Decided to look back on my ‘career’ in the industry. Well, not career, I’ve never had a paid job for writing or hosting for obvious reasons. I am going to be gathering a lot of old reviews and articles from years past and thought it’d be a good idea to get my very first one.
I started as I wanted to play a few games for free. My son was coming up to 4 years old and costing me more and more money, so had to find a way to afford games. Who would have thought it led to doing what I do now.
Anyway here it is…
Originally Posted September 11th 2009
The Colin McRae games have gone through quite the transformation with the introduction of the Dirt branding. A game that had previously built its reputation on recreating the feeling of rallying. You, your Co-Driver, your car and the road below. Colin McRae was himself Mr Rally, however after he retired from traditional rallying he was getting involved with the more ‘extreme’ side of the sport.
This was reflected in Dirt as we were introduced to multiple cars on the track and different types or vehicles, we were even racing trucks of all things. The original Dirt was fun to play yet felt a bit awkward with the new mode. The tragic passing of McRae left gamers wondering what would become of the series, however his family gave their blessing for the McRae name to continue to be synonymous with the game.
So Dirt 2. Would Codemasters uphold the name of Colin McRae and further deliver on the promise of the original titles? A new name to front the game has given some enough reason to doubt the new direction the being taken, however Codemaster’s have a solid track record in the racing genre and deserve the benefit of the doubt. Ken Block isn’t your traditional rally household name and his nature doesn’t seem to sit well with rally fans. With the news that too that rally stages were going to occupy a smaller amount of the game then ever before the worries were increasing. Eight player racing seemed to be the order of the day and the presentation in the build up to release seemed to be supporting an over the top extreme feel.
To the game itself. When you first load it up you are presented with the task of entering your details and given an introduction to your world before being thrust into a Rally Cross race. Very similar to the way you are introduced to Codemaster’s other racer in GRID. It is this new presentation that will divide gamers. Gone is the traditional menu system, with you instead being given a mini world in which to exist. You have your trailer and you have own mini paddock. In all honesty these are as easy to navigate because of some excellent smoke and mirrors. Inside your trailer you have your map to the world and access to the races, whether this be single player or multiplayer. There is also access to your stats, missions and achievements, that once you get past the initial reaction to it feels totally natural to navigate. Outside is where you can choose the vehicle to race and also check out tournaments that are being run by DirtNet. Again it feels very natural to navigate. The biggest concern with the presentation is the voiceovers, mainly due to the ‘extreme’ nature of the competitors. In all honesty though it doesn’t grate as much as you would expect and again adds to the overall atmosphere, if you really don’t like it though it can be turned off in the options. There is plenty more to to the menus and loads of little touches, these are best discovered for yourself though.
The bread and butter of any racing game is the handling and this has to be talked about in two parts. Firstly with a wheel. Using an official MS Wheel the handling in the game is a dream once you get the set up right. You are constantly fighting a wheel that feels like it is trying to rip your arms out of your sockets as you really feel every bump in the road. It makes the handling feel very solid and you feel like you have been truly tested in your ability to control a car. After using the wheel the pad itself feels very lightweight and the car feels a bit twitchy, however you do adjust and you can still judge the surface well enough. Without doubt the wheel is the best way to play Dirt 2. If you really want a true rally experience then the only way to play is with the head-cam. The 1st time you drive through a muddy puddle and your vision is impaired at 100mph entering a corner really is something else, the thing is though, it doesn’t get old and you learn to appreciate and respect the elements even more that you had in previous rally titles.
As you come to expect from Codemasters the game is visually stunning and the damage model is outstanding. The single vehicle rally modes are as good as you would expect from a Colin McRae title. The multi-car events were always the biggest concerns. These concerns are largely laid to rest with the Rally Cross races, the races around Battersea are a joy and really test your racing skills and car control. The other locations are really nice to look at too, LA, Utah and Malaysia being the standout locations visually. As fun as the above are the truck and buggy based events are a let down and are the weaker elements, however they don’t destroy the game. New modes are introduced with Gatecrasher and Domination events. Both of these are decent filler events, these are nothing to really write home about. Like may other titles and genres Codemasters have a levelling system that does a good job of keeping the game moving and pushing on, what really works is that you won’t just earn points for winning races, you earn XP via missions such as driving certain distances, rolling a number of times, distance jumped, overtakes completed etc and is integrated well. The one thing lacking from the single player, just like most racing titles these days is the lack of a championship mode. Dirt had one and it has to be said that it is shocking omission from this title.
Online multiplayer in Dirt 2 really is a mixed bag. A few friends in a party and it is amazing fun as you laugh and joke over the mistakes and accidents you all have. Set up a Jam Session and mix up the events and enjoy great times. It is in the multiplayer though that you have the biggest flaw in the game. It isn’t the games fault as such, but it does ruin the fun somewhat. That flaw is caused by other humans. Ranked sessions known at ‘Pro Tour’ are just horrid because there is no etiquette between drivers at all. Other players seem content with have glorified demolition derby events and causing as much havoc as possible. It is something to avoid unless you do get lucky on the odd occasion. It is a shame as the Jam Session is amazingly fun and the net code is very, very solid. The Jam Session is essentially unranked races but like you’d expect from Codemasters it is really well presented and feels really involved. Like in the main single player game there is a levelling up system that works the same but is separate entity a very good move by the developers.
All in all Dirt 2 is a marked improvement on Dirt and a solid entry into the McRae series. It will have its detractors and traditionalists who will look down on it, but in a sport that is fading away in popularity it has enough to keep people interested. Dirt 2 is never going to be your main racer and it does have its faults, namely online ranked matches and the lack of a Championship mode, yet it is a perfect partner to your main racing game and works as a lovely pick up and play title.