The beauty and emotion of racing is captured right from the intro movie, to the first time you grab the wheel. But once you put the less important things to one side, you’re stuck in the rough and tumble ride that is rally driving.
Colin McRae Rally DiRT is the latest in Codemasters’ series and breaks away from the traditional route it has followed in the past. No longer are you restricted to event upon event, series upon series; there’s now a wide variety and diverse selection of off track competitions. Previous games in the series have seen you merely plump through a bog standard World Championship, racing through stages across different countries in your quest to become the best. Well DiRT is different. And in a positive way too.
The game has three main modes – Career, Championship and Rally World – as well as an entertaining multiplayer section for online and LAN play. As always, I dived in feet first in to an extensive Career mode. Your aim is to race through 11 tiers of events up to the final “Champion of Champions” section. You need to raise enough points from each tier to progress to the tier above, with each tier getting progressively harder.
Usually, career modes can be a bit bewildering, but the useful voiceover at the opening of career mode gives a useful insight to DiRT, and also provides information and advice to manage your career – it’s the perfect introduction to the game, as opposed to some games where you load up the career mode and haven’t a clue what to do next.
So once you’ve settled in it’s now time to get racing. A good feature of this game is the ability to change difficulty depending on the race. As you select a race, you can choose from the 5 difficulty levels – Rookie, Clubman, Amateur, Pro Am, Pro. The harder the difficulty, the greater the reward. You can then buy different cars and liveries with your hard earned cash.
You’re stuck with a fairly limited selection of vehicles to start with, so a Chevrolet Silverado it was. The race loading up, and there I was alongside 9 other vehicles. This isn’t like the Colin McRae’s of old. It was new. But it certainly wasn’t nice. As I tried to exert my authority on the opening straight, I was shunted to the side and to the back of the field. Welcome to the game.
And once you’re in, it’s bloody hard to get out. Each race is different. Each one brings a new challenge. The beauty of it is, if you ever feel yourself getting a little too good for the opposition, you can always try the next level, and return if you’re not up to it.
Each vehicle has an incredibly in depth history. With this game, you can literally find anything you need or want to know about the vehicles, the tracks and your own personal driving experience. In the pause menu in-race, you can see the damage being done to your vehicle, which is monitored in nine different areas. Do too much damage and you’ll get a “Terminal Damage” message and your race is over.
Together with that, the game compiles interesting statistics about your own personal driving experience, such as total races, time spent on two wheels and miles without damage. You can view them at any time, but cleverly, Codemasters have hid a perhaps slightly longer than usual loading time by flooding you with interesting snippets that grab your attention whilst waiting for the main show to begin.
It all sounds rather cosy, well until you’re hurtling down a fresh track with a pocket sized map at the top of the screen. It’s not the clearest of facilities (the in game map), especially when you are concentrating so hard on avoiding that tree on the inside of the next bend, and it certainly isn’t a patch on the old McRae navigation. But as you become more of an expert, you’ll start to pick up on the Co-Driver terms, and of course get used to the tracks as and when you race them.
Otherwise, during the race, everything’s how you’d want it to be, including realistic collisions, realistic damage and realistic car handling. There’s no more ghosting through bushes on the side of the track – misjudge that one bend and your lap is ruined. The controls are brilliant, and extremely flexible. If you cant find the set up you want from the four configurations provided, you are able to customise which buttons you use for acceleration, brake and more.
My first race ended in a fairly embarrassing 6th place finish, although not so bad having been flipped over the side of the track on my first lap. That first race summed up the beauty of DiRT in one: a variety of vehicles, a different type of racetrack and challenging CPU opponents. It’s the kick up the arse this series needed, and its fresh outlook will certainly have gamers dusting down their steering wheels to entertain this famous series once again.
Something else that will certainly get fans of the series excited is the competitive edge that’s been formed in online mode. Not only do you have the online mode itself, but also every personal best lap you record on each track goes in to an online rankings system, which shows you exactly where your time ranks in comparison to other games around the world.
Not so pleasing when it turns out you’re personal best is actually the 8143rd best on the game, but it’d be quite an achievement to see your name anywhere near the top of one of those rankings. News of records breaking, and particular achievements made by other gamers appears on your screen in a news scroller type style (which you can turn off, by the way).
Online play itself allows you to jump straight in to a race meet, where you simply vote for the track you wish to compete on, and literally race real time with other people and go for the best time. Again, DiRT’s impressive statistics system records your online profile, and tells you how many races you’ve completed, how many you’ve won etc.
If you don’t fancy the Career mode, you can always go down the Championship route, or for quick gameplay, go to Rally World, where you can choose to race a single event, single race or even do a time trial.
DiRT has the edge of its main rival, SEGA Rally Revo, with an overall more realistic driving experience. The career mode on McRae is almost flawless, and even though arcade racers may prefer SEGA’s attempt, there’s no doubting that in terms of replicating rally driving, Codemasters have scored a winner.