Sister Dirt and Brother Grid have some explaining to do.
[image1]With the passing of Colin McRae, so too has passed the series’ longtime focus on rally racing. Instead, Dirt 2 focuses much more on circuit racing. There are a handful of abbreviated rally events, but they’re few and short-lived. Codemasters has also populated the rally events with other racers by introducing staggered starts so that you can pass—or be passed by—other drivers. Serious rally fans might be disappointed, but it makes for a much faster, much more accessible experience.
All of the best traits found in last year’s Grid are here represented in Dirt 2. It uses the same tiered structure, the same arcade-centric handling, the same circuit-racing focus, the same flashback mechanic, the same damage modeling, the same garage-style UI, and the same graphics engine. The two series are so similar at this point that Codemasters may as well merge the two into a single super-sized racing game that includes both off- and on-road events. [Griddy Dirty Game? ~Ed.]
Vehicle handling has received a major overhaul. The weight balance and pivot axis have been tweaked, and the brakes no longer stop on a dime. Consequently, there’s an improved sense of mass and momentum in the vehicles across the board. However, despite these small improvements, driving requires far less finesse than in the prior Dirt since playing bumper cars is now the most effective strategy. While you might lose a headlight in the process, a well-aimed blow will do you much more good than will a well-driven corner.
[image2]Vehicle quick-tuning has been greatly simplified, allowing you to adjust only six characteristics each with only five gradations. It’s a strange thing to simplify since casual gamers looking for a more arcade-like experience won’t bother, and more serious race fans will want much deeper tuning options. The default handling is great for pick-up-and-play sessions, but more discerning gamers will feel like they can’t get their vehicles to perform exactly like they want them to.
More problematic is that cash is far too abundant. Within just a few races, you’ll have more than enough money to buy the best car in a particular discipline. In effect, this means that the low and mid-tier cars serve little purpose other than as fodder for achievement whores. Worse, the higher difficulty levels give you even more money for winning, making high-performance vehicles even more accessible at higher difficulties.
Nominally, there are half a dozen different race disciplines in Dirt 2. You’ll find rally cross, rally racing, raids, a gate navigation race, multi-course championships, and more. In practice, however, there are really only three types of races: staggered point-to-point racing, simultaneous point-to-point racing, and circuit racing. Every so often, you’ll also unlock a “throwdown”—which is a one-on-one race against a rival driver—but these races are no different from any other race except that you’re racing against only one opponent. Regardless, Dirt 2 does a great job of balancing the race types without favoring any one of the three types over the others.
[image3]In a surprising blow to the series, there are remarkably few courses. Each of the locations has only 2-3 different course layouts. Sometimes these courses will be reversed and sometimes races will happen at different times of day. But because there are no lengthy rally courses or hill climbs to chop up into different combinations, there are far fewer track layouts than in prior Colin McRae games. Events will reuse the exact same layouts over and over again, so the tracks are all too familiar by the later races. Fortunately, the different locations from around the globe add some sense of variety to an otherwise limited experience.
A major payoff to the series’ new circuit racing focus is its online modes. Where the prior Dirt only let you compete in time trial lobbies, online competition in Dirt 2 is now always against other live competitors. Because there are so many circuit events and because the rally events are now all staggered start, you’ll never be alone on the track. The addition of team-based competition mixes things up a bit and adds a slightly new twist to an old formula.
The real strength of Dirt 2, though, is its attention to visual detail. Environments look beautiful, and the impressive lighting effects—especially at night—are distractingly pretty. Tires leave behind visible tracks on soft surfaces, and grimy build-up on vehicles makes you feel the dirtiness all the more. Watching replays is nearly as entertaining as racing itself. This is easily one of the best-looking racing games available on current consoles, and it puts the series on graphical par with the Forza and Gran Turismo games.
Dirt 2 looks great and plays every bit as well as Grid, but loyalists to the Colin McRae series may not appreciate the greatly diminished rally content and simplified tuning controls. Your tolerance for these changes will likely depend on whether you prefer the technical challenges of European-style rally racing or the quick and dirty mayhem of American-style off-road racing.
In other words, if getting “knocked up” is something your “mates” regularly do to you, then you’ll probably wonder why Codemasters decided to “cock up” the series. For everyone else, Dirt 2 is a fine sequel to Grid… um, I mean, Dirt.