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Colin McRae: Dirt 2

Review: Reclaiming its rally crown

Forget the original Colin McRae: Dirt ever happened. If you have it, snap it in half and whisk it out the window at your neighbour's cat. Dirt 2 is the game the first one should have been - a petrol-fuelled orgy of angry cars, weighty powerslides and lush, detail-filled mud porn.

The original Dirt was a solid game with plenty of cars, events and some pretty nice visuals. For that, it was praised. But if, like this writer, you're a long-time Colin McRae fan, you'd have built up resentment for the game's arcadey approach to what used to be a very serious racing series. Cars lacked weight, you didn't respect speed or corners, and the handling just felt wrong.

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Forward two years and Codemasters has well and truly got its arse into gear. This is a proper rally game. You know that the moment you floor in into the first bend thinking you can make it round and the car just carries its speed, drifting sideways and slamming door-first into a wall. You've got to be skilled - slow that bad boy down and put it into corners properly.

You've got to nurse the throttle and brake as you drift, keeping your nose pointed in the right direction without over-cooking it and letting that tail end get away from you. It's all about managing the weight of your car - these are two-ton chunks of metal blasting over loose gravel and mud, and this time they actually feel like it. Not like weightless balloons that do exactly what you say no matter how wreckless.

Of course, keeping these weightier cars on the course is a far tougher ordeal, but Codemasters' Flashback system helps out with that. Just like in Grid, Flashback allows you to access a short replay of the seconds before a crash or race-wrecking mishap, and re-take that section to try and fix your previous error.

It may be against the ethics of racing purists, but the fact that you can only rewind the action three times per race (or fewer on harder modes) and are restricted to around 10 seconds past means the challenge of getting through a race is retained. The game is far from a push-over and we had to retry races several times on some occasions.

Not to mention the fact that you need to master an incredible variety of driving styles. Just as you get your brain locked into the subtle speed and controllable drifting of a normal rally car, the game throws you into a trailblazer event in a massively beefed-up rally motor with a giant spoiler, and it all goes mental.

Then you're in a big truck on the course with seven other racers in a brutal game of argy-bargy. The trucks tend to slow down too much when you take them sideways, so you end up fighting to keep them going in as straight a line as possible. But it's this challenge that stops them from being boring to drive like they were in the first game.

We love the point-to-point rallies with your co-driver reading out the corners ahead - with the improved handling it really harks back to the original PS1/PS2 McRae days. Only now it looks f-ing incredible, instead of blocky and full of pixels.

The Rally Cross events are sweet, too. They lock you and a bunch of other racers into a short and rather cramped racing circuit for a pre-determined number of laps. The Rally Cross cars are absolute animals - like rally cars but angrier. You jab the accelerator, the engine roars and these things rip the Earth a new equator.

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