Colin McRae: Dirt 2 PS3, Xbox 360
Developed by Codemasters, Colin McRae: Dirt 2 is the sequel to the well-received 2007 title, as well as the first game in the McRae series to be released since the famous racer’s death. Despite his unfortunate accident, the postmortem sequel features enough racing modes, vehicles, tournaments, extras, and many other bells and whistles to fully immerse players into the roadie racer experience that would do the legendary racer proud.
The moment you start up the game, Dirt 2 immerses you with a first-person tour of the racer life. After filling in your name and country, you are given a portable home that serves as the main “hub”. While inside the trailer, you can navigate between the different options, including Dirt Tour racing and Online Multiplayer. From here, you can choose which location and event your personalised racer can participate in, as well as keep track of your collectibles and upcoming events. The first-person pad is a great way to give players the racer experience (as well as the crushing reality that such a profession doesn’t pay for a cleaner, snazzier trailer). There’s also the added touch of choosing your name from a pre-spoken set, to be used when talking to drivers and managers. A relationship system allows you to befriend the virtual personas of famous racers including Ken Block, Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra, who will often present you with personal challenges, as well as assist you in team races.
Once you’ve chosen your locale and race, you’ll step outside to a world perpetually lit in daylight, while thousands mosh away to alternative rock. Outside, you can choose and prep your preferred vehicle, outfitting it with acquired liveries (sponsored decals), novelty horns, and windshield toys (including bobble heads and fuzzy dice). There are also options to tweak the car’s engine and wheels, for those hardcore racers possessing the kind of knowledge required. You can also use your earned winnings to purchase newer, more powerful vehicles, or to pay the entry fee for converting your pimped out rides for the other special events. Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll instantly fly to your chosen location and start racing.
Dirt 2’s locations are typical for a racing game, but offer many challenges within. You’ll start off racing in Baja and quickly make your way to London and Croatia, while further victories earn you the right to participate in events in China, Malaysia, as well as the coveted X games. The way the game gauges your right to race in these locations is through an experience system. Proof that RPGs have influenced every known gaming genre, earning top spots in races not only net you with cash, but also experience points (xp). Gaining a sufficient amount of xp raises your level, qualifying you to attend higher tier events, as well as unlocking new tracks in the existing areas.
Dirt 2 features tons of modes that go beyond the standard two-lap races. You have your standard racing modes such as Rally Racing and Time Trial, but there are also special modes such as Gate Crasher (reach the finish before time runs out, hitting the small gates located in each track to gain additional time), Last Man Standing (a timer counts down, periodically knocking out whoever is in last place), and Land Rush (off-road racing featuring many different paths and obstacles on the way to the goal), among many others. There’s quite a bit of variety for racing veterans looking for something beyond the basic rally racing, but those gamers preferring more of the latter may be disappointed of the small number of pure racing tracks at the expense of these new arcade-like modes.
For players who are new to the concept realistic racing, Dirt 2 doesn’t offer much in the way of tutorials for those used to Mario Kart and the like. A new “Flashback” feature helps avoid constantly pausing and restarting races, as the ability allows you to rewind time by a few seconds, giving you a chance to avoid your predetermined crash or other blunders. In the end, however, it’s the old adage of practice makes perfect in order to succeed in this game. You can stick to the “Casual” difficulty to complete races and earn more goodies, but the harder the difficulty, the more xp and cash you’ll get.
On the visual side of things, Dirt 2 is one of the prettiest next-gen racing titles yet. Colors are plentiful, while dirt, water, and debris stick to your vehicle with great detail. Other little details such as dashboard toys, magazines featuring online stats and accomplishments, and the cluttered mess of your trailer park add to the robust Career Mode. Music is the usual affair for racing games, featuring several artists typically associated Xtreme sports, while celebrity racers continuously annoy you with repetitive one-liners during competitions (though in all fairness, such lines are only uttered once or twice per track). In all honesty, the racers do a good job with their deliveries, even if they do sound awfully friendly even when losing the match.
In case all of the extras and unlockable vehicles weren’t enough for you, there’s also an online multiplayer mode, which allows solo and team-based races that can earn xp that goes toward online levels. There are also special tournaments which double the rewards, but just make sure you join games that have vehicle contact disabled; most foolish racers tend to treat the races like a game of go-karts, ramming into each other in the hopes of damaging their opponent’s cars to such a degree that they’ll be forced to retire.
While racing games – especially those of the Xtreme variety – are a dime a dozen nowadays, Dirt 2 features enough modes, extras, and overall dedication to detail that helps it stand above the pack. It may be somewhat lacking in old-school racing challenges, and can prove daunting for newbie racers, but the sheer volume of content far overshadows the game’s faults. Until Gran Turismo 5 arrives to challenge the crown, Dirt 2 stands as king of the racing mountain on the PS3.