Colin McRae: DiRT
15th Jun 2007 | 13:42
For the past few months, Codemasters has had us ogling at some of the most impressively realistic screenshots of any racing game ever. Needless to say, we couldn't bloody wait for Colin McRae DiRT.
As huge fans of the series, we had a lot to look forward to. Not only does this game bring the best rally sim up to speed, squeezing every last megabit of juice out of the processors of the current-gen hardware, but it also expands on the series to an epic scale, adding more vehicle types than Jeremy Clarkson has even heard of.
Yet, look up at the top of the page. 8.4. Sure, it's a good score, but it's not the 9 plus we were hoping for. The cold hard truth is that, while what this game does it does well, it just doesn't feel like a Colin McRae game. The radical changes in handling, presentation and the overall nature of the game make this feel more like a new-gen V-Rally than a Colin McRae sequel.
Wait though - we don't want to put you off. Like we said, this game does what it does to a very high standard and, whether or not it feels like traditional Colin McRae, there's dozens of hours of top-quality racing to be had here, and unparalleled levels of variety.
The big thing about DiRT is that it's no-longer just about the World Rally Championship. The standard rally cars of previous games have been joined by buggies, trucks, dirty great big rigs and other mud-churning gas guzzlers to make one big off-road orgy of a game.
The courses are equally as varied. You've got straight point-to-point rally sprints, cross-over special stages, lap racetracks, and these contain their own variants too, so a lap race in a rally car tends to be on gravel and tarmac, whereas buggy races are full of hills. The point-to-point races range from outback Australian sprints, to tarmac-covered streets in Japan, to hill-climb events in the US.
This variety keeps you entertained throughout the huge single-player Career mode, which takes the form of a pyramid of race events. You start at the bottom and can earn a maximum of ten points for winning each event, which can consist of between one and six races.
The more points you accumulate, the more events you unlock until you reach the top. You'll unlock the huge variety of vehicles here too, by buying them with money you earn for winning.
Races and cars that you unlock in the Career mode become usable in the Championship mode, which throws up a massive selection of national, European and international tournaments to race. Again, this is where the variety in cars and races really shines through.
However, the selection of massively contrasting vehicles brings with it both good and bad points. On the good side, you'll leap into a traditional rally car, like a Subaru Impreza, and you'll have a great time blasting around the gravel tracks.
The buggy races are awesome fun too, throwing you into multi-vehicle races on tracks that are typically full of ridiculously fast jumps. For those races in the game, we absolutely adore it.
But then you have the big rig races. Tell us, after you've been blistering through narrow town streets at 90+ mph in a 4WD rally beast, who the hell wants to then clamber into a hefty, oaf-like big rig and haul its big metal arse around a course at what feels like a granny-strolling-to-the-offy pace? They handle like shopping trolleys too. Boring.
We don't like the smaller, front-wheel-drive cars either. The complete opposite of the big rigs, they feel way too light, with spontaneous and often erratic handling that you literally have to fight with to keep on the road. Remember the weightless cars in the original V-Rally on PlayStation? That's what they feel like.
The overall handling of DiRT is one of the main reasons we say this is not the Colin McRae game fans will have wanted. It may have some new built-from-the-ground-up, ultra-next-gen physics system, and that does make for some of the most impressive car damage in any racing game, but the handling itself feels too arcadey for a Colin game.
In fact, the game is a strange mix between realistic and arcade. On the menu side of things, you have all sorts of dials and settings you can play with to tweak the performance of the car. In that area, it's like a Gran Turismo or F1 game. You can adjust camber, suspension, gear ratios, and all sorts of other parts of the car you don't understand (although, giving credit where it's due, it has spoken explanations for each part).
But then you get down to the important bit - the driving - and it's all arcadey. It's almost like the game doesn't know what it wants to be: an arcade game or a simulation. But the bottom line is this doesn't FEEL like a simulator.
The cars don't have enough feeling of weight. Even the smallest of cars, the Clio, for example, are 1000kg-pieces of metal (we Googled it). Yet, even when skimming over loose gravel at 100mph, we never felt like we had to be cautious about braking points - they stop almost instantly and turn like they're on rails - which, like we said before, feels too responsive and that's often what puts you into walls.
The amazing thing about previous Colin games was how good it felt to neatly slide your car around every corner, and the sound of the tyres scuffing along added to the visceral pleasure. In DiRT, those satisfying side-sweeping turns are occasional, because the cars feel so light and so agile that you don't have the weight to put them sideways around every bend and you end up driving them in much more of a straight line than traditional Colin fans will be used to.
Yet, despite our obvious disappointment on that side, the game has so many positives it almost completely makes up for it. The game is full of cool little touches. The menu presentation, with all its swooping boxes and flashy effects, is amazing. The online integration is great - after EVERY race you're shown an online leaderboard of the fastest times on that course, even when playing in single-player.
The load times are horrible, but to make up for that the game uses this time to brief on more stats - longest jump, longest slide, average race speed (over all the races you've ever raced!), longest distance without crashing... the impressive list goes on.
There's online racing in there too. It's not huge - ranked and unranked rally races are about the extent of the options, but that's alright.
So, in the end, you just have to accept the new Colin McRae for what it is. It might be arcade-like, and we hate the annoying, Tony Hawk-style American voice-over man that does nothing but bleat over-enthusiastic bollocks like "Yeah, we won because we were the fastest!" (we miss Nicky Grist), but despite the culture change, this is a great racing game.
It's an arcade-style rally game with immense variety in cars and courses, it looks incredible (although still has some choppy frame rate dips) and has the most amazing crash physics. Combine the huge single-player career with the online racing and there's loads of racing pleasure to be had.