Colin McRae DiRT

The Colin McRae games have always been about pure rallying – the windy, dusty sand-covered roads of America, the twisting mountain passes of France and the rainy country tarmac of the UK. For the first new-gen game, Codemasters have added the DiRT moniker to the end and introduced multiple-vehicle races across a whole spread of disciplines, most of which are hugely popular in the States. We also get introductions to, well, everything, from McRae’s new best friend Travis, who’s also American. Lots of the stages are set across the pond, too. Can you see where this is going?

Whilst it’s not quite a TOCA Race Driver bastardisation of racing, it’s certainly trying to cover a few more bases than next week’s Sega Rally, for example, and thankfully the core experience hasn’t been distilled too much – you still get a decent smattering of rally tracks, but these are now joined with (rather than replaced by) hill climbs, pure off-road racing, Rallycross events (including our favourite course from RallySport Challenge on the Xbox) and crazy dune buggy events, although these are notably the worst in terms of enjoyment.

The single player career is a pyramid-based affair, with higher levels requiring points to be gained from the lower ranks, but you’re generally free to pick and choose your favourite events as the game never requires you to do too much of one race type if you’d rather specialise: it’s a great idea, and coupled with the incredible presentation it’s a pleasure to just scroll around, never mind actually use. Each menu floats in three-dimensional space, and are all connected, and as you scroll around and enter each sub-menu the whole thing moves slickly and progressively, and this even extends to the load screens, where you’ll be shown statistics like total mileage, favourite cars etc.

Other modes include smaller championships dedicated to your favourite genres, single races and of course, time trials. All these modes include automatic online rankings, and it’s great fun trying to beat fellow time trialers as you continuously try to shave off another split second on each lap. Courses are tied to a certain class of car, too, money to unlock such cars is won during the main career mode, which gives a nice overlap of longevity, despite most of the actual online races being just glorified time trials (you don’t actually see the other vehicles on the rally courses).

Once in game the visuals really stand out – gone are the nuclear levels of bloom present in the 360 version, and thanks to a few chopped trees and the odd signpost being removed the PS3 version runs at a far smoother framerate, which is 99% locked at 30fps, although it takes a bit of a knock when other vehicles are present. Various cameras are available, but the helmet cam is the preferred choice for the hardcore players, with every knock and g-force simulated to great effect. Conversely, the external cameras appear to show the vehicles turning on a central axis, despite Codemasters claiming this is no longer the case. The PS3 version also supports the latest wheels (and various PS2 ones, too) and although there’s no option for clutch or gated gears the true force feedback of the Logitech models adds a real sense of connection that the shock-less Sixaxis is sadly missing.

So, the Neon-powered rally sim finally gets its airing on its original platform (reportedly with a little bit of help from Sony) to become the definitive version despite its lengthy delay: DiRT is a great game with masses of options and modes, with stunning presentation, sharp sound effects and mostly impressive graphics throughout. For petrolheads it’s a must-have.

Our thoughts go out to friends and family of Colin McRae, who is feared dead this weekend after a helicopter crash.