Colin McRae DiRT ReviewCain Dornan
Codemasters has chosen to make more than a few technical tweaks here and there with the next-generation debut of their popular rallying series, Colin McRae. With a larger focus on the game’s subtitle, DiRT, the game expands beyond its traditional straight rallying simulation with the inclusion of various other off-road events, such as CORR buggy and truck racing. Outside of the new mode offerings is Codemaster’s attempt at making the game more accessible to a wider crowd by mixing together simulation with arcade, with the resulting gameplay a pleasant mixture between the two. While DiRT does offer plenty to love, some minor annoyances help to drag down the overall experience, but the game still remains solid enough to make it a worthwhile – and recommended – experience.
For the rallying nut, there’s a satisfying serving of six different racing disciplines to be had: rally, rally raid, rallycross, crossover, hill climb and CORR. For those who aren’t familiar with the world of rallying, that equates to a handful of different game types that help to extend the lifespan of the game, injecting plenty of additional gameplay value as each mode has been executed surprisingly well. The buggies in CORR are light and nimble, offering entirely different handling to your typical rallying vehicle. At the same time, the Pro-4 trucks are naturally heavy and grunty, slower than the many other vehicles you race and require an entirely different approach to each situation. The fact that Codemasters has included multiple racing disciplines is commendable; the way in which Codemasters has managed to present each discipline so well without skimping on details or features is outstanding.
Put simply, each racing discipline is markedly different from one another, and Codemasters has done a splendid job of ensuring that each one plays as it should. Individual vehicles control differently from another, with switching between vehicles yielding noticeable differences between their handling and performance where appropriate. The inclusion of the game’s dynamic vehicle damage, a key feature that has long been in the series, adds further possible variances to how your vehicle controls. Damaging the body of your vehicle will affect the aerodynamics of your vehicle; damage to the suspension or wheels will obviously lead to altered control; and causing some holes to appear in your engine or turbo is clearly going to affect your overall performance. Once again, Codemasters has paid close attention to how damage will affect your vehicle’s performance, resulting in vehicle damage becoming a very important element of the game.
As one would expect, multiple game modes are on hand. Arguably the heart of the game is the Career mode, which sees you racing a variety of vehicles in each of the game’s previously mentioned racing disciplines as you work your way up the tiers. Both points and monetary rewards are handed out upon winning each event, which allow you to progress further and to purchase further vehicles to use during a race. Your cash rewards are dependent on the difficulty level that you choose, urging you to test your skills by selecting higher difficulties.
There’s also a Rally Championship mode on hand, which offers a general progression through various competitions that are scattered throughout the world. You can then move on to Rally World, which essentially allows you to select your race and options as you desire without any strict limitations. Finally, there’s DiRT’s online offering; essentially a mixed bag that lacks in areas, but performs well in what it does. Basically, you can only select from Hillclimb and Rallying game types; there’s no ability to play CORR, crossover or anything of the like. As such, you never play directly with other racers on the same track. Instead, you play on your own, except streaming your current time with other players in the match – up to 100 – essentially allowing you to compare times in real-time. You also have no directly control over the track or vehicle you race, with those competing voting on which track and vehicle combination will be used in the next event. Apart from the occasional slow setup and load times, this works quite well. Unfortunately, we can’t help but feel shafted given that Codemasters has decided to skimp on offering online play for the countless other racing disciplines that are offered in the single player.
One of the key complaints that could be made about DiRT is the floaty feel of many of the game’s vehicles. Rally cars and some CORR vehicles are particularly light and jumpy, flying into the air and traveling over distances with great ease. Not only do vehicles get air surprisingly easily, but they also feel a bit too light, reacting to commands a tad too easily. Perhaps a repercussion of injecting more arcade elements into the gameplay, this floaty feeling doesn’t detract from the overall experience significantly; it just slightly dampens the overall realistic nature of the game.
While it may not be the best looking racer currently out on the Xbox 360, DiRT is an impressive racer to witness in action. Vehicle design is outstanding; attention to detail is clear here, with every panel and part clearly detailed and realistic to its actual design. Damage effects are intricately detailed and as accurate as you’d expect from a Colin McRae game, offering complete vehicle destruction that looks good, resulting in spectacular scraps, bumps and ripping off of parts as you’d expect. Track designs can be a mixed bag, though: some tracks look great, complete with very realistic scenery and terrain detail. Others, though, don’t look so good; whether this is due to the lack of available scenery or the developer’s choice of skimping over select courses, though, remains to be seen.
Sound effects, in particular the usual engine noises and smash effects, sound accurate and realistic, topping off the game’s high-quality presentation.
Where DiRT really succeeds with its presentation is with its subtle attention to detail. The game’s menu design is outstanding, presented with a series of floating boxes that artistically zoom in and out, weaving across your screen as you move through the menus. During load screens, which can be quite lengthy, your greeted with a series of floating statistics that show how you have been performing; the number of races you’ve taken part in, the number of wins and loses, your favourite vehicle, the number of rolls you’ve achieved in a single crash, the distance you’ve traveled, how much game time you’ve spent and so on. This is one of the more interesting ways that we’ve seen a loading screen presented, helping to alleviate any annoyances associated with waiting as you’re presented with a constant stream of interesting performance stats.
With the sever lack of rally titles on the Xbox 360 to date, there’s little other choice for rallying fans at this time. Thankfully, one of your only choices is a good one, as Colin McRae: DiRT is an impressive title that cleverly combines simulation and arcade racing together to provide a game that is both easy to pick-up-and play, yet difficult to completely master. The inclusion of various racing disciplines is a welcomed addition and a huge plus for the game, offering plenty of extra content to be had and contributing to the game’s overall lifespan extensively. Apart from a slightly lackluster online offering and the floaty feeling of some vehicles, DiRT could quite possibly be one of the best rallying titles to hit consoles for quite some time.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.