An audio-visual experience that takes racing back down to earth. Oustanding presentation in detail, mode

User Rating: 8.5 | DiRT PC
When looking at this title, it's hard not to reflect on the tragic news of Colin McRae and his son's death in a helicopter accident. Well-known in the world of rallying and also to the gaming community for the game franchise, the deaths were shocking and untimely. Let this part of the cyber-space be devoted in memory of the lives that were lost.

Colin McRae: DiRT, is a cross-platform rally game, available on the PS3, Xbox 360 and the PC. The PC version, obviously, has the benefit of greater resolutions if you have a capable machine. While i've heard of problems in running this game or bad performance for the system specifications, i fortunately had little problem on this game for my PC (Q6600, 8800GTX, factory settings). Although the game would probably be best played on consoles, the price difference in versions would probably have people getting the PC version for those who have capable PCs and PS3/360. Ironically, I would highly recommend the Xbox 360 joypad (via USB) to play this game because it works so well right of the bat without having to configure anything at all.

There is a career mode, championship mode, Lan and online multiplayer. The career mode is where i spent most of my time in the game. It is stuctured as a pyramid, split up in tiers which act as ladders as you race and compete for points. The aim is to reach the very top. Your winnings can be used to buy vehicles and getting 'liveries' of the vehicles you own (different skins, colours ect). The amount you earn is dependent on what difficulty you select before the challenge - the harder, the more you win. It works well in this set-up as it encourages progression through the tiers while catering for those who find the game difficult or easy.

The gameplay is totally reliant on the 'driving experience' rather than having artificial dynamics such as boost, drift, opponent take-outs (looks towards Burnout) and so everything seems to be down-to-earth. This is not such a bad thing actually, because this 'driving experience' is something this game excels at really well. A standout 'feature' of this game is the sheer variety of vehicles in terms of shape, size, weight, handling - it ensures that the challenges you encounter as you progress up the tiers rarely feels repetitive or too much the same. Why i use the word 'experience' is because this game is just that - it comes down to how well the courses are put together with appropriate settings, backdrop and terrain. You could be racing with a light buggy on dirt terrain, turning the corners into a mini-drift challenge - Or you could be driving a monster of a vehicle boasting over 1000 BHP up mountains which require precise braking and steering for that perfect racing line. Other more 'normal' vehicles, like the Peugeot 307 handles brilliantly and in a way that encourages you to push yourself further for the corners. One essential thing that i think racing games must have is that believable sense of control from player to vehicle in-game. DiRT has nailed this to the ground while still maintaining a very good sense of challenge and uncertainty from the terrain/weather. The game also let's you practice the course before races, customising your vehicle and it really does change things. Softening up suspension for bumpy terrains will help your sense of control but will only be needed for those who are trying to beat professional difficulty of trying to beat the quoted 'world record' time.

The visuals are some of the most satisfying of the racing genre out so far. Terrains vary from huge mountains which takes more than 5 minutes to scale, small racing courses on asphalt with minute lap times as well as featuring more exotic locations such as dense forests, bumpy desert/mountain terrains, japanese streets and even some 'good old Blighty grey' locations. Not only are the courses well crafted, but the visual effects layered on top gives this game that edge over older racing games - bloom will light up desert roads as the sun's rays blazes down on you, dense forests will give you that flickering sensation as you race through the light and shadows between the tree branches. The cars themselves are well-modelled and all can be damaged during the races which leads to a further gameplay dynamic in which you really must try to avoid crashing. Damage your car too much and you may not be able to repair it to a sufficient level to race well in a later on in the same challenge. Cars can crumple, doors can fly off, windows shatter, the chassis may lean to one side (heavily affecting steering), your gearbox may go kaput, wheels pop out and the engine can just explode. Humorously, the damage can be very enjoyable to watch, the dropping-off-mountain-cliffs could give a few laughs and the way physics are handled in collisions is satisfyingly 'real'. At least the 'pain' won't be real as all you'll do is hit the restart button.

To further my description of driving experience, the audio comes into play. The moment you start up the game, if you have a decent sound system, the bass of the music will immediately catch anyone's attention - that alone will hype anyone to go for a drive. Music is not played during races but the engine/exhaust noises are authentically grinding and popping. Once a race finishes, you can see the replay of your race with music. You can pause, slow-down, fast-rewind/forward or change camera angles to see the details, from driver-passenger to steering, to suspension heights and to the wheel-ground contact. The way the music will 'dampen' when you slow the replay down is a very nice touch :D . There are other small touches to the presentation which makes this game feel really polished. The menu navigation is slick by using blur effects. The close-up shots as the camera zooms at your vehicle in interesting angles just before a race highlights the details in your vehicle as well as seeing yourself and your 'buddy' - well, he helps you by saying out what to expect of the turns ahead whether it's "easy right", "long easy left" or "jumps" etc. So don't go thinking thinking he's just a dead-weight :P .

There isn't much bad to pick out of this game; the game did act strange on occasions (such as slowdown) or just crashing, fortunately it wasn't often. This game is not for everyone, i have to say. If it's cheap thrills, arcade experiences and immediate results - then this game isn't it. If it's an audio-visual experience as you navigate beautiful terrains in a variety of vehicles you can only dream of driving in real-life, or are just looking for that racing game which balances control, braking, acceleration extremely well in many types of vehicles - then this is the one. The feel of cruising through the high mountains or getting through a very dense forest alive (adrenaline!) are good enough experiences for me to recommend this game to anyone who has capable PC systems with large monitors and powerful sound systems. In terms of actual gameplay, it's very solid but fails to innovate to those extreme highs. I say this, but honestly, what else can be done for a rallying game? There really isn't much room to add except to just expand the game to a much greater depth. Things like, a 'real' career mode in which you make your own character, go to driving school, build your licence, climb the racing career ladder, enter real championships and actually meet, talk opponents or even your own engineering team. Where have i heard of this type of thing? Oh ye, Gran Turismo (but with more things). The thing is, this game is not Gran Turismo. It doesn't try to be GT. And do we really want to build up an avatar? Go though a story mode? Be in a 24-hour race (in real life?) Or just say, "whatever, i just want to drive this new Stratos" and just go racing in the mountains?