Dirt 2 Hands-On Impressions

We race, drift, and crash our way through four events from Codemasters' upcoming rally game.

With E3 2009 looming on the horizon, Codemasters recently gave us an updated look at Dirt 2, the upcoming rally racer carrying on the legacy of the Colin McRae series. It was our first time seeing the game since it was unveiled at a press event this past February, when the English publisher discussed some of the engine enhancements and a new focus on what it is calling an "action sports lifestyle." With this most recent look, though, we've now had the opportunity to go hands-on with the game to see how those changes are falling into place.

The four events we played provided a good mix of new and old. We'll go ahead and dive headfirst into the new stuff. As part of that action sports vibe Codemasters is looking to achieve with Dirt 2, rally cross events (multilap races on closed-off courses) have been spruced up with a more vibrant atmosphere. We raced in a pair of rally cross events in Tokyo's Shibuya district, as well as London's Battersea Power Station, and they definitely had a lively feel to them. The engine supports audiences of 100,000 fans, meaning people are packed like sardines onto the sides of every turn and straightaway. They'll react to how well you're driving, throwing out dramatic "oohs" and "ahhs" any time you trade paint with another driver or nudge a wall. That, combined with the ambient music of the event, makes for a pretty festive atmosphere.

But more importantly, changes have been made to the driving engine. Most striking is how the visuals have been given a noticeable upgrade to such things as lighting effects and the quality of vehicle models--all while maintaining a solid, steady frame rate. Furthermore, there's a wide variety of surfaces you'll be driving on, and they all have a distinct feel when handling your car. The big new surface comes in the form of puddles of water. Dirt had rain effects, but no giant puddles to blast through at full speed. In Dirt 2, these pesky bodies of water often collect right at the ideal line through a corner, so there's a big risk-reward decision to face because they'll dramatically slow you down (and drench your windshield if you're using the cockpit view). There's a particularly nasty pool of water on the Shibuya track that comes right before a huge turn, which leads to a jump that takes you back over the pool. If you fail to launch over that jump with enough speed, you'll tumble back into the pool--it's a pretty fun little sequence.

Dirt 2 will have a more traditional look and feel when you get outside of rally cross events and into some point-to-point races. One race we tried was a standard rally in the Croatian countryside. It's a race against the clock through a narrow series of switchback turns overlooking a dramatic cliff, which you can very easily tumble from if you're not paying attention. Although your overall finish time determines your success here, there will be other racers on the track--all with staggered start times. That means you could easily be passed up by another driver if you do poorly, which happened to us on our first run through the event. It was embarrassing to say the least.

The other event we tried was a rally raid in the California Baja against a collection of off-road trucks. Going from the Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Evo used in the other events to this big, powerful off-roader was every bit the stark change you’d expect, but the track was quite a departure from the other ones as well. Toward the beginning of the stage, there were a few risky shortcuts available to take, and at the latter end was a stretch that went along a gorgeous coastal cliff overlooking some rather nice vistas. We’ll go ahead and admit that we were distracted by the visuals to the point of letting our truck veer off the ledge.

Indeed, Dirt 2 is already very pleasing to the eyes. The particle effects of the various bits of mud and dirt that get kicked up as you careen around the tracks have an authentic look, while the backdrops you’re racing in look equally realistic (right down to the hazy Shibuya air and the Thames peeking out in the background in the Battersea track). Audio is equally impressive, with engine sounds growing more sickly and worrisome as you take increasing amounts of damage.

Battersea Power Station is one of the new locales.

With the handful of events we played, Dirt 2 has reaffirmed its status as a worthy sequel. What’s left to see is how much the new dedication to an action sports lifestyle will add to the overall experience. Will it pull off the difficult task of drawing new fans while keeping racing purists content? We should have a better idea of that when we get to see the Career mode, which is said to be a more story-driven experience where you take an RV on tour to various exotic events. So keep an eye out for more on Dirt 2 leading up to its September release.

