There’s no WRC license as that has been snapped up for Gran Turismo 5, which means we’re stuck with these ridiculously happy, butt-kissing dudes. These racing ‘celebs’ all want to be your friend and will test your sanity as they never shut up, saying such relentlessly happy tripe such as “Hey Brendan, I’m always surprised by Morocco, it’s such a cool country.”

There’s meant to be a dynamic in the game that will see them turn on you in future races if you bash them about. Didn’t really see this on show much to be honest. Most times I had a swipe at them they’d apologise even as I gently nudged them off a cliff! Sometimes they might say what I did was “not cool.” Ha, just stay friends until you have the Trophies they provide then enjoy shunting them off cliffs or into lakes at every opportunity. Enjoy the air time Travis!

But hey, the rest of the game is absolute gold.

Events
While Grid constantly sent you back to the same old tracks again and again, Dirt 2 feels like you’re being offered a much better variety in its locations and race disciplines as you can see from the list below, which doesn’t have one weak link in there.

Rally: The usual A-B race with competitors given a staggered start. Regular mid-race checkpoints indicate your overall position. You can pass slower cars that set off before you, but they won’t move to one side as per rallying rules. They won’t block or pursue you, but you get the impression they’re pretending they haven’t noticed you in their mirrors.

Gatecrasher: A-B race like Rally but with a clock counting down, disqualifying you if it reaches zero. But by smashing through giant yellow gates on the track you earn yourself extra seconds.

Rally Cross: A lapped race on a circuit with direct physical competition from other drivers. Sometimes features tarmac.

Trailerblazer: Umm, this feels just like Rally, but without a co-driver.

Last Man Standing: An elimination mode where at specific timed intervals the last player is removed from the race until only one remains.

Domination: The circuit is split up into sections with direct physical competition against the rest of the field to get a fastest time in each section. If you’ve ever played multiplayer Tony Hawk’s it’s exactly like Graffiti mode.

Landrush: Like Rally Cross but with the bigger vehicles (trucks, buggies, stock, T1) and all off-road circuits full of jumps and bumps.

Raid: Featuring the Landrush vehicles in an A-B race with other vehicles and multiple paths through the stage.

X Games and World Tour: Tournaments compiling above event types.

Driver Challenges: Drivers set you a time to beat or offer a one-on-one race.

Curious omissions are the lack of weather variations and proper night races. While there is the odd water pool on the tracks there’s no rain or snow. Hell, I was about 30 events in before I saw anything resembling wet mud. The night races are floodlit stadium efforts rather than hurtling though a pitch black forest with a deathwish.

Gameplay
The handling is more on the arcade side than simulation but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a substitute for skill. The scariest parts of Dirt 2 are the long straights where you get up to top speed, because you know that any little bump in the road or the slightest turn can have devastating consequences. Keeping the balance between chaos and control is where Dirt 2 is at its best. Sliding around a corner on dirt and making the transition to tarmac gives you that essential bit of extra grip that snaps your car back into position just before it goes past that point where you’d end up spinning out. It’s an enormous rush when you pull it off.

The Flashback feature from Grid returns. This is where you can rewind the action a few seconds at any point to have another go at a corner you just royally screwed up. This allows you to really go for a fearless approach by giving you free reign to experiment. It feels a bit like cheating but after a while you’ll find you won’t need it as much as you become familiar with the tracks.

Sights & Sounds
The cars all look great if not spectacularly leaping from the screen like GT5 saying ‘look how shiny I am.’ The environments though are frequently jaw dropping. It’s the Malaysia tracks that’ll ruin other games for you. The Ladang Long track is the most stunning tropical environment I’ve ever seen in a game and has basically ruined all other games chances. The mountains track in China and the canyon in Utah are other stunners that stand out.

The cars sound authentic with the violent, spitting exhaust pipes, crashes sounding suitably sickening and co-drivers are good for providing optional levels of detailed assistance. Shame they only sit-in on Rally events though.

Online
There’s no offline multiplayer which is a shame as early fans of the series may well fondly remember laughing at their mates as they trundled across the finish line missing wheels and having another stage to complete before service. Good times.

If you want to compete in ranked races you have to do a lucky dip into the servers rather than the apparently not obviously better list of races that should be standard in everything by now. It has no qualms about dropping you into a lobby while everyone else is already racing leaving you to watch either.

Naturally the time travelling flashbacks aren’t in use so you better know where all those car shredding rocks are hidden around corners. Races currently feel evenly matched with everyone vulnerable to one slight mistake sending them barrel-rolling up a tree and over a cliff.

You can get stuck in and smash each other up in races or you can go for the timed stages. In the timed ones everyone sets off at the same time and are represented by transparent ghosts so you can judge where they are without having to worry about colliding with them. It’s a good system and works well to please fans of both disciplines of rallying. The other match types, Trailblazer and Last Man Standing have made it too. No gatecrasher though.

In the main game you unlock dashboard items and rubbish like fluffy dice *puts head in hands*, but also different horns. Now, on your own, a novelty ice-cream chime for a horn is soulless. But in a two player online race it’s absolutely fucking brilliant. Driving right behind someone, trying to nudge them off the road or better yet while passing them and blasting that out is an absolute inner-bastard pleasing joy.

We’ll have to see how the servers cope with the strain in the early stages, but it’s a great relief to be able to report that races were completely lag free at time of writing.

Colin is Champion Again
With its adaptable difficulty settings, Colin McRae: Dirt 2 really goes the distance to find a place for the casual and hardcore alike with every race feeling as exciting as the last.

Codemasters has waltzed in with its last two games, this and Race Driver: Grid and tipped Gran Turismo off its throne. GT5 is going to have to be something special to top them now. You can guarantee you’ll have more fun in the Dirt though.

9/10

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