Colin McRae: DiRT Xbox 360
If you believe everything the new Persil adverts tell you then you’d probably think that ‘Dirt Is Good’… of course if you continue down that line of logic you should also believe that the new Persil: Small and Mighty makes your clothes explode like fireworks. This thinking is, of course, nothing short of madness and you are hardly going to go out and buy Colin McRae: DiRT just because Persil told you to do so. Thankfully, that is where this review should come in handy. So, to boil things down to the most basic of equations, for Colin McRae: DiRT to be considered a great rally game it has got to do one of two things. One, it has got to be as hardcore as the great Richard Burns Rally or two, it has got the be as fun and downright entertaining as the equally great Rallisport Challenge 2.
Well unfortunately, this review is going to have to start on a bit of a downer as the tone of DiRT is not what it should be. If you are a fan of the older games in the McRae series then you will no doubt be a little bit concerned that rather a lot has changed in the two years since good old Colin has been away. In fact, right from the get go it is noticeable that Codies have gone in a drastically different direction than their previous efforts; they open the game with a brash American accented announcer, known as Travis Pastrana. The same guy is also used to tell you about different tracks, different cars and congratulate you after victory. Now, IMO rallying is predominantly a European based sport and as such a game based on it should have a Euro based announcer telling you how to do things.
Aside for Mr. Pastrana there are more changes on show as DiRT shifts the franchise from the near sim style of previous McRae racers to an almost Motorstrom-like arcade approach at the genre. I will admit that this was a bit jarring at first, and I think it could quite possibly be a change that could drive many long term fans away from the series, but after a few races the new style starts to become second nature. Of course, it will probably depend on the kind of person playing whether this new style is actually better or worse than what was on show before. For me though it was an acceptable change, it is still a toss up as to whether it was a smart move or not, but regardless DiRT, just like its predecessors, is still a fun game to partake in.
Of course, not all the changes in DiRT should be instantly thought of as bad ones; some of the more welcome additions to the McRae formula is the addition of news car types, race types and new events. All of these races take place in the games two main modes – Championship and Career – with both modes complimenting each other as you advance through the game. The first port of call for most gamers will most likely be career as it is where you win cash to get new cars (which will then be playable in other modes) and get new paint jobs. When you first enter career you are presented with a huge pyramid with each tier holding a selection of various races. As you would expect the game sets you the task of playing through all the races available, buying a huge selection of cars as you advance and finally reaching the top of this pyramid to be heralded as the big winner. The earlier races on the pyramid are events which consist of just a one-off race, but as you advance up the ranks multi-stage events get added. Also, in a move akin to that seen in Forza Motorsport 2, you can set the difficulty in DiRT a little bit higher and earn extra money as a result.
On the way up the pyramid the game has five different race types available to challenge you. The first of these is your typical point to point rally race on different tracks where you don’t see any other racers, but are set a time to beat. Of course, during these races you have got your friendly neighbourhood co-driver directing you round the course and telling you what kind of corner is coming around… well around the next corner! Then there is Hill Climb which is pretty much the same, but you are left without your co-driver. Next up is ‘Crossover’ which pits you against one other racer as you propel yourself around on a two-lane circuit, this race is quite similar to the Super Special stages of real rally events. Next is ‘Rallycross’ which ups the ante by pitting you against a vast selection of other drivers all on the same track at the one time. Races in these events take place on both dirt and tarmac tracks and usually consists of three laps. Rally Raid and CORR are the final two events, these place you in the driver seat of buggies or some of the game’s bigger vehicles (aka jeeps and big honking trucks) as you take part in either point to point races or laps around a circuit.
If things get a bit too tough in Career then you can always step out from it and partake in some Championship mode action. This mode consists of long, long rallies with multiple stages to play through. It starts off with national and then moves onto European, International and global competitions. While some of the national races are probably playable in one sitting, the further you get the longer the events last meaning you will most likely need to save midway and step out for a while. Also, due to the length of these events the game gives you the option to repair your car after some races, just like in some of the top tier career events, which results in the car going slightly faster depending on what parts you repair. Rally World is less spectacular, but lets you take part in single race, single event or time-trial sessions should you so wish.
