DIRT: Colin McRae Off-Road Hands-On

We got down and dirty with the new Colin McRae rally game and didn't wash until we brought you the first hands-on preview.

As many British pop stars will attest, it's not easy to break America. Alongside the likes of Oasis and The Spice Girls should be Colin McRae, whose rally games have never really interested the biggest games market in the world, which perhaps explains why, in the US, Codemasters' latest rally game (DIRT: Colin McRae Off-Road for those in Europe) doesn't feature his name at all. DIRT, as we'll be referring to it to prevent any confusion, is making a conscious effort to court people outside the core rally fan demographic by including other off-road events such as buggy racing. We sat down with an advanced build of the Xbox 360 version of the game on a recent visit to Codemasters to see if this new direction looks likely to pay off.

First off, the basics: DIRT is still a rally game at heart, and unlike Sega Rally, its preference is for simulation rather than arcade-style thrills. The majority of races are held against the clock with no other on-track opposition, although there are hill climbs, head-to-head races, and competitive races as well. Your chosen difficulty level has an impact on the amount of time you have to finish each race, as well as the level of damage that your car will take. No matter how many crashes you subject your car to on the rookie level, your vehicle will always be able to finish the race. The main modes of play are the career and championship modes, but there will be a multiplayer mode and a host of unlockable features to hold your interest as well.

DIRT includes new off-road sports such as buggy racing, and you can slow down replays to highlight the action.

Before we get into the game itself, though, we simply have to tell you about the interface. Yes, we know it's unusual to mention a game's menu system in a preview, but DIRT's interface is looking so good that it deserves special attention. It's clean, sophisticated, and easy to use. A graphics student would probably tell you it adheres to a huge list of fancy design rules, but the main thing is that it seems to work well.

As you start the game, you're presented with a simple white expanse, and the main menu buttons float tantalisingly at the front. Options are presented clearly, while American pro race champion Travis Pastrana explains each of them concisely. If your first inclination is to dip into the career mode, the camera flies through the space to a pyramid-shaped events list. This organisation means that there are more races at the easy level and fewer at the harder difficulty. Once you've chosen your event, information on the race type and vehicles can be flicked through like a virtual Rolodex, allowing you to see if you have the money and experience to enter. Finally, in a slightly pointless but characteristically classy touch of design, you can use the right analogue stick to pivot the camera around the 3D menu system as it adapts with all the depth-of-field visual effects we've come to expect these days.

If the menu was a hint at the attention to detail that Codemasters has gone to, then thankfully it's also been realised in-game. While the handling on the version we played still needed some fine-tuning, and the frame rate frequently stuttered, DIRT seems set to deliver a truly next-generation experience. After taking a few highly enjoyable spins around the courses, we were shown a demonstration of the damage models that affect both car and terrain. After intentionally giving the car a good beating, one of the designers entered the debug mode to show off the inside of the car. When it's at a standstill, you can see the engine making subtle vibrations within the bonnet, and when it's at speed, you can see the drive shafts spinning the highly detailed wheels. Even if you have no idea how cars work, it's a safe bet that you could figure it out just looking at the modelling work that Codemasters has put into this game.

The modelling of trackside details is just as spectacular. Instead of the static models used in previous games, barriers now bend and buckle just as much as the cars themselves. Likewise, tyre walls now collapse realistically to reveal individually modelled tyres, while flimsy tape barriers tear if you career through them. Perhaps the nicest touch, and one we wouldn't even have noticed unless told about it, is that the broken tape will gently flicker in the wind, which doesn't really matter if you're spending most of the race at over 80mph, but you certainly have to admire the attention to detail.

The focus of DIRT is still very much on rallying, and Codemasters went on record to say that you could complete the career mode with this style of racing alone. However, there are still plenty of options in the other categories, and you could probably get through 70 percent of the career mode by doing the hill climbs instead. The main point of the career mode is to gather money, which will consequently allow you to buy the cars needed to enter the different races. The other incentive is that you'll be competing against Colin and Travis towards the end of your career in the game's most challenging events. Aside from the career mode there are more-traditional championships, which are separated into European and international categories. These will offer a progression of racing conditions. For instance, the morning legs are often subject to fog, while the last legs take place later and need to be floodlit. The final mode is the rally world, where you can create your own events from around the globe.

The bonnet cam is one of six different views available and gives a good indication as to the state of your car.

