Colin McRae Dirt
19th Apr 2007 | 05:32
We've been beaming about Colin's new mud-splashing romp since Codemasters treated us to an exclusive hands-on preview with an early version of the game.
Since then, Codemasters has teased us with gorgeous footage, of both the in-game and FMV varieties (why make FMV trailers when the game looks this good?), and this week CVG went hands-on with a near-final version of the game at Codemasters' Code07 show.
The first thing we did is jump into a Mitsubishi Evo (obviously), a four-wheel-drive beast of a rally car, and spank it around one of the England stages which has a mix of mud and gravel surfaces. No chavs were present.
It's been a while since we played any of the older CM games but we felt that the handling, which has been completely redone using Codemasters's brand-new physics engine (called Neon), felt lighter and edgier than in previous games.
The cars used to feel heavier in previous renditions, sliding into bends with weighty momentum and even slightly too much speed would see you skidding off the course and into a tree. They were great games but the cars had a slight shopping-trolley feel to them.
But the new, more immediately responsive handling meant we could throw our rally car quite aggressively around bends and make last-minute changes to speed and steering to keep ourselves on the road if, perhaps, we went in too fast.
Our rally car had noticeably more grip too, and we really had to use the handbrake properly to get our car to slide nicely, whereas in the old games your car went sideways regardless.
Codemasters promised that the new physics engine would accurately model the differing handling of the vastly different vehicles, and that no two cars would feel the same. That was no lie. We raced around a super special course in a four-wheel animal that pumps so much power into its rear wheels that the second you touch the accelerator those wheels spin wildly causing the back end of your car to swing out into an awesome drift.
This is awesome because it completely changes the way the game is played. Instead of going into bends as fast as possible holding the handbrake to slide round, you find yourself slowing these muscle cars down before turning, then nailing the throttle as you start your turn to hear the engine's sudden roar - which sends the car into a high-revving drift around the bend.
We had a much harder time keeping these cars under control because of the excess power, but when you pull a sweet drift, scream round a bend with the power on full all the way, then snake your way into the following straight, it feels so good.
We also raced with seven other cars on the track which was brilliant. The Super Special stage (a lap course, for those who don't know) in question featured a slippery dusty surface with a long straight leading into a particularly tricky hairpin bend. The carnage is awesome, as the eight racers go careering into the dangerous hairpin trying desperately to peel off their ridiculous momentum at the last minute possible and pull off a 180 degree power slide without slamming any other cars OR the wall.
The CPU-driven opponents were very aggressive drivers too, never missing the chance to give us a cheeky nudge as we tried to take a clean line around bends. It took some ninja inside-line manoeuvres to get past them unscathed. And despite the extra cars, the frame rate seemed solid.
Speaking of which, we noticed immediately an improvement in the frame rate, which was somewhat choppy when we first played the game. While still not running at the ideal 60fps we'd have hoped for (which might still happen), it now appears smoother with the 360 churning out those super-detailed environments and cars at a more consistent rate.
We can forgive the slightly-less-than-ideal frame rate though because, as we're sure you're aware, the game looks incredible. As we sent our car skidding satisfyingly into winding bends we looked in awe at the dust being kicked up by our wheels and the cloud left in our wake.
As before, we were stunned by the shadows cast by sunlight shining through the surrounding trees. The grass, bushes and other vegetation is dense and detailed. And the car damage is now represented with shocking accuracy, not that we did too much crashing. We can't wait to see what the raining or snowy levels look like in action.
The courses brilliantly mix slow curvy sections that give your handbrake a good workout with long straights that let you thrash your motor to ridiculous speeds on these narrow dirt roads. The buzz you get from pounding down a straight at 130mph is intense, with trees lining the road whizzing past you just a few feet away, and you know you're just one slip-up from a race-ending smash-up.
If you're a fan of the sport you will be pleased with the courses now being based on real-life raceways, unlike the fictional roads of the previous CM games. Most notable is the Pike Peak International Hill Climb event, which includes the full 20km course.
The full game also lets you get dirty on the Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire, the Knockhill Racing Circuit in Fife, Scotland, and Circuit de Ducs in France.
Unfortunately, we weren't given the chance to jump into any of the buggies or trucks coming new to the Colin McRae series.
But our time will come soon - we're expecting a full copy of the game to land on our desks within the next week or two, and when it does you can expect even more detailed impressions, videos and eventually a full review on CVG.