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DIRT: Colin McRae Off-Road Review

Jesse_Costantino By:
GENRE Racing 
PUBLISHER Codemasters 
DEVELOPER Codemasters 

Bringing rallying to the masses.

If racing were a fashion show, rally drivers would be wearing the classiest suits; they’re the dapper super-spies of the racing world. Rally drivers are masters of control, reaction, and all-around driving technique. They drive in all conditions, on all surfaces, in all climates, in all corners of the world. If I had to get my morning espresso delivered to Berlin piping hot from Milan without spilling a drop, I’d call a rally driver. Of course, I'm not rich, I don’t live in Berlin, and rally drivers do not hire out their driving services to the public, but a man can dream.

click to enlargeDiRT is the sixth Colin McRae rally game from developer Codemasters, and arrives on the PS3 a mere three months after its Xbox 360 counterpart. Ditching its central focus on rallying, rallying, and more rallying, this latest iteration in the McRae series includes a handful of non-rally events including “Crossover,” “CORR,” “Rallycross,” and “Rally Raid.” No longer do rally fans and off-road fans have to stand across the track from one another hurling vitriol at each other. DiRT brings these disparate types of racing together under the unified DiRT banner. Think of DiRT as a community-building exercise, a romp in the mud where everyone looks the same once they’re coated in crusty layers of brown muck.

After you’ve spent some time messing around with the game’s impressive menu, you’ll likely move on to Career mode (Championship mode and Rally World mode are also available). Playing through Career mode gives you a sense of the remarkable variety and breadth the game has to offer. To progress you need to succeed at all of the different race types, each with its own strategies and subtleties. The events are organized into tiers, with each tier increasing slightly in difficulty as you advance.

Despite the inclusion of other racing disciplines, rallying is still indisputably the heart of the game. There are almost as many unique rally courses as there are vehicles to drive on them. Different road conditions, different course layouts, different times of day, different terrain, different roadside objects (no active weather or nighttime driving, though). You feel as though you are actually traveling around the world and seeing new places. Many times I wanted to stop the car, get out, take a picture, talk to the spectators, and use one of the many roadside port-o-lets. Rally racing in the real world is all about the challenge of navigating an unfamiliar set of roads, and DiRT does a great job of making the courses seem continually fresh and new.

While I was impressed by the seemingly endless variety of rally courses, there was very little variety in the non-rally tracks, making the non-rally events feel more like bonus rounds than full-blown events. By the time you get to the top tiers of your career, you’ll still be seeing fresh rally courses, but you’ll be tired of seeing the same few Rallycross, Crossover, Rally Raid, and CORR courses over and over again. That’s a shame since these other disciplines are surprisingly fun and fit seamlessly into the overall game.

click to enlargeGameplay itself is stellar across all race types. During rallies, you will be accompanied by a navigator. He’s best described as a professional backseat driver whose purpose is to let you know the lay of the land. The experience of flying down an unfamiliar road while trusting only the navigator’s notes is an exhilarating feeling unmatched by any other racing game I’ve ever played. Non-rally racing similarly captures the excitement of each discipline, but rallying is definitely the game’s strong suit.

Vehicle handling is tight; some might argue it’s a little too tight. Obviously, the developers were trying to find a balance between realism and accessibility, and I think they made the right choices in this regard. From the very beginning of the game, even the cheapest and slowest cars are optimally tuned and are tricked out with all the best gear. Only those looking to eke out every last bit of handling and horsepower from their vehicles will need to do much tweaking.

The game’s vehicle models and course environments look stunning. Vehicles (yours and others’) accrue visible damage, dust, and dirt as you race. Trees and other objects cast moody shadows across the road, and sunlight glares blindingly off of the tarmac. Even though there is some noticeable texture and object pop-up, it’s only discernable when you’re not the one racing. The game runs at a respectable 720p (but won’t up-rez to 1080i/p, so early HD adopters beware), and the only time that the rock-steady 30fps framerate takes a substantial hit is during replays. Driver models, however, are utterly atrocious. Ordinarily this wouldn’t matter in a racing game, but since you see your driver up close after every race, you’ll be seeing that ugly mug a lot. Since every other aspect of this game looks so great, I’m baffled that the developers would choose to keep showing us the driver. It’s like eating a four-star meal, and following it up with a drive-thru hamburger.

click to enlargeSound in the game is similarly vexing. The music is terrible and the navigator’s post-race comments sound like something out of an elementary school teacher’s sticker collection, but vehicle and crash effects add intensity and depth to the overall racing experience. Luckily you can turn off the music in the game options, but you have to leave the voice volume turned up because, as asinine as the navigator’s comments might be, he’s the dude telling you where to go.

Online play is great if you love rally racing. None of the multi-car races (CORR, Crossover, or Rally Raid) are available online. Since Codemasters went to substantial effort to expand the scope of their series to include non-rally events, it’s surprising to see that this approach didn’t extend to the online modes.

It’s strange that a game called “DiRT” would be so conspicuously clean. There’s no mud, puddles, or general nastiness to speak of. Your car might get a little dusty, but nothing a dry cloth couldn’t handle. Off-road racing is supposed to be dirty. Real dirty. Regardless, DiRT is a fantastic rally racing game that aims to be a fantastic all-around off-road experience, but like internet porn, next time it needs to get a little dirtier.
B+ Revolution report card
  • Beautiful environments
  • Unrivaled rally gameplay
  • Wide array of vehicles and rally courses
  • Easy, responsive controls
  • Too few non-rally courses
  • Limited online features

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