Unfortunately, a minuscule collection of bare bones online play modes are a nagging point that stop DiRT from living up to its full potential. The game’s online options are basically a glorified interactive leader board, albeit one that can consist of up to 100 players. Once you enter the lobby you, and the other players, have one minute to vote on a particular car, tracks and when the time is up the race begins, the problems here though is that you never see the other racers you are competing against. Also, the only modes available to play ‘online’ are the rally and hill climb events, with everything else seen in the single player game not getting a look in at all. It could be argued that this time trial approach is in keeping with the nature of the sport, but seeing as the main game has many head-to-head and competitive options where you have other racers on the track at the same time, it is a bit disappointing you cannot do the same online. For those interested in the Achievement points these are handled very well and split well between the game Online, Championship and Career modes to make sure you will have to fully complete the game to get them all.
Now onto the graphics, and this is where DiRT really stands out from the pack. A quick look at the screenshots on this very page will show you the game looks pretty, but you really have to see the game in motion to realise how beautiful it is. Some of the tracks, supposedly modeled on actual roads, are absolutely astounding to behold with lush forests, dust covered dirt tracks, sand covered roads, and highly detailed villages on show for you to race through. There is also plenty of variety between the tracks as you jump from the USA to Japan, France, Germany and the UK with each country having its own stand out features. Some of the more memorable tracks on show would have to be one of the Australian events which takes place on a route through a forest, where many of the old trees have shed there leaves and an exhilarating eight minutes sprint all the way to the tip of Pikes Peak, USA. The vehicles in the game are also meticulously detailed, both inside and out, and have a fantastic damage model than can leave your ride in pieces if you are not a careful driver.
Another huge plus for the game is the selection of cameras available; two cameras are available to choose from to give you a behind the car view, another two available on the bonnet and front bumper, and finally, most impressively, two different ones available from inside. My favourite cam of the bunch had to be the helmet cam, as it gives you a view of the track from the eyes of the driver. There is no doubt it is a very hard camera to get used to, and at times it can be more of a hindrance while racing on some of the more complicated tracks, but in terms of realism and pure immersion it is nothing short of amazing!
The menus in the game are also very well done and are all presented in a slick 3D style that puts almost every other game to shame in the process. Regrettably all this sheens lead to yet another nagging problem as lengthy load times pop up before and after every race; most can last well up to 30 seconds. Mercifully, Codemasters have made the loading feel a little bit shorter as it continues over the games fantastic presentation style to the loading screens and lets you check out your career stats as you wait. However, sound wise the game is less impressive. There is almost no music on show, with only a few choice tunes appearing in the menus and during race replays. In addition to Travis Pastrana talking to you through the menus there is a few more pieces of voice work used; when you win or lose a race some of the one liners are decidedly cringe worthy! In complete contrast to that the sound effects are impressive with a collection of different sounds presented in glorious 5.1 depending on which camera you choose, this adds greatly to the immersive feel of the game.
Well seeing has we are now nearing the end, I guess this would be a great time to go back to the question posed at the start of this review – is DiRT anywhere near the quality that was set in Richard Burns Rally or Rallisport Challenge 2? Well, the answer to that would have to be a no, but that is not to say DiRT is a bad game, in fact it is far from it. The main problem that it has is that it has made a niche for itself in an already niche market. Not only does the game fall short of offering the same fun that was on show in Rallisport 2, nor entice gamers with the same hardcore thrills as Richard Burns, it also falls short of being a Colin McRae game. At times you really have to wonder why Codies chose to take DiRT’s direction as it is worlds apart from the older games in the series. There was nothing wrong with the formula so why did they “fix” it? At best DiRT comes off as being an eclectic mix of all that has come before it, but regrettably ends up a rally game that seems to have lost its sense of direction. It sure does look pretty though!
DiRT is good, but it could have been much, much better.