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27 Reviews

Colin McRae: Dirt 2

Review: Reclaiming its rally crown

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They're perfect for the cramped courses of Rally Cross events because they pick up speed on the tiniest of straights. Throwing them around corners while gently threading the throttle is a test of raw skill and discipline. You want to go faster, but holding the accelerator all the way down isn't the way to get it.

The visceral experience you get from these cars, and the rally cars in fact, is almost unparalleled in any other racer. Your tyres feel like they're in contact with the changing surfaces of the ground.

The interior view is intense. Instead of the sedate, stable experience you get in most games, in Dirt 2 the camera jolts around violently with every bump in the course, while your driver's hands swing the wheel around erratically as you make dozens of tiny adjustments on the analogue stick to keep your car on the road.

Water puddles splash into the windscreen with literally astonishing realism (you will say 'wow'), obscuring your view momentarily until the wipers come to your rescue. There's no doubt that it's harder to play in this view, much harder, but you'll do it to prove you have the biggest balls.

But even in the external view, crashes feel severe. The camera shakes and fizzes out like you've clouted your TV. The heavier the shunt the redder and more vision impairing the effect.

The deep crunching sound is spot-on too, as is the resulting damage on your car. The paint scratches, the intricately detailed dents and snapped-off bumpers - it's all there. Seriously, the Gran Turismo 5 boys need to give Codemasters a call because this is where car damage in videogames is at right now.

If you can keep your car away from walls and get across the finish line in first, your victories earn you money and XP. You use money to buy new cars, liveries and upgrade your motors for high-tier races, while your XP increases your driver level, unlocking new locations, races and tournaments as your reputation spreads around the world.

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It's a nice system, but one that's unfortunately impaired by the game's over-enthusiastic menu presentation. It's all very nice to have full 3D menus disguised as tour busses and racing venues but when you just want to start a bloody race, waiting for the camera to swoop stylishly from your tour booth to your garage where you choose your car can become a little tiresome. Just some plain old menus would have been faster and easier to comprehend.

The relationship system is another one of the game's over complications. The AI characters in the game (including real racers Ken Block and Dave Mirra) have individual temperaments. In theory, AI characters are meant to respond to how you drive, so if you drive fast but clean they become your buddy. Drive like a bastard and smash them off the course during a race and they'll hold a grudge and, in future races, show you the same brutality.

It's an interesting mechanic. But we'll blow our own trumpets in saying we were good enough at the game to overtake other racers and win without having to bounce off them on corners. Being clean drivers, everyone liked us, so it made no difference to our experience of the game.

Want more to think about? You've got 'Missions' to complete too. They're optional challenges, like rolling your car a certain number of times, leaping a certain number of metres or sliding a total distance, to complete during races. Again, you can ignore them, but it's another attraction to an already massive single-player mode.

Take it online and you'll find all of the events and courses unlocked in the single-player game unlocked and ready to play with others online. Although the online modes weren't playable at the time of writing, we had a quick blast of a LAN race at a recent Dirt 2 event in London - a Rally Cross event with three others - and it was utter carnage.

Dirt 2 may continue Codies' idea of diversifying what used to be a pure-breed rally sim, but this time it does it properly. The handling is superb, weighty and satisfying with every last handbrake turn. The crash damage and overall visual detail is of the highest calibre in games today, and there are so many events you'll be busy for hours. Codemasters got it right, this time.

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The verdict

The McRae series well and truly back. This is the mud-covered racer fans wanted.

  • McRae series back on form
  • Real weight on the cars, real powersliding
  • Literally jaw-dropping visuals
  • Overly flash menus and slow navigation
PlayStation 3
Racing / Driving