This iteration of DiRT may have a number after its name, but don't go searching for the original on the Wii (or GameCube), as you won't find it. The previous version of the game was only available for PC, PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. Marking the series debut on the Wii, DiRT 2 is technically the seventh game in the Colin McRae franchise, though his name only appears on the European packaging. In some ways, it almost feels as if Codemasters wanted to get a fresh start with the franchise.
While it shares the Colin McRae heritage, DiRT 2 isn't purely a rally racing game. You'll find a few point-to-point rally style tracks here, but there also seems to be a decent mix of circuit style tracks, with multiple laps taking you to the checkered flag. A variety of track types are included within each of the four tours available in the single-player world tour mode. The individual tours are grouped into four events, for a total of 16 events across the whole game. Each event consists of one to four individual races. Races within each event can be completed in any order, but open events and tours must be finished in order before the next one in line unlocks and becomes playable.
Control-wise, DiRT 2 gives you the choice of playing with the Wiimote, steering wheel style or plugging in the Nunchuk and using the analog stick to steer, while using the trigger buttons for gas and brake. The game is smart enough to detect when the Nunchuk is connected, and it switches control schemes automatically. In our preview build, the Wiimote steering worked but felt a bit sluggish when compared to using the analog stick on the Nunchuk. This could simply be an artifact of an early build, or it could have something to do with the fact that the game was originally built with analog sticks in mind. Either way, we're expecting it to be tightened up before release.
With a distinct focus on driving, DiRT 2 doesn't appear to have a garage option where you can tweak and upgrade your cars. Instead, vehicles are pre-selected for you before each race. As you progress through the game, you can unlock additional cars and trucks (as well as additional body kits), but as far as the world tour mode is concerned, the vehicles that you can use are limited by what the developers choose to give you. Even when a new vehicle unlocks, it is only selectable in a few races.
After playing through the available courses on our disc, we had four cars and six trucks unlocked. The cars were the BMW Z4, Evo X, 350X and the WRX STI. Trucks included were the F-150, Herbst, Hummer H3, Hummer H3R, Ickler and Nemesis.
Although final car tuning was obviously not finished (the Hummer H3 was clocking 0-60 times under four seconds on a dirt road) there was a noticeable difference in handling between the individual cars and trucks. Some hugged the road a bit better, while others tended to bounce around. While we can't really make any judgment calls here until the final version of the game is available, we do like the fact that the individual cars will provide different experiences. The closer they behave to real life, the better.
Overall, the game seems to be targeting an experience that straddles the line between sim and arcade racer. Adjustable assist settings in the options ensure that beginners will be able to fire up DiRT 2 and take a spin around the track, while experienced drivers can shut off the assist mode and spend their time powersliding around the track as if the pavement were eternally iced over. Car damage is possible, but it is not persistent. With no garage, any damage is reset at the end of the race.
In addition to the world tour mode, DiRT 2 on the Wii also offers single race and championship arcade races, a time trial mode, challenge mode and a split-screen multiplayer mode. Multiplayer supports up to four players at the same time. Unlike the other console versions, DiRT 2 on the Wii does not have online support. You are limited to local multiplayer only.
The AI in DiRT 2 is an interesting beast, given that it appears to completely ignore the player, or at least it does so in our preview build. Basically, if you get in the AI's way, it has absolutely no issue with plowing right through you. There's no defensive driving here. This can be somewhat annoying at times, but used cleverly, it can also give you an advantage. More than once, we were able to slam on the brakes at a key corner only to have the other three racers pile into our rear bumper. The impact force set us going forward while the other three drivers were delayed as they sorted out the mess.
Based on what we've seen, DiRT 2 for the Wii isn't going to directly compete with the other console versions, but assuming it gets the necessary level of polish, it should finish the race as a respectable Wii port. Given the lack of rally racing titles on the Wii, DiRT 2 promises to fill a niche that is relatively untapped. We'll have more details as soon as the final model rolls off the assembly line and we can give it a proper test-drive.
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