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Hands On Playtest: Colin McRae DiRT 2

Knuckle down, rev up, and let's hit the road...

Codemasters, you have annoyed me. During a time of financial hardship, unwillingness from consumers to spend and a media that is broadcasting doom and gloom about any cash related topic, you felt the need to go and make things worse. Why would you do that? There were more than enough games that were going be exchanged at my local games outlet – by which I mean online of course – for a handful of notes this coming ‘fall’. Nevertheless, you decided that just one more couldn’t hurt. Now though, a choice has to be made; adding another title to my already substantial purchase list or wanting to eat for a fortnight. Tough choice; or at least it would have if I hadn’t begun planning for this month’s food rationing.

Today marked a historic day in my TSA journey, as I did exactly that. My first venture into the world of press events led me to Soho where I was greeted by the wonderful people of Codemasters, who were there to show off the first DiRT sequel since the tragic death of Colin McRae back in September 2007. Personally, arcade racers are my forte as well as my preference, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from DiRT 2; especially as a rally game hasn’t been present in my console since the original PlayStation with Colin McRae Rally – the original. Why though I’m not entirely sure, especially as the Colin McRae series has always been compared to more arcade style racers in spite of its realistic racing. Not to mention my strange passion for the Rally – I don’t know any racers, any tracks, but I love watching the sport.

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One thing that Codemasters wanted to nail with DiRT 2 was the feeling of a festival atmosphere – “imagine X-Games meets Glastonbury” – and I’m struggling to think of a game that has done it better. Beginning in ‘Your RV’, your home away from home, the festive feel is simply fantastic. Remarkably, this is the menu screen, where inside Your RV you can check out the main single player events using the DiRT Tour map, all of which are events you’ve been invited to (which are essentially unlocked). My Stuff, Multiplayer and Extras are also present in your fully modelled RV, while Start Race, My Rides, News and Options are located outside. With a fully licensed soundtrack, mixed by Kerrang! Radio DJ Kristian Stephenson, the music is used to great effect. Supporting true 3D sound using the pioneering 3D7, the change in volume, treble and bass depending on your location in the menu helps add to the brilliant immersion. As for the actual tracks, they are gorgeous. With fantastic draw distance, beautiful textures and attention to detail, they really help make this game stunning. At points during single player races, using the Replay function was a blessing, giving the chance just to admire the sun setting over the distant mountains.

The racing disciplines that are included are; Rally – a staggered start, fast-paced race where drivers will need all their skill to make it through, Trailblazer – an open, point-to-point, staggered start, race all about speed, Raid – multi-car, split route point-to-point battles, Landrush – races around windy dirt circuits and Rallycross – tight, level, circuit tracks. Throughout the Tour you will travel various stunning locales, including Croatia, Malaysia, China and London; you will also gain experience, improve your rep, get famous, hone your skills and earn cash – which can be used to customise your vehicles liveries and dashboards. Already you can start to see the variety that DiRT 2 brings to the table; from your traditional Rally’s across real world tracks, to created tracks based on real world locales, such as a Rallycross at Battersea Power Station.

How does it drive though? Beautiful graphics and an immersive visual style are great assets, but without a solid foundation of quality gameplay, what’s the point? From the demo it’s impossible to tell; is DiRT 2 a well decorated yet rickety old shed, or a gloriously, designed penthouse? Without playing, there is no way of knowing. Luckily, with some hands-on time with both the single and multiplayer portions of the game, I can safely say, “Welcome to the penthouse”. Overall it was the gameplay that really stood out, despite the brilliance of the art style. The controls are tight and responsive, yet certainly will take some time to master, but it was always incredibly enjoyable. Drifting round a tight corner with inches to spare either side provides great satisfaction, whilst always letting you feel in control.

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As with any realistic racer, you’re bound to have some bad days; times where you crash out on the last corner, only to have first, second and third swiped from beneath your nose. DiRT 2 uses an enhanced version of GRID’s EGO engine means, that unsurprisingly, the Flashback system makes a welcome return. This means that when you crash into a tree or curse your luck for catching that ramp slightly wrong as you plummet down the mountainside, simply Flashback and undo your mistake. Be careful though, as you only have a limited number for each race, which is a shame; not from a gameplay point of view, but a visual one. The Flashback system, as with any section of the game, just oozes a fantastic class and style that makes it a pleasure to play. Obviously, the inclusion of this racing saviour means full body damage is present in DiRT 2, with critical damage having a drastic effect on your ability to race. Aside from the single player experience, DiRT 2 boasts a fully fledged multiplayer system, which during the playtest was immense fun.

DiRT 2 went from the peripheral of my gaming vision, to right in the middle of my high beams. As I sit here writing this preview, my mind reminisces about the taster that was provided, and one that has guaranteed a sale come September 11th. Now the only real choice is for which system.

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