DIRT's multiplayer element is one of the last features to still be undergoing extensive checking, and it hasn't been tested at its full 100-player level at this stage. While 100-player races sound spectacular, they come with rather one large caveat--players are not all on the same track simultaneously. The system is set up so that players can compete on their own on the same track, while live time and position updates are fed to competitors onscreen. This means that there won't be any bumper-to-bumper action, but you will be able to see exactly how many places each crash costs you.

As you'd expect, some tweaks to the lobby system had to be made to accommodate this new style of play. The servers will work on a rolling basis, filling up to 100 players before a new game is made available. Then, a random selection of track and game modes will be made available for players to vote on, until those with the most votes go through to be played. The menu system gives live updates via a ticker tape so you can see world-record-breaking times as they happen.

It all sounds rather novel, but it certainly has the potential to split opinion. Some people may be excited about the prospect of so many players, but others will be disappointed at the lack of on-track competition or even ghost cars. On the day we saw the game, a 60-player test was scheduled across PartnerNet, Microsoft's private version of Xbox Live. Codemasters has invited GameSpot to participate in a 100-player beta test, so we should be able to bring you our impressions in due course.

DIRT will have a tough job matching up to the previous entries in the series, but from what we've seen, Codemasters seems more than up to the challenge. The new race modes and vehicles make a welcome diversion from straight rallying while also staying true to the series' rally roots. The game also has plenty of new ideas to bring to multiplayer, and while this mode may well split fans down the middle, we can't wait to test our skills against so many people. DIRT is set for release in June on the Xbox 360 and PC, with the PlayStation 3 version to follow a few months afterwards.

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97 comments
darthdominion
darthdominion

I must-have on my list. I played the demo and absolutely enjoyed it, bro. It was short and the menu system is the best ever compared to Gran Turismo. Which I like best by the way. But all in all, DiRT is truly the best off-road rally racer out there right now.

rodrigue_farah
rodrigue_farah

Hi,when I start dirt the second time after saving a profile I get autoload failed save data corrupt can anyone give me an answer?E-mail adress: thegeniusnumber1@hotmail.com

HVPinc
HVPinc

The demo was really fun. What more can I say other than this is a good comeback against motor storm. Normal online would have been fun but if the level's are like teh one in the demo it wouldn't have really worked anyway. I'm not a race fan but even i'll rent this one.

Silentbob343
Silentbob343

To all the people saying this is better than motorstorm: A. They offer different types of racing. Sim v Arcade B. Take a trip over to gametrailers.com and watch the HD trailers. It looks good, but not better than motorstorm. Notice in the dakar vid that the dirt only comes off the rear tires in the behind-the-car view, when the camera pulls back the dirt stops flying.

stuarthanley
stuarthanley

No snow rally. No ice rally. No multiplayer. Did you want to take a backward step Codemasters?

Areola54
Areola54

frame rates are beyond poor

dukerav
dukerav

@ mooseman721: "Oh thanks, i'll run out and get one. What games should I buy....oh wait, there arn't any!" By that statement, I hope you refer to the PS3's current lineup.

DeanCorleone
DeanCorleone

I can't wait to roll my rally car is all I have to say...

wolfmann
wolfmann

this is the one I`ve been drewelin about fore a looong time..

taticjc
taticjc

People need to understand this is Rally Racing, they never really race side by side. Yes I know they can catch up to one another, but people need to stop crying. Rally racing is all timed racing,its how it is, if you dont like then dont buy. I have enjoyed all the CM's from the old xbox and I know this will be great too. You never know what can be updated as well.

SlayerX13
SlayerX13

Sega Rally - Arcade Style Multiplayer PVP Gameplay DIRT - Rally Racing Sim Multiplayer PtVPt* Pick one! *Pt: Player time

Nitro720
Nitro720

Sounds great. Once I get a 360 and Live, I want to challenge MaxConfience3.

lionel_k
lionel_k

You are right MaxConfidence3!

MaxConfidence3
MaxConfidence3

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

daniel52587
daniel52587

The multiplayer idea is straight up rally style. Racing against your opponents track time, not the opponent itself. I guess it is cool, there would be no room for simultaneous racing because rally courses are so narrow. I cant wait for it!

