Review: Where the ?whoa, dude? attitude is cool again
Released in 2007, the original Dirt was something of a hybrid racing game game, mixing in the classic rally racing from its Colin McRae Rally predecessors with more ?extreme? forms of off-road driving. The game was well-received, but older fans of the traditional rally games were frustrated with the lack of emphasis on it. Those folks should immediately turn the other way, as Dirt 2 makes the original look more like a bridge, and Codemasters is on the other side holding a book of matches.
Almost completely eschewing rally racing for an increased emphasis on extreme style and attitude, Dirt 2 still manages to be a very good racer that offers a lot of variety and some gorgeous visuals to compliment it, despite the insanely obnoxious attitude that reeks from every corner. It's almost incredible how a game that's been attacked from so many angles has turned out to be quite good; put aside the things the game isn't, and Dirt 2 is one of the better racing games on Xbox 360 this year.
Dirt 2 features an extremely robust career mode that takes you all across the world. After entering your name ? and if your name is common enough, you'll actually hear people call it out - and getting all set up, you're dumped into a wide variety of events. Rally racing is here, despite all the complaints, and in three forms. Traditional rally puts you against rivals in a one-at-a-time trial, where the track is the real opponent. Extensions of the rallying are Trailblazer, which is a different name for hill climbing, and Gate Crasher, where the goal is to plow into as many gates as possible or the clock runs out.
Returning from Dirt are Raid races that put you in various trucks, and lap-based ?Land Rush? events which contain either trophy trucks or buggies. Each class of events offer numerous cars to pick from and deck out in various liveries and some minor tuning options. As you progress through the career, you unlock three flavors of X-Games in each territory; that being Europe, Asia, and the US. All told it takes at least 20 hours of racing to complete everything the career has to offer.
The online setup is surprisingly robust. Like the single player, you get a driver level (actually called a ?fame? level) that goes up as you get experience and move up the ladder. In addition, the game tracks how you race ? be a jerk and the game will notify other players, but be courteous and the rest of the community will know you at least attempt to play nice and not act like every race is a destruction derby. The Pro Tour mode is where all this happens, as Jam Session is the equivalent of unranked matches. Within this one can do tournaments, regular races, and complete the same kind of online missions that you'll see in the single player game. The only downer to the multiplayer is the lack of any kind of offline play ? no split screen racing whatsoever. They couldn't even bother to do that. Considering half the events can be played pass the controller style, it's incredulous that they omitted it. Really disappointing.
The first Dirt had some solid controls, albeit the kind that took some getting used to. Dirt 2 continues this, as initially the game feels very, very loose. Adjust to this looseness and the game becomes very easy to get a grip on. Rally racing is of course the best part of the game. It is a disappointment that it's been marginalized so much, but what's there is great. Each course is full of interesting twists and turns, especially the Trailblazer events that tend to put you on cliffs and narrow paths. In Utah, for example, there's an uphill s-curve that if missed leads to a completely destroyed car. The other races have their own quirks ? rallycross is not really that good, as the cars are loose, the AI is nutso, and the tracks are annoying (especially Los Angeles). The ones in Dirt were a whole lot better. Buggies are nigh-impossible to really get a grip on; if you get a trophy truck option, that's totally the way to go, otherwise those races can be very frustrating. Everything else is pretty manageable, especially when you win the big tournaments that unlock after a while; the car you earn is usually the very best and tends to blow away opponents in most races.
Because of the diminishing presence of rally racing, the game requires more AI, as rally racing is just a series of time trials. In most ways, the AI is sharp, though like the previous Codemasters racer GRID, they can be suicidally aggressive. Rather than, you know, get out of the way when they know it's time to be passed, they just get in your way to cause impact, and the driver then has the rocks to complain about smacking them. This is most obvious in rallycross, where it's tough as it is to get around opponents with so many curves, but even in stuff like Raid and Land Rush they are more interested in causing grief. To its credit though, there's many cool touches across the board; in rally races I've seen cars off the side of the road after spinning out, and in regular races you can see collisions in front and behind. It's an improvement from many racing games that seem to only perform on-screen happenings and otherwise ignore everything else.
Dirt 2's biggest weakness is its attitude. Apparently the game was made in 2000 and only now completed, as the ?whoa, that was killer, dude!? era has returned. Because Colin McRae was killed in a freak helicopter accident a few years back, their primary spokesman has been replaced. In the original Dirt, Travis Pastrana did a capable job of being normal, and he does the same here. Alas he's not the only one around anymore, as there's numerous X-Games personalities, and gaming veteran Dave Mirra appears ? yeah, the BMX guy now races with four-wheeled vehicles. The whole package can be insanely nauseating. This in and of itself might turn off some, as it takes what was once a classy, if not plain, package and delivers something more in line with the lowest common denominator. In races, they tend to squawk a lot, but that can happily be disabled so you don't have to hear Ken Block's creepy laugh after passing you ever gain.
Aside from those presentation issues, Dirt 2 looks fantastic. The 30fps holds up at all times, and there's tons of cool effects when a vehicle hits water, runs through mud, and the like. By the end of a race, the once-pristine car or truck will be in serious need of a car wash. Damage, in Codemasters tradition, is great, even if you set it to be merely cosmetic, you can see doors fly off, bumpers removed, windows cracked, etc. The cars themselves are not quite Gran Turismo level, but they still look as real as possible. Night races show some great effects, and to counter the endless amount of brown in places like Baja, Utah, and China, a visit to Malaysia's jungles shows something that competes with Motorstorm: Pacific Rift in terms of lush scenery. The audio features a soundtrack that appears in the background and doesn't even play during races, and of course the chatter of the various licensed X-Games drivers. The cars are sound fine, but you know...it's the same stuff for every game.