Codemasters Colin McRae: DiRT
- Fantastic dirt-churning graphics, good handling simulation, adequate variety of race types, cars, and surfaces.
- Hopelessly inadequate multiplayer options, some irritating boundary reset issues, big rigs don't feel right.
Colin McRae DIRT is much more than the customary quickie paint job that other racing games churn out. Instead, it reinvents the wheel for off-road racing, offering the best, most complex and thoroughly enjoyable game we've played in ages.
Price$ 109.95 (AUD)
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Remember when you were a little kid how strangely fulfilling it was to get so dirty your mom thought you'd never scrub all that grime off? DiRT revels in coating itself with layers of earthy muck almost as much, albeit in a much bigger sandbox. Making Mud Pies
DiRT is the first Xbox 360 racer to arrive with truly next-generation graphics. Mud and rainwater spray off all four tires onto the detailed curves of each vehicle's bodywork, slowly covering the paint job and sponsor decals of each purchasable skin with a blanket of convincing filth. The pesky jaggies that mar other top tier racers are hard to find, and the soft vehicle shadows manage to avoid the nasty stair-stepping artifacts that have thus far seemed the console's curse. DiRT even sports one of the coolest menu interfaces yet seen. Light bloom often seems a touch exaggerated, and some of the textures offer more blur than grit, but there's no denying that the game looks great.
The audio work doesn't reach the lofty standard set by last generation's aurally stellar ToCA Race Driver 3, but the engine sounds are convincing enough, and the suspension bumps, metal-on-metal grinds, and gut-wrenching car-totaling crash crunches make you feel like you're in the cockpit even if you choose a 3rd-person view that hovers a safe distance behind your ride.
Thinning the Herd
Career mode is the meat in DiRT's off-road sandwich, delivering eleven progressively smaller tiers of challenging action, for a total of 66 events spread across six disciplines. Traditional rally races partner you with a co-driver who calls out upcoming turns and their severity, hill climbs put you on your own against hairpin curves, and crossover face-offs pit you against a single opponent on a track that forces your paths to cross at the midpoint.
These events are as technically demanding as they are addictive, despite the low head count, but it's when you add a full stable of rivals that DiRT really shines as contentious crowds jostle each other across alternating segments of dirt and tarmac. The frame rate might stutter a bit, but all those rumbling motors and desperate pilots add up to the title's high point.
Fast and Loose
The unlockable events, purchasable cars with tunable elements and five difficulty levels might make DiRT seem as approachable as any other racer, but the truth is that off-road isn't for everybody. Control freaks obsessed with shaving milliseconds off their best asphalt times may find the realistic but unpredictable chaos of more natural terrain maddening. Drivers will find the enveloping sense of teetering on the edge of being completely out of control either intoxicating or frustrating, though this is more a factor of personality than technical prowess.
Weighty big rigs feel a bit too floaty to be realistic, and the performance differences between the cars in each vehicle class seem thin, though pickups, rally sleds, and dune buggies all handle with persuasive punch. The high octane illusion is damaged by driving smoothly over what look like dried mud ridges, and being occasionally unceremoniously reset on the track because you cut a sharp turn by a couple of feet or went a few yards too far off the side of the track, but these issues are just uncommon enough to be tolerable.
Alone in a Crowded Room
What isn't tolerable, on the other hand, is DiRT's bizarre lack of decent multiplayer. Though every single race in the solo game ends with a time posting to the Xbox Live leaderboards, actual online racing is limited to rally and hill climb events that put only one car on the track at a time. Who cares that you can pit fully 100 players against one another when your only interaction is lobby voting on a small handful of car/track combinations, voice chat, and a final time posting? With games like Forza Motorsport 2 pushing the boundaries of Internet racing, the inability to put even two human opponents on the same track is breathtakingly lame.
It's testament then to DiRT's groundbreaking graphics, chaotic flare, and infectious love of all things dirty and damaging that it delivers a good gaming value in spite of such a startling deficit. It won't ever be the only game in a speed freak's collection, but it almost certainly deserves a spot there all the same.
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