NosBigblock
NosBigblock

No real multiplay!! Dont know if I will get this now or not. I might wait tll it go,s down to 29.99. Come on ! Everyone wants real multiplay,Codemasters messed this game up big time.

mooseman721
mooseman721

bihboy69 "DIRT is set for release in June on the Xbox 360 and PC, with the PlayStation 3 version to follow a few months afterwards." I love how every multi-platform game between 360 and PS3 first lands on 360 then falls flat on PS3 months later. thats because they have to edit the online servers to better ones. the online servers ps3 uses are much better. if a person has slow internet on an xbox game, everybdy in that game will lag. if someone has slow internet in a ps3 game, only that person will lag. the games are delayed for the better. meaning games like SC-DA, DiRT and RBSVegas will have better online experiences than the xbox version. plus if you didnt already know, its free. i love how every 360 fanboy thinks they have better online, they are so naive. Oh thanks, i'll run out and get one. What games should I buy....oh wait, there arn't any!

sherif77
sherif77

Is this guy under me for real??? doesn't he know about sony's problems online??? He is talking about Xbox and fan boys and monkey stuff like that when he himself is the stupidest fan boy ever to sony?? Come on man the games fall a few month back to land on the PS3 just like they used to fall a few month back to land on the Old Xbox and everybody used to make fun of that old system. No one ever said that they are making the games better online for the old Xbox. U need to get ur facts straight and stop being a fan boy to sony urself before pointing the finger at others. And as a PS2 owner I know sony will never match Microsoft online. They just wont get used to it they are not computer and servers makers. But I guess if that makes u feel better about ur PS3 than so be it. What a NUT job.

bihboy69
bihboy69

"DIRT is set for release in June on the Xbox 360 and PC, with the PlayStation 3 version to follow a few months afterwards." I love how every multi-platform game between 360 and PS3 first lands on 360 then falls flat on PS3 months later. thats because they have to edit the online servers to better ones. the online servers ps3 uses are much better. if a person has slow internet on an xbox game, everybdy in that game will lag. if someone has slow internet in a ps3 game, only that person will lag. the games are delayed for the better. meaning games like SC-DA, DiRT and RBSVegas will have better online experiences than the xbox version. plus if you didnt already know, its free. i love how every 360 fanboy thinks they have better online, they are so naive.

Jermwarfare
Jermwarfare

no REAL multiplayer!!?? i thought this was going to be my next game...but looks like Forza instead. i just hope when i go read some more about it(Forza) here in a minute i dont find out some more bs like this.

kynan1
kynan1

Tell me these clowns didn't implement a 6 player race at least on this...with dune buggies and trucks? If the only multiplayer is the 100 person "timed" race, it will be whack. What a waste of what could have been an awesome game. Looks great though. Keyword for nextgen: M U L T I P L A Y E R This doesn't mean timed racing.

adompe
adompe

"DIRT is set for release in June on the Xbox 360 and PC, with the PlayStation 3 version to follow a few months afterwards." I love how every multi-platform game between 360 and PS3 first lands on 360 then falls flat on PS3 months later.

revelations
revelations

I think it sounds great. Im really excited to finally have a new rally game.

mall69
mall69

rpgplayer10110 .......... yeah my fault for complaining, guess i forgot the rules here at Gamespot that all messages are suppose to be positive and suck up to the developers no matter what, or else suffer the wrath of tools like yourself and stuarthathenaly for (gasp) saying a bad thing about a game you two seem to have some sort of weird emotional attachment to. "oh my god, he talked about our game.... let's get him" .... I don't give a wrinkled, steamy turd about the rules of REAL LIFE rally racing, if you're you're going to make a video game about it and include online play, don't come at it half-#$%@, do it right. anyway, why don't you wake up, i'm not trashing the game for what it is, i'm sure it'll be a blast, i'm simply saying it would have been more fun being able to actually SEE the guy you just left behind. While you're on mommy break from running your matchbox cars around the kitchen floor, think about that.

dcoy8
dcoy8

if its got that in car pgr3 view for the rally cars, im getting it, and it completely owns motorstorm on ps3...if it doesnt then...idn...

jackle2071
jackle2071

dear god i miss rallisport challenge 2! i know that was more arcade but still a awesome game!

petrolhead
petrolhead

awsome ive had a couple o colin mcray rally games in the past which has been good but this is gonna be i think the first of road rally game for xbox 360

jackle2071
jackle2071

i can't wait for a new rally game! this one looks pretty cool. You know, it kind of suck being rally fan in america!

bihboy69
bihboy69

if only this was a proper rally game. this seems like a copy of motorstorm. at the moment atleast. its looking good btw. i thik ill wait for the FIA WRC game instead though. and stuarthanley is correct, rally is about beating times, not head to head. and since when arent simulation games fun? Gran Turismo, which was a great driving game with awesome graphics (GT HD :P) last time i checked. that doesnt mean non-simulation driving games arent fun. i love drifting in NFS:Carbon by tapping the handbrake and the rest is easy. both kinds of games are fun. i cant wait for the new need-for-speed, hopefully this one will have car models similar (hopefully better) to GTHD (coz those are awesome)