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63 comments
paul_2009
paul_2009

Dirt 1 was pants unstable and car handling is not realistic at all rubbish. 2005 game plays far better. dont care about flash graphics just realistic driving and car setups. driving games should be about realism. Race07 rules

Store24
Store24

Its going to have a lot of fake tracks... Like a dirt track running trough NYC, Vegas, etc. Kind of cheesy....

lukie_gamer
lukie_gamer

I hope they have the full course at Crandon,WI this time and not the short track. Where the hell was the Argonne loop????

Store24
Store24

P.S. I just looked through all the screens and from what I am seeing there is still no rain, snow, weather. This is really disappointing in 2009!! Even Tiger Woods 10 has live weather for gods sake! There is just no excuse for them not to be able to add weather effect to this game this late in the video game evolution. As good as the graphics look I have to say lake of weather kind of kills all that. Codemasters already proved they can do over the top sunlight and shadow effects (to the point were its a little annoying because a lot of the time you cant see where the hell you are going!) And as far as the video goes, have you noticed how the cut-scene at the begging of DiRT1 looks better than any part of the real game? I think its one of the only games where the cut scene looks better not worse than the real game. So dont believe the hype on these videos. I'm sure the game will look very good just like DiRT and GRID do, but not as good as the videos.

Store24
Store24

I am playing DiRT 1 right now. I know its an older game now but I am just hooked. I have not played a game this much day in and out since GTA4. That said it still is not perfect. The best rally racing game of all time is still RalliSport Challenge 2. DiRT finally gets close to being as good as RSC2 after years and years of terrible Colin McRae (RIP) games. For a long time I would think of Codemasters as a total joke (or one hit wonders with the fantastic Operation Flashpoint!) because of the Colin McRae series and how bad and behind it was compared to RSC2. DiRT is very good but has almost no online and no weather!! Sure you get some rainy tracks but their is now falling rain. And there is no snow!! Lets hope all of that is fixed in DiRT 2! Also the cars in DiRT are too bouncy and floaty, but I still really love the game. I cant wait for DiRT 2, Im still highly critical of Coademasters (I think GRID is a total POS) but DiRT was finally good after years and years of really bad Colin McRae games. Lets hope it delivers!!

GenVidTh
GenVidTh

Awesome graphic.. hope the steering control works well.. because for me, steering is the most important part, in racing genre.. i love the predecessor, and i think i will love this one too :)

BECKS23LA
BECKS23LA

+1 neonknight47 I loved the first too, September 8 still far away, i can't wait god damn it

ChemiKaze
ChemiKaze

The Baja can be a nice addition... I wish there were more elements of the WRC, if not IRC.. Rallycross can be nice... but I would like if there were more real-life tracks... Dirt 1's tracks were very limited to say the least

dont_know_2
dont_know_2

i dont know what to get my birthday is september and there is a lot of good games coming out i can only get 3 or 4

SSBFan12
SSBFan12

Dirt 2 is going to be really awesome just like the first one.

evildead7
evildead7

@famguyfan2685 WTF kind of story do you need? It's a sports/driving title. Please for the love of gaming quit adding stories to games that don't need it. Skate and Skate 2 would be great games if they didn't have the lame stories attached to them. All those two titles needed were Skating and Skating competitions, instead you get some lame story with horrible poser dialogue that unfornately ruined an otherwise great game.

famguyfan2685
famguyfan2685

This is going to be awesome! I just hope that it has a bit more of a story behind it than the previous game's complete lack of story, haha. I mean, the story isn't completely necessary, but I feel like it would still add to the realism and playability of the game ..

philp37
philp37

"changes have been made to the driving engine" Please Codemasters be careful here. Don't make the same mistakes that were made in GRID by trying to make the driving feel too much of a realistic simulation and taking away from the raceability that DIRT 1 had in spades. The first DIRT was the best racing game ever created. Go for the improved graphics, new hazards, better online racing, increased tracks, but too much tweaking can be dangerous when you already have the best driving game out there. Please don't let it become another GRID. I had such high hopes for that game when I heard of it's relationship to DIRT. But was let down emensely.

codename-60091
codename-60091

September release guys!! get this instead of stupid need for speed!!!

Kris024
Kris024

This could be one of the best rally games ever!

gmax
gmax

Mmm... Dirt racing.

