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DIRT: Colin McRae Off-Road

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters


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PS3 Review - 'DiRT: Colin McRae Off-Road'

by Geson Hatchett on Sept. 21, 2007 @ 3:27 a.m. PDT

DIRT: Colin McRae Off-Road is set to be the most diverse and exhilarating off-road racing experience ever with sensational gravel, mud and dirt events the world over. DIRT: Colin McRae Off-Road will deliver the wheel-screaming exhilaration of off-road racing with the next generation of the seriesÂ’ sublime car handling and physics system and a devastating new damage engine that ensures players experience every bump in the track, every loose rock, every inch of shifting dirt through the reactive environments.

Genre: Rally Racing
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Release Date: September 11, 2007

My last run-in with a Codemasters racing game was Indy Car Series 2005, after which I swore I would never touch anything by the developer again. It's not that I didn't like or respect the game or its developer, mind you — it's simply that I'm partial to arcade-style racers, or barring that, technical games that ease even novices into its fold. Indy Car's learning curve was akin to a brick wall, and I never recovered from the concussion.

So my esteemed editor, in his infinite memory, tossed me DiRT, and I, in my infinite wisdom, actually accepted it. Clearly, neither of us has learned anything … but it seems Codemasters did. Sweet.

Yes, in the last few years, Codemasters has indeed learned a thing or two about accessibility. We've got adjustable race difficulty, with higher rewards for bigger challenge. We've got voiceovers that walk you through every single term and technique you might not be familiar with, all at the touch of a button. Driving techniques are further outlined in the instruction booklet to give you an edge. It can still get very much on the technical side, but at least this time, if you're not already a rally racing junkie, you're not hopelessly lost no matter what. Even people who don't play non-sims can get their feet wet in DiRT's easier modes and work their way up to the simmy stuff. The analog steering of the starting cars handles fairly well without modification, but you're allowed to gradually tweak every part of your car imaginable for maximum performance and control.

People who already do like the simmy stuff, however, are going to be in heaven. This is actually the latest in the Colin McRae series of rally racing games, which Codemasters has turned into a trusted name as far as video rally racing titles go. Those tweaks I mentioned above allow you to tune your chosen car to adapt to any of the game's tracks. Want to grip the tarmac during curves? Adjust the wheel camber and toe angles. Want to maximize your speed during and after gear shifts? The transmission menu is there for just such an endeavor. In a good bout of design, multiple settings can be saved per car so that you don't have to keep tweaking over and over again once you find a setting that works for both you and a particular type of track.

The racing is just a sim-laden as ever, though more intuitive this time. Using the d-pad isn't recommended, as the analog steering gives you more precise wheel control. Damage on your car is supported, though oddly enough, the only way to get a "did not finish" in a race is to completely bust up your car and stay on the road doing it. If you manage to drive yourself over a cliff, you're magically warped onto the track. I never quite understood that, but it's probably for the best, since staying on the road requires pinpoint precision anyway.

This game also supports Logitech racing wheels, and here's where things get crazy. I have an old Driving Force that I'm always happy to pop in whenever a new racer comes down the pike. It, naturally, helps to enhance the experience. Trying to play DiRT with the wheel, however, should only be attempted by the pros. The force feedback is done so well that if you're not already used to driving a car off-road, you're not going to be able to steer the darned thing. It's as simple as that.

The game itself, once all of the menus are navigated and an event chosen, looks breathtaking; on a good high-definition monitor, the tracks are full of detail, action and nice ambient details. The filters make the game look appropriately hazy when the tracks are on sand or in the desert, and the lighting in various European tracks hides the road well enough to make the game realistically difficult.

There are various views to employ, but the cockpit view is perhaps the most immersive. Every car is modeled from the inside, so when you are placed in the driver's seat, your point of view is realistically hampered by the A pillar and dashboard, and the right analog stick allow you to pan your view when appropriate. The only other racing game that nailed this feature is Project Gotham Racing, but the visceral feeling of this first-person perspective is very effective in conveying speed and makes the game subtly more challenging. The cockpits can be dark at times, and the various details along the dashboard seem muted, but there are functional warning lights that indicate gear changes.

DiRT is actually more of a solitary experience than anything else. Starting up the game in Career Mode will give show the player 11 tiers of racing, with your objective being to get to the top, and earn a load of cash along the way. These tiers constitute every form of rally racing you can think of: track races against other cars (Championship Off-Road, Crossover, Rallycross), solitary clock runs on stretches of terrain (Rally Raid and Hill Climb) and variations on each. You'll have to master each race type in order to win it, get cash and buy better cars for even better race times. You can also tackle a traditional Championship mode, a series of races where your only goal is to become champion of a particular set of events. Finally, Rally World is a sort of infinite practice mode, where it's just your current unlocked cars, tracks and your imagination. All of these modes are welcome to the single-player experience.

With all of this offline replay value available, the multiplayer in DiRT is a bit of a misnomer. The back of the box will say that it supports up to 100 players, but then you find out that the only supported online modes are Hill Climb and Rally Cross. This means that while up to 100 players are "synced," you don't actually get to see any of them. You're instead racing against each others' progressive times, with only a distance meter and ranking HUD to show you how you're doing. Sure, it works, but it feels like a bit of a copout. More disappointing is that you don't even have more race choices playing over a local LAN. An online Championship Off-Road mode would have been nice, even if the amount of simultaneous players would have had to have been drastically cut.

DiRT is the best racing game on the PS3 thus far. Sure, it may be by default since it doesn't have to compete with Forza like the Xbox 360 version, but that doesn't detract from the game's merit. Still, despite all of the efforts to be accessible to technical rally racing newbies, this is still a game for tinkerers and realistic driving enthusiasts at heart. Those simply wishing to Go Fast(tm) in their racing games, unfortunately, will have to stick with Full Auto 2, or Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition Remix via backward compatibility for the moment. The multiplayer, while serviceable, needs serious work, but players looking for their own fantasy rally racing league to enjoy on their couches have come to the right place.

Score: 8.0/10

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