The PlayStation Portable is a great system for a lot of genres, but one of the hardest to do well is the racing game. It may seem simple enough, but the best racing games have complexity and mechanics far beyond "drive in a circle." It takes a clever developer to make a game on the PSP stand out, especially due to all the technical limitations. It's not possible to make a PSP game look as good, and since the sense of speed in a racing game is crucial, that requires some clever ideas. Dirt 2 does its best to give the game a sense of speed. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of everything else in the game, and the result is a racing title that veers between mediocre to borderline unplayable.
On the surface, Dirt 2 is a fairly average racing game. There aren't any special gimmicks or twists here, and it's fairly simplistic when compared to the console version so don't expect any plots or special abilities. Players are placed on the track and expected to reach the end; there aren't many controls that you need to know aside from accelerate and brake, so it's a very easy game to pick up and play. On the down side, this also makes it really hard for Dirt 2 to stand out because there's nothing original or interesting about it. There aren't any particularly innovative mechanics, the level design doesn't stand out, and nothing really encourages players to notice it over the many other PSP racing titles. It's also simplistic when compared to most modern racing games; this wouldn't be a tremendous problem if the game were polished enough to be a quality standout, but it feels half-baked instead.
Dirt 2's biggest problem is the bizarre and unnatural racing physics. Whatever the gravity is like in the world of Dirt 2, it certainly doesn't match up to Earth, and so the cars don't seem to move in natural ways. Everything feels weightless and overly light, and it certainly makes races frustrating when you miss a turn because your car acted like a balloon. At first, this does a good job of making the game feel incredibly fast-paced despite the PSP's technical limitations, but as the game wears on, it gets less fun. Any stage in the game that involves air time goes from mindlessly entertaining to system-breaking frustrating in a matter of moments. The only real benefit is that the opposing racers seem to have as hard a time as you do in some of the game's more poorly designed stages, so you can win if you go extremely slow and play cautiously — words that you usually don't hear in connection with a racing game. The enemy racers are not particularly interesting, and in many cases, they may as well not be there. They don't run a particularly aggressive or interesting race, and they're quite unmemorable. The only real obstacle you need to overcome in the game is the physics.
There's really not a tremendous amount to do in Dirt 2, and it makes it really difficult to keep your attention focused on the game. The races are fairly boring affairs, with the only excitement occurring when you deal with the wonky physics. There are only three kinds of game modes available to players: World Tour, Arcade and Challenge. World Tour is a sort of career mode, where you go through a series of races and gradually unlock new tracks and new cars. Arcade mode allows you to race on any track or with any car at will, and you can do time trials to improve your high score. You can also choose a championship race to participate in a series of five races at once. These two modes are where you'll spend the bulk of your time, and while they're fine racing game staples, they're not particularly interesting. Neither involves any element of customization or strategy. You race, and occasionally you get a new place to race or a new car to race in, but that's about the extent of it, and you have little control over what you unlock. Challenge mode allows racers to play a series of mini-games. Air Time challenges players to get the most air from jumping off a ramp, and Last Man Standing encourages racers to remain in first place because each lap drops the lowest-ranked player from the race. None of these modes particularly stand out either, as they're mostly races with some minor gimmicks. Some modes, like Air Time, suffer even more from the title's weird physics.
Dirt 2's strongest quality is its graphics. The cars and stages look quite good, and there's a nice amount of detail to them. The odd physics result in an excellent illusion of speed, but the biggest problem is that there isn't a tremendous variety to the cars and stages, so it's pretty easy to get bored of the title's limited selection. Far more problematic is the game's audio. The cars don't really have a good rumble to their engines; they sound high-pitched, which makes it pretty annoying after a while. There's some nice detail in the engine sounds, at least, and they do a good job of making sure you know which car you're driving and the kind of track you're racing on. The problem is only compounded by the fact that Dirt 2 has music in the menu screens but not the races. Without music, all you hear is the whining whir of your car as it drives around the tracks; it's enough to make players reach for the mute button. The lack of a good soundtrack also makes the races feel quite dull.
By and large, Dirt 2 is an unremarkable and mostly boring racing game, and the more you play it, the worse the flaws get. There is little to make it stand out, except for some above-average graphics. The opponent AI is uninteresting to race against, and the primary obstacle in races isn't your opponents, but the bizarre physics. Even if you're willing to overlook all of this, there just isn't much to do. A handful of races and a few uninteresting challenges are all the game really offers to keep players interested. There's really no way to recommend Dirt 2 for the PSP over other, cheaper racing games, but if you absolutely must play Dirt 2, try it on the Xbox 360 or PS3 instead.
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