It's been a few years since the Colin McRae franchise impressed us back in 2004 and between 2004 and 2007, quite a bit has changed when it comes to rally games. The Rallisport Challenge franchise seems dead, the WRC series is stagnant whilst Evolution Studios works on MotorStorm and the one-off Richard Burns Rally game was a dismal failure. These days if you're a rally fan there isn't all that much to look forward to, except maybe the rally modes in more traditional racers. Which brings us to Colin McRae: DiRT, or DiRT as Codemasters prefers to call the game; possibly because Colin McRae is reaching the end of his rally days. But is DiRT a triumphant return for Codemasters series or did the series peak three years ago?
Colin McRae veterans are likely to get a bit of a shock when they load up DiRT as the game is significantly different from its predecessors. The biggest change to be found in DiRT is the fact that the game is now a lot more arcadey. You won't be sliding around like in Ridge Racer but the game is a lot more forgiving this time around and feels a lot more accessible.
Before you even jump into a race you'll notice how incredibly beautiful everything looks. Visually the game is just absolutely awe inspiring. It's unusual for us to highlight the graphics so early but everything in DiRT just looks absolutely amazing. The lighting is brilliant (with the different times of the day affecting how your vehicle looks) and the tracks are well detailed. It really feels like you're racing in an environment rather than just a fictional track and as you drive by you'll see plenty of objects in the background including stationary vehicles and even a remarkably detailed tennis court. The cars themselves look incredible as well. Presentation was quite clearly a priority for Codemasters and even the menus are aesthetically pleasing, sporting a Minority Report feel. The loading screens are littered with real time statistics, which makes the wait between races seem a little shorter. It's worth noting though, that even though the game looks great there are a few moments of slowdown and whilst DiRT's loading screen is better than most; we'd rather be racing.
A good looking game is fantastic, but what really matters is what the game contains. DiRT's main single player mode is the career mode. In the career mode you'll need to work your way up a pyramid, completing races and earning points and money. The points unlock more races and the money you earn can be used to purchase more vehicles, or liveries for vehicles. There are over sixty events alone in the career mode and you can set the difficulty level of the races for each event, so you can manually change the difficulty level as your skill improves. Your prize money is based on the difficulty level selected too, so the harder the race the more you'll win.
In total there are six different rally events in the career mode; Rally, Crossover, Rallycross, Rally Raid, CORR and Hill Climb. DiRT also features a damage system which is mightily impressive. There are nine different areas of the car to damage and the game provides a percentage estimate of how healthy each part of the car is. Crash into a few barriers and steering will become that much more challenging. An achievement is dedicated to keeping a clean race as well, which is a lot more difficult than it may seem. When there is more than one vehicle on track it's not unusual to see spoilers falling off cars and windows crashing within a minute of the race beginning, the damage system is easily one of the best we've ever seen in a racing game. A small gripe we have with DiRT is the fact that the vehicles don't feel all that different from one another, which we assume is because of the arcade nature of the game.
One of the biggest disappointments with DiRT is the multiplayer options in the game. The back of the box proudly proclaims that you can play multiplayer with up to 100 cars, which is a little bit deceiving. Online there are only two multiplayer options; rally race and hill climb and you're never actually racing against 100 cars, just with them. Each player races with the same vehicle on the same track and the objective is to try and get the fastest time. It's rather disappointing that you cannot race against another rally car at all online. When it comes to creating a multiplayer match you can't actually choose a track as potential tracks are randomly selected and players are able to vote on which track to race on. You also can't search for specific races with a specific track, event type or vehicle either. It's incredibly clear the multiplayer was definitely a last minute addition to DiRT.
In terms of the sound the events are narrated by Travis Pastrana who actually sounds rather interested. There isn't too much music and it does the job, but isn't exacty memorable. The cars sound great as well. The single player campaign will take a while to complete, simply because there are so many things to unlock. If you just play through the career mode on the easiest mode without purchasing every vehicle it can be completed in under ten hours but once you up the difficulty level races become very intense. The multiplayer could have extended the lifespan of the game even more, but unfortunately it's basically non-existant. The game is pretty generous with achievements as well, they're scattered well, so you'll rarely play more than an hour without unlocking an achievement, most of which are devoted to the single player campaign.
DiRT isn't just a HD overhaul of Colin McRae Rally 2005. The game is fundamentally different from its predecessors and is a lot more accessible this time around. With a great single player campaign, incredible visuals and a brilliant damage system DiRT is a game that will appeal to those who don't even normally play rally titles, it is a shame about the multiplayer but everything else about the game feels so polished we're able to forgive Codemasters for the oversight.