Dirt 2, a new off-road racing game from Codemasters, features not just great racing, but loads of courses, cars, events, race modes, and actual pro rally racers including Dave Mirra, Travis Pastrana, and Ken Block. All these things however are not just all thrown into the game in willy-nilly fashion, there seems to be ad deliberate choice behind how the game was structured so that neophytes can easily be brought up to speed while off-road enthusiasts won't feel as though they're experience is overly dumbed-down (it's only slightly dumbed-down).
Available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and DS, PSP, and PC (i.e., every system under the sun), Dirt 2 begins simply enough, with users creating a character and being introduced to their home base, a trailer that magically goes around the world with them – something even the makers of the game acknowledge in-game as being a little silly. Players are instantly given cars that, while not as serious as ones that can be purchased down the line, are certainly powerful enough to win races and cause massive amounts of damage.
The game features five regular types of races (rally, trailblazer, raid, landrush, and rallycross) and three specials types (gatecrasher, domination, and last man standing). Before its played for the first time, an introductory video on each type of race is played so that users will have a rough idea of what to expect. Then, prior to each race, users select their car either from ones currently unlocked, or they can unlock new ones with cash earned from previous races. After modifying horns, ornaments, and liveries (just for kicks), players are transported to the race and get to tweak gear ratios, downforces, suspension, ride height, differential, and brake bias.
It is actually here in this last moment where the game does feel slightly tweaked to favor neophytes. Each of these customizations has five different settings, and while they do alter the way a car handles, they do not do so in an overly drastic fashion – one can't possibly make their car too weak or too unmaneuverable by altering any of the settings. Additionally, one isn't given any concrete numbers as to how they're changing the setting, it's just a range from one not-so-extreme end to the other not-so-extreme end denoted by boxes.
While having tons of differing cars, races, etc., is all well and good, without fun race mechanics, Dirt 2 would be a disaster. Happily, the races actually play out in terrific fashion. The graphics are sharp, the controls precise, races fast, and the cars often terribly touchy. Tap the breaks incorrectly or don't life the accelerator quite enough and one can easily find themselves flying off the course, over a ditch, all while doing a barrel roll or two. Because of that, depending on the difficult the user is playing on, they are given a specific number of "flashbacks." These handy-dandy little things allow the user to go into the instant replay, rewind time a little (the game does not allow one to go back very far), and pick up the race before things went so heinously wrong.
Flashbacks are a great inclusion by the developers, because they allow the game to be less forgiving in terms of race mechanics. Of course, eventually a player will run out of their allotment of flashbacks during a race and then have to tread oh-so-carefully (although, for the sake of one's personal pride they may choose to forego the flashbacks from the start).
The game features tons of unlockables beyond just the ability to purchase new cars based on cash earned in wins. There are tons of liveries, horns, and toys given for wins as well. Additionally, by earning experience points players level up, unlocking more races and countries to race in. There are also extra "missions" within races (winning a race after doing a 360 degree spin, etc.) which earn one experience points. In short, there seems to always be a way to earn extra experience, extra cash, level up, and/or unlock brand new bonuses in the game, making it almost as exciting outside a race as inside one.
Dirt 2 is an adrenaline-inducing thrill ride of a game, and while the point may be to not knock people around, nudging one's opponent into a spin which forces them into a wall and out of the race has never felt quite so good. Online multiplayer racing – which is just as much fun as offline, looks just as good, and plays just as fast – apparently frowns on this little tactic, giving players an "Impact Rating" which shows just how often one "accidentally" bumps someone else.
It is again here, with "rubbing" and minor accidents (either single or multiple car ones) where the game feels slightly dumbed down. While there are several different levels of difficulty, and the seriousness of an accident does climb with the difficulty setting, cars can take far more of a pounding in the game than one imagines they would take in reality. The most smashed-up car with major engine damage and major wheel damage will perform less well than a pristine vehicle, but generally not to the point where it hampers the player to the point where they can't win (although, it should be noted, that one can crash a car badly enough so that one is eliminated from the race).
The plethora of courses (and different versions of the same course depending on the specific type of race) and locations make each race in the game unique, and each look great. It is a shame that one can't spend enough time looking at the backgrounds on the race courses as that will only lead to yet another spectacular crash.
Dirt 2 is an incredibly fun racing game, one that doesn't take itself too seriously and has a huge number of things to accomplish/unlock. The game's learning curve allows one to start winning races very early on, but not feel like they have truly "figured it out" until much later.
Dirt 2 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for lyrics and mild suggestive themes. It is also available on (or will be soon): Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, and PC