Codemasters is a considerably quiet game developer. They've had some hits, and games that needed more work. Regardless of those releases, one thing is absolutely certain; these guys can make amazing racing games. Their last, Fuel, technically wasn't their responsibility, but still a decent racer. The heavy hitters are GRID and DiRT. The latter came first, with the former taking gamers back to the tarmac. Now it's time to get dirty once again with the sequel to the acclaimed off-raod racer. It's also still Colin McRae in spirit, with or without his name on the box. The end of 2009 is set to be huge for racing fans, considering the likes of Forza 3, Gran Turismo, the recent Motorstorm on PSP and Need for Speed: Shift. DiRT 2 kicks it all off, and it proves to be a wonderful start.
DiRT 2 introduces a handful of changes, the most noticeable being the overall style. This can be contrued differently depending on who you talk to. DiRT 2 takes the route of extreme rally and off-road racing, considering that it's now officially part of the X-Games. It definitely amounts to a new atmosphere compared to before. This sequel is much louder, and I'm not referring to sound. Expect lots of DC Shoes and Monster ads everywhere. Take it as you will, but underneath all the “extreme” is an excellent racer.
Also similar to DiRT and GRID, DiRT 2 tests your skills in a various race types with many different vehicles. Some events are new and others are retired. Hillclimbs and T3 RAID trucks have vanished, but additions like rally cross, trailblazer, gate crasher, land rush, and a few others make up for it. Traditional rally racing remains intact though, so don't fret. The added race types also respond to a major complaint from the first game as well; you're seldom alone during these competitions. Granted direct opposition doesn't apply to real rallying; it's all about the times. This still rings true, but cars now begin using staggered starts. Do poorly and you may be passed, or incredibly well to pass other drivers. In the end, it still boils down to your time.
Rally cross and land rush pit you against multiple drivers on a circuit track using rally cars or trucks and/or buggies respectively. Everyone starts simultaneously, and you must force your way to the head of the pack. Gate crashers seats you in a rally car and functions like a checkpoint race, though to earn more time you need to crash through gates set up on the track, which test your steering accuracy. Other events for rally cars, like trail blazer, is about reaching high speed, domination – earning points for the best times, and last man standing - eliminating opponents. RAID, point-to-point land rush-like events, require trucks. DiRT 2's career mode offers numerous events for the player to conquer, and the variety manages to keep it all interesting.
DiRT 2's career mode doesn't go out of its way to be extraordinary however. You start as a rookie and must win races to earn money. Experience is part of the equation now though, which when added to your driver level determines what new events are unlocked. Your friends, Dave Mirra, Travis Pastrana, Ken Block, etc, help set up your first car and point you in the right direction, but still put up a tough fight on the track. Win them over however, and you can invite them into a team for special racing events. In all this, each vehicle type: rally cars, racing trucks, RAID trucks, buggles and Baja trucks, are represented well. Being spread out, the selection seems slim, and it is compared to other games, but that just makes quick favoriting. What's nice though is that certain races require certain specifications for your vehicle, but upgrade packs are available for purchase. You're not forced into buying a new vehicle altogether. Have a rally car but need to race a trail blazer? Just purchase the upgrade pack and you're ready to go.
It's admittedly strange nonetheless that the rally vehicle selection is somewhat a-typical. Sure, Imprezas, Lancers, and the nimble Colin McRae R4 are present, but there are some odd choices like a BMW Z4 M-Coupé, Nissan 350Z, and a Pontiac Solstice, among others. These cars are all fine and dandy, even surprisingly driveable, but where are all the big names in rally? Not one Peugéot, Citroën, Lancia, FIAT, Ford or even Škoda to be found. For an obvious rally racer, DiRT 2 leaves a bit to be desired.
Disappointing brand absence aside, nothing changes that DiRT 2's gameplay is a step above its predecessor. The other major complaint about the first game was that the cars felt “floaty,” and this was true. They all seemed a light and highly sensitive to the environment, occasionally making control difficult. Codemasters has addressed this, resulting in an improved, though already solid racing engine. The physics/vehicle behavior is more sophisticated. The control quality has upped significantly. DiRT doesn't strive to be a sim racer, yet manages to balance perfectly on the line between arcade and simulation.
DiRT 2 is great for beginners and veterans with five featured difficultly levels, reminiscent to GRID with its "stepladder" of skill increase. Also carried over from the game's on-road brother is the flashback system, which can be a life-saver. These let you rewind a race a few seconds so as to provide an opportunity to correct a giant error. Instead of restarting an entire race because of one mistake, you can enjoy a Prince of Persia-style do-over and keep going. The higher difficulties restrict their use, however.
DiRT 2's expanded online play is also leaps and bounds over the last game. Before you simply had rally and hill climb events open, and no one else ever showed up on-screen except for live time updates. That's not as exciting as other online racers. D2 mostly keeps that format, which is nice if you like avoiding contact with opponents, but ghost cars on the track actually let you see their progress. Otherwise, if you don't mind battling it out on the track all at once, rally cross and land rush are the answer. But be warned, each can quickly devolve from civilized racing to makeshift demolition derbies depending on who your competition is. Many of the other event types are playable online as well, like domination and trail blazer.
Presentation-wise, DiRT 2 is simply amazing. DiRT already looked excellent, but 2 is somehow ever better. There's nothing significantly negative worth mentioning regarding the graphics. The car models are highly detailed, all of which have fully-modeled interiors and become progressively dirtier during races. The real-time damage is also as excellent as ever. New particle effects make flying dirt and dust look more believable, not to mention standing water on the tracks reacts in an amazing way and looks fantatic. Witnessing water hit the windshield of your rally car from the dashboard view must be seen to be appreciated. The momentary loss of visibility is both a little terrifying and exhilarating. Last time I also raved about DiRT's, and I don't think they're as flashy this time, but Codemasters still has a way with making interesting menu screens.
The audio is just as great with rich, full engine sounds, though slightly less pronounced turbo blow-off. Driving over different surfaces also produces authentic sound, especially coupled with opponent collisions. Though preset effects can be obvious during certain situations, such as hearing glass break on a stadium truck when the vehicle has none. Still, it sounds great either way. The soundtrack is also one of the best I've heard since Burnout 3. While the engines provide your race-time music, replays and the menus are complemented with wicked rock.
DiRT 2 is a great update for the franchise. The style has changed, but it's still all about serving up an unmatched racing experience above all else, which is manages splendidly. If rally or off-road racing is of any interest to you, DiRT 2 has arrived to please. Its lengthy career, vastly improved online component, and outstanding presentation make it a must-have for any fan.