Colin McRae: DIRT

Racing gets filthy

All hype aside, lovers of driving should be excited. Some kids think Colin is fictional, like Lara Croft, and that's fitting - both series took sequels too far. At least McRae's quality rose, but by Colin McRae Rally 2005 the tech was creaking, and the experience was flagging.

Codemasters have averted a precipitous fall by reinventing CMR as DIRT, bringing in the Neon engine to handle more events: once a pure World Rally campaigner, McRae now dabbles in everything from Le Mans to the Dakar Rally.

But with the hype about open landscapes, multiple disciplines and graphical splendour come the questions. Would it just be Codies' own TOCA with some gravel thrown in? How real are those screens? Will it just be a chaotic jack-of-all-trades tangling itself up in justifications for Colin McRae's career path?

This total reworking has, from the impressive pre-alpha build we played, dealt ninja blows to every question. DIRT is scary-fast, more gorgeous than the screens imply (soft lighting and shadows, lush reflections, organic landscapes) and nails the thrill of a leaping, drifting, edge-of-control drive better than any arcade racer for years. The design of the bumpy, jumpy, frequently blind-cornered stages we saw (playing out on everything from wet tarmac to desert dust) sparkles as brightly as the car models. It also has painfully beefy door-shedding, chassis-folding, scenery-demolishing crashes to counterpoint the speed.

DIRT fairly booms with substance and style - it's like seeing the first CMR all over again. Will the next generation grow up thinking the great man himself is actually called McRae-Dirt? Happily, the evidence suggests yes.