K4ss3r
K4ss3r

I smell PS3 Fanboy/Troll.

ali-009
ali-009

i hate the song,and my ears bleed when i open this video,and i hate grid,forza and dirt,but i like gran turismo a little bit,and i don't call this an off road racing,if you want off raod racing,go see some games like motor storm and fuel,and the graphics in this game looks awsome,this may save the game from becoming very bad,but importantly (remove this crazy song).

cristhiansj_1
cristhiansj_1

This is awesome, i love the first game and it will be great!

SniperJackson
SniperJackson

I am still playing dirt 1 too. It is too long and the graphics are still GREAT! Colin Mcrae is always my favourite racegame...

drangel_jam
drangel_jam

can't wait, but it will be a tough decision. I'm definitely getting FM3, but after that I will only be able to buy one more racing game, the other will be rented if I'll have time to play them.

ColdfireTrilogy
ColdfireTrilogy

never heard someone say a racing game was too long ... lol thats a new one :) least it wasnt too short right? BTW codemasters how about that now infamous 1.3 update to GRID ... oh wait you drop support after 4 months....

roshansequeira
roshansequeira

Im still finishing Dirt 1 lol.. its too long. And ill still purchase Dirt 2

earthnuggets
earthnuggets

Been wondering what Codemasters has been up to. Hope they put out a GRID 2 as well.

shinian
shinian

Great news. We didn't have a offroad racing game in a while.

peurra
peurra

If the drive will be like WRC Evolved the going to be great, but like dirt 1 is bad driving type. Lately they make beautiful games with bad Handling or driving or bad cameras.

jakeboudville
jakeboudville

played the first one and kinda like it, might give this one a shot

Jieman1
Jieman1

Nice game cover:D However, Codies said this game would be a tribute to Colin, but i'm afraid it won't be anything like that, except from the fact that Colin got more interested in something different; the X-Games. Now, the inclusion of the X-Games doesn't make this a tribute imo. Still waiting for the demo to come out. Will keep an eye on this, but i think i'll stick to the good 'ol WRC games and RBR modding cause that's what i'm looking for, not unofficial rallying and buggy racing.. Have to admit that i played the hell outta DiRT though, it was a very fun game:)

GuybrushAz
GuybrushAz

I hope they fixed the loooooooooooooooooooooooooooong loading screens. I think DiRT 2 and Forza 3 will be the top racers for 09 and 10. So long GT5.

PSNsam8
PSNsam8

looks like a fun racer not to mention tweaked graphics always are a nice thing to see

ISuperGamerI
ISuperGamerI

It looks like a nice name, I only played the demo of the first game. And it's cool that they have trucks now.

notquitesure
notquitesure

loved dirt.... will no doubt love dirt2!!!! but i miss the roads... bring on grid2 :)

jazzfan4
jazzfan4

I'm getting this game the day it comes out!!!

hoppie
hoppie

To be honest, the change i'm most happy about is that it is more story driven, the first dirt played great, looked gorgeous but lacked that quality that made me want to finish it. After a while i just thought, what's the point? I'm not gonna get anything from completing anything or at a harder difficulty level and the differences in the courses didn't make me continue. Dirt was the first Colin Mcrae i tried and i'll definitely be getting this one, keeping me interested by giving me some kind of link to the dirt world is a great idea i can't wait!

theboymiles91
theboymiles91

Nice. Seems like they are focussing on the fun side of things. If they get a fair number of official tracks alongside all these upside down on the moon events, the audience should grow a bit. I guess the other thing for racing games to do now is to have a few different main campaign modes. One where you unlock stuff classically in a grid maybe with some cutscenes and story, one where you can modify your car a bit as you progress, one where you make your own story and start off with a load of money to try and do well in a season with whatever vehicle type you buy, managing your investments, car modifications, sponsors and what leagues and tournaments you enter until you run out of days in the calendar. (Repairs could take a day as an incentive not to ruin your car). Or just be the driver and let your team make the big decisions, leaving you with only a little persuasive force.

zool152004
zool152004

If they take the online set-up from GRiD with all events from career playable online, this could be the best driving game of the year.