Having played the original Dirt on the Xbox 360 and then playing the Wii version of the sequel, Dirt 2, I'm pretty much left wondering what the heck happened in the transition. From some limited time with the sequel on the PS3 and 360, the Wii version isn't anywhere near identical in its structure or single-player mode, but this is pretty big step backward if you wanted to compare the two. From what I've found, this seems to be a port of the PSP version of the game (or vice versa, I'm not sure which one was the lead platform), and that really stands out after you spend a little bit of time playing this iteration of the game. If you have the option to avoid the Wii version of Dirt 2 in favor of one on another current-gen system, I'd highly suggest you do so.
As I sat down to play the 40 races that make up the single-player content, I thought from the start that the presentation of Dirt 2 seemed to be pretty bare-bones when compared to the over-the-top rally look of the original game. Some design carries over with the menu work, and you select options from your virtual trailer, but nothing is animated or interesting in the design; you just get static representations of the available races and options. Once you choose the single-player mode, you're given four different ranks to choose from, but the game is very, very linear, and you only have one unlocked, along with one racing series within that rank. The ranks are up of Clubman, Amateur, Pro and Pro Am, with 10 races for each rank, divided up into a series of locations and types. The game only has two race types, though: circuit events that are generally three laps and the single-lap raid events. That's pretty much it for the single-player content.
There are a number of locations present in Dirt 2, with a few track designs between each location. There are also reverse versions of the tracks to pad out the selection a bit, and overall, the track design is actually pretty decent. There are a number of tracks that are tight, confined events, which can be interesting at first when you're bogged down with the other three racers, but once you get into the lead, the difficulty and challenge of staying ahead is pretty low. Also, since the game only supports three other racers, it's pretty easy to get ahead of the pack early, and the AI isn't particularly smart or aggressive. On the flip side, it doesn't seem to rubberband (artificially catch up), so if you're doing particularly well on a track, you won't have to worry about your opponents magically catching up to you. There are some odd physics in the game when you're in a jump the car feels awfully floaty and light, and the center of gravity effect isn't present in the Wii version of the game, although I do see it in the PS3 or 360 versions. It's a very old-school arcade feel, which makes the handling far more precise than I'd expect a rally car to be.
The drifting almost feels nonexistent, which is a shame since that's what really sets apart this rally car experience from other racers. The game will tell me that I'm drifting when I try to do some of the challenge events (there are 20 of these outside of the main mode), but their visual effect isn't there, and the control I have over my car doesn't feel different than any other turn I'd made. Once again, it just feels like an arcade racer, and while I realize the Dirt franchise isn't a hardcore sim experience, this version of the game feels much more generic than I was expecting, and I found that to be a pretty disappointing experience.
Visually, Dirt 2 holds up well on the Wii, with some decent model work done on the small selection of available vehicles. As you progress through the main mode, you'll unlock various color schemes for each vehicle, but that's all there is to upgrade or change for each car. The track design is decent, and they actually look pretty good, but there's not enough visual feedback on the track tear-up that you'll see in other off-road titles, and there's no damage done to the vehicles. You can flip a vehicle end over end and have it land right side up before continuing the race, with no adverse effects to how the car drives or looks, which just contributes to that arcade feel once again.
Perhaps it was the developer's original intent to create an old-school arcade feel for the game, but it's not what I expected from the title. Even if you haven't played the original Dirt, it's difficult to deny that the marketing, artwork and everything else you see for the game seems to promote rally car racing, or at least off-road racing, but the Wii version of Dirt 2 doesn't feel the least bit like an off-road racer. It might look the part, but the controls give it away as something a lot more generic in scope. Also, the lack of any open progression to the story mode means that you'll be able to get through every race within a few hours of time, since each track rarely takes more than three minutes to complete. Once the single-player mode is finished, there's an offline option for four players, but no online mode. Also, the only other event to pad out the game is the challenge mode, which consists of 20 different mini-events, categorized by the four ranks used for the single-player races. These consist of timed events, last man out, jumps, drifting and so on. It's the same type of event through all four ranks, but with different criteria for medal ranks.
As far as controls, at least they give you a couple options. If you're not entertained by the thought of using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, you can opt for the Classic Controller, which is a pretty nice addition. However, the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo actually works quite well, so there's not much of a need to switch unless you really prefer a standard control scheme. The controls aren't so difficult that you gain anything from extra face buttons, so this is strictly a matter of what feels more comfortable for the player.
Basically, there's not enough content to the Wii port of Dirt 2 to warrant a purchase, and you certainly don't want to pick this up if you have access to another home console version of the game. It might look like Dirt 2, but it hardly plays like it, and it ends up feeling like a run-of-the-mill racer with some off-road track design, but with none of the control you might get from a rally game. It may be worth a rental if you only own a Wii, but it's certainly not worth the asking price. I suppose it's even more salt in the wound considering that the game runs you $30 on the PSP and $50 on the Wii, but the content is exactly the same. The graphical upgrade is hardly worth the $20 price increase, so I'd definitely suggest holding off on a purchase.
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