BlueShine
BlueShine

These Colin McRae games always look awesome.

rpgplayer10110
rpgplayer10110

mall69 (stuarthanley ......... it's a video game dude, and what's more, it's a racing video game, so it's suppose to be fun. last time i checked games aren't life simulations, they're games, not reality. so leaving something like real head to head competition against other human players out of the equation by offering a much weaker subsitute, that being nothing more than a living, breathing leaderboard, definately takes away from the GAME. If you like racing by yourself, fine, knock yourself out, but i purchased xbox live for one reason and that's to play against other people. furthermore, if you felt i had nothing to say, why'd you bother responding. I'm aware that rally racing is about beating other racers times, but i'm not really racing am i.... i'm playing a game. so while i complain about codemasters leaving out a game type that's as important to this generation of systems as 3-D graphics were to their respective systems a few years back, you go ahead and have fun playing with yourself.) this is a rally game plain and simple. so in order for it to be considered that it has leaderboards for times just like actual rally racing. its a game and not real life, big deal, just because its a game doesnt mean it has to form to your perspective. all racing games are not alike. you sayin this should have head to head racing but still be rally racing is like saying a drag racing game should have turns and 5 mile long courses. so if you bought xbox live to play head to head racing games then go play them, don't complain here about one game because your opinion won't change anything.

rpgplayer10110
rpgplayer10110

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

mall69
mall69

stuarthanley ......... it's a video game dude, and what's more, it's a racing video game, so it's suppose to be fun. last time i checked games aren't life simulations, they're games, not reality. so leaving something like real head to head competition against other human players out of the equation by offering a much weaker subsitute, that being nothing more than a living, breathing leaderboard, definately takes away from the GAME. If you like racing by yourself, fine, knock yourself out, but i purchased xbox live for one reason and that's to play against other people. furthermore, if you felt i had nothing to say, why'd you bother responding. I'm aware that rally racing is about beating other racers times, but i'm not really racing am i.... i'm playing a game. so while i complain about codemasters leaving out a game type that's as important to this generation of systems as 3-D graphics were to their respective systems a few years back, you go ahead and have fun playing with yourself.

Chef_Bretz
Chef_Bretz

I still miss Rally Sport Challenge 2 - that game owned. The Colin McRae series could never quite beat it. Maybe this one will be the killer, lets hope hey!

Riverwolf007
Riverwolf007

Great, once again this series chose realism over fun. They could have at least added some rally cross tracks for the people that wanted the chance to go head to head on multiplayer. It's kind of a shame that Rallisport Challenge 2 is STILL the best console rally game out. The pre-order sheet I saw this game on says Dirt is $39.99 so if that is correct then at least the price is right.

stuarthanley
stuarthanley

mall69 awesome idea codemasters......you've got MS and Sony sinking truckloads of cash into their online networks and you come up with the brilliant idea of racing ALL BY YOURSELF. this game just careened off track, over the cliff and into a giant canyon where it exploded in a brilliant flash of lost possibilities. really sucks when an article turns a game from an absolute, no-brainer, drooling at the wallet must buy....into a 'well, maybe i'll get around to renting it sometime'. What a complete and total disappointment when considered against the backdrop of nexgen multiplayer advantages. you better hire someone like a bodybuilder to go pick up the massive ball you just dropped!!! Don't even post if you've got nothing to say! RALLYING is ALL about beating others times and not about bumper to bumper action. If thats what you want, then wait for FORZA 2. Otherwise, trying knowing what you are talking about before putting "pen to paper"

rodrigo_br
rodrigo_br

If i can break thru any barrier, does that mean that i can throw myself from one of those huge cliffs we saw on other colin macrae games???

bduddy_
bduddy_

Finally- no more indestructable tape barriers! ;)

d_eM_s
d_eM_s

This game looks graphically AMAZING!

SFMrAnderson
SFMrAnderson

I wonder if it has In-car dashview like past Colin McRae games...I sure hope so. If they have paid as much attention to detail like the article describes it will. That is one of the best things I loved about the Colin McRae series--whipping through trails inside the cockpit of a fast rally car. Bring us a next generation experience.

Spybreak
Spybreak

Yea I can't wait to get this game!

Bgrngod
Bgrngod

So.....freakin.....stoked. WTB Rallisport Challenge 3

sancezz
sancezz

Those graphics are crazy.