When I reviewed the original DiRT nearly two years ago it was considered one of the best looking games ever created. Here we sit more than 24 months later and the game still looks phenomenal, which makes the fact that DiRT 2 looks even better, all the more astonishing. Codemasters takes great pride in their racing games, and it shows. DiRT 2 presents itself with some of the slickest navigation as well as the lushest visual appearance I have seen in quite some time. Combine this with the fact that it plays like you would imagine a Codemasters iteration of a rally racing game to play, and you have the ultimate off-road package. The only downside is that the team seems to have slowly stripped away a lot of the sim aspects of the series, which will be good for some, and not so much for others.
The slick menu navigation makes a return in DiRT 2, but this time it is actually part of the main storyline. You start out as an up-and-coming racer entering the series of tournaments. Along the way you maintain everything from your mobile home (because you take it everywhere, even China) which also acts as your menu system. You can select races from here, access online modes and even check your status and Achievement/mission progress. Everything feels integrated nicely, and it plays out in a first person view to give you the illusion it is really you calling the shots.
The progression of the single player game is fantastic, and the fact that you have over 100 events to complete spanning nine countries helps keeps things interesting. As you progress you will earn experience points that upgrade your driver level, as well as unlock new tracks, liveries and even dashboard items that you can customize your ride with. I found myself constantly opening up new venues and jumping directly into them with anticipation. The open-endedness of the career mode is what keeps it from becoming stale too quickly.
The diversity of the events is what I think I liked most about this sequel. The standard off-road rally races are here, but we also get the surprisingly entertaining gate crasher mode. Here you race around a track knocking down obstacles that in turn add two seconds to your time. This is actually a lot more fun than it sounds. Then you have the various vehicle specific races, domination where having the best time a specific section of the track is key, and everyone’s favorite eliminator, where being in last when time runs out means game over. There are also X-Games events that you can unlock once you reach a certain driver level, and they can earn you big cash. The best thing about DiRT 2 is that there is never a shortage of things to do, nor is there ever a lack of variety in what you can do.
Personalization also seems to be a focal point for Codemasters’ sequel. When you create your identity you can choose to have the game recognize an audio name, which the other drivers use to call you by. It is weird hearing people like Travis Pastrana call me by my real name, but it also adds to the immersion. In addition you can develop relationships with the other drivers and become their friends in the process. This opens up one-on-one challenges with the other drivers, and really keeps you interested in the happenings between races. DiRT 2 feels more immersive than most other driving games, and it goes a long way to keep you engaged in the experience.
One of the things that always hooked me about the DiRT (and its predecessor Colin McRae titles) was the control. Ever since Rally Cross I have been fascinated with the weight and physics of these types of cars, not to mention just how fun it can be to roll them. Managing the difference between speed and weight can be a tense challenge, and DiRT has always walked that fine line of arcade versus simulation. This time around the game seems to focus more on the former as opposed to the latter, which will likely disappoint hardcore rally fans. The handling definitely feels solid, but it is also forgiving thanks to the newly implemented flashback feature from Codemasters’ other racer Grid. Basically this gives you a do-over if you make a mistake. Of course hardcore fans can opt not to use this feature, and six difficulty settings mean everyone should be able to find a happy medium.
One of my biggest complaints about the original DiRT was the half-assed online multi-player. It was a glorified leaderboard against 100 other people. The sequel nixes that altogether in favor of a traditional online mode that supports up to eight players. The menu is integrated into your mobile home just like everything else, and it allows you to compare stats and online accomplishments directly from the menu. The online ran silky smooth during my play time, and I found some events even more enjoyable when playing against friends. This was the one sore spot for the previous game, and even if it is typical, it is much appreciated.
My favorite thing about this sequel though is that there is just so much to do, and it nothing ever feels like it gets too repetitive. The in-game missions such as jumping certain distances or riding on two wheels will keep completists addicted for months, while the sheer amount of events will keep any racing fan glued to the game for months to come. Codemasters has always been known for their racing prowess, and this is by far the finest rally game I have played since the original Rally Cross on the PSOne.
Visually DiRT 2 is absolutely gorgeous. The landscapes are breathtaking and the car models are detailed down to the bouncing hula girl that sits on your dashboard. The subtle details shine through at every turn as rocks dust up as you pull to the starting line in a rally race, to the way the sun blinds you coming over a crest, and all of this at a rock-solid frame rate. The original game is considered one of the best looking racing games ever created, and the sequel just makes it look dated. Sound is equally impressive. The way the music amps up when you hit certain parts of the menu just shows the attention to detail, and the voice work by the professional drivers really drives home the immersion. The soundtrack does feel a bit shallow, but everything else makes up for it in the long run.
DiRT 2 is about as good of a sequel as you can ask for. It took everything that made the original so good and amplified it, while still managing to address all of the criticisms. If you love rally racing, or just racing games in general this is one of the best out there right now. Hardcore simulation fans may be disappointed by the more arcade approach, but if you can get past that you will find plenty to love with Codemasters’ latest. One of the most beautiful, best playing racing games ever created; be sure not to pass it up.