• Following on from last week’s release of Forza Motorsport 2, this week sees the launch of an equally anticipated racer, Colin McRae DiRT. But does Colin race straight into pole position or is he left trailing behind in the DiRT?

    First and foremost there’s one element to Colin McRae that needs addressing right from the off; DiRT looks nothing short of spectacular and is easily one of the most visually impressive games you’ll have ever seen. Those still questioning the 360’s abilities against those of the PS3 need just take one look at DiRT for all of those doubts to be completely cast aside. MotorStorm, widely considered PS3’s flagship title with its mind-blowing graphics and intense gameplay, let it be said has nothing on DiRT. Strip MotorStorm’s deceiving motion-blur from its shell and graphically DiRT easily surpasses it. From the visually astounding front-end all the way through to vehicles, environments and even the drivers, everything in DiRT looks absolutely staggering and it’s quite clear to see that Codemasters really wanted to make a huge impact with their next gen Colin McRae debut.

    Everything about DiRT reeks of high production values and Codemasters it seems have striven for absolute perfection. DiRT’s front-end is one of the most intuitive and aesthetically pleasing menu systems I’ve ever seen in a video game and truly has to be seen to be believed. Navigating through the options and race menus is an absolute breeze, with the 3D menus flowing and morphing as you progress throughout them. Even the loading screen has been well thought about offering interesting statistics about career progression and your general style of racing, keeping your eyes glued to the screen during even the most boring moments of the game. Admittedly it’s only a menu system but it’s one that truly stands out from everything else on the market and makes a huge difference from the static images and text menus that are usually just thrown in as an afterthought by the game developers.

    Colin McRae DiRT

    Once you’ve had enough of admiring the menu system and gotten round to starting a race prepare to be blown away all over again. DiRT’s environments have been built completely organically meaning foliage and plantation react realistically to the fully working wind system created by the Neon engine. You’ll see plants and trees swaying realistically in the wind which, when compared to the static textures used in Forza, make a huge difference to the authenticity of the environment. Air movements are modelled real-time within the world and everything is affected by them; exhaust smoke, flags, rainfall, foliage, even the cars. The awe of watching a rival drive past you creating an air rush which in turn makes your exhaust smoke and dust kick-up react realistically simply can’t be described in words. On top of this all physical objects also each react realistically to collisions, so when you do eventually spin out on that 50mph hairpin bend the crash barrier will bend and dent extremely convincingly, and the few small trees you might clip on your way will splinter and snap under the pressure of your 4-wheeled beast.

    Of course this would all be completely irrelevant if it had no affect on the car and naturally DiRT delivers. Shell deformation, real-time scratches and mud and grime subtly covering your paintwork all work together to create a realistic soft-body damage model. Crashes with physical objects leads to crumpled mettle and smashed glass, breaking, bending and warping in unbelievable detail as well as making a dynamic impact to the handling and reliability of the car. A quick press of the start button will give you a run-down of the current status of your vehicle with an in-depth look at each part of the car you’ve damaged, whilst each different car has its own specific weak points and strengths. Car interiors are also modelled in fantastic detail with fully working dials, animated drivers and in car damage. Racing in the first-person camera really is the closest thing to driving a real car, it’s that convincing!

    Unlike a lot of next-gen debuts though, thankfully DiRT isn’t all style without any substance. There’s a deep and fulfilling game to be had here that’ll give the average gamer hours and hours of playtime with its many different modes and varying racing styles. The career mode works through a tier-based system, following your progress through a pyramid of sixty-six different events on your way to becoming the ultimate rally master. Your career in the rally world will take you to real-world tracks from all over the globe, ranging from the rain filled Croft Circuit of North Yorkshire to the sunny Californian location of Chula Vista Raceway.

    In addition to racing standard rally-cross cars you’ll also be given the chance to race over forty-five officially licensed vehicles from within twelve different car classes, including super buggies, trucks and 4x4s. And you’ll need them, with DiRT not only offering standard Point-to-Point rally races but also Hill Climb events, desert Rally Raid and Rally Cross competitions, Crossover circuits and the US Championship Off-Road Racing series. For a break from the Career mode there’s Rally Championship to check out, a mode offering three international rally championships to race through, as well as Time Trials and Single Events.

    Codemasters haven’t just concentrated on the single player though. Multiplayer over Xbox Live presents another first for the console offering simultaneous support for up to one hundred players. You read that right, one hundred players simultaneously competing over Live for absolute rally victory. Obviously you’re not going to physically get a hundred cars on one track at the same time so the system works through a time trial based event with the winner decided on who crosses the line in the fastest time. It works incredibly well and having a hundred players racing at one time makes for some real competitiveness, with the only downside being an online multiplayer mode made to feel like a single-player event for the duration of the actual gameplay.

    If I have one problem with DiRT it’s the arcade-esque twitchy vehicle handling. A lot of the vehicles just feel way too light for how they would handle in real life and a lot of the time you’ll be fighting to keep the vehicle in a straight line. It’s not a big problem once you’ve settled into the game but for the first hour or so it can be quite hard to get used to. The game also suffers from some occasional frame rate drops and while they’re not bad enough to affect the gameplay it’s a shame they’re still present in such a visually astounding game.

    Many of you will be reading this review wondering whether it’s worth shelling out for another racer so soon after Forza, and the simple answer would be yes, without any shadow of a doubt. It’s not the hardcore simulation that Forza strove so hard to be but DiRT had never claimed to do that, instead opting for a traditional no-holds barred white-knuckle ride of a game. It’s fast, viscous and downright fun; three essential qualities that Forza doesn’t necessarily share and as a result is well worth sitting alongside it in your collection.

    Colin McRae DiRT is hands down the finest game to have ever come out of Codemasters doors, and to go out on a limb and say it’s the best rally game ever made wouldn’t be too far from the truth. With a deep and rewarding career mode filled with plenty of thrills and tonnes of variation, Colin McRae DiRT is the perfect rally racer and an absolutely essential purchase for every 360 owner.

    Score: 9/10

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