Colin McRae DiRT PC & Xbox 360
Published by: Codemasters
Developed by: Codemasters
Release Date: Out Now
Colin McRae fans have had to wait a long time (well over two years in fact) for the latest game in the series. Given the success of the previous titles I was surprised that it's taken so long for a Colin McRae game to appear on the 'next-generation' consoles and also to take full advantage of the latest PC hardware. As this review shows however, the wait is finally over. Colin McRae DiRT isn't a simple rehash. In fact the developers have gone out of their way to create a more varied driving game that attempts to capture the flavour of a wide variety of off-road racing experiences and having played both the PC and Xbox 360 versions of DiRT, I think it's fair to say they have succeeded.
There are three single-player modes in Colin McRae DiRT. Career is where you'll spend most of your time with your game and here you'll compete in a wide range of events as you climb your way up through the numerous tiers as you endeavour to make your way to the top of the career pyramid. Doing well in various events will earn you points (that are necessary to unlock new events and progress to the next tier) and prize money. The prize money can be used to purchase new vehicles (there are over 45 officially licensed cars in the game) and liveries (there are over 180 liveries in the game). The amount of prize money you earn for winning an event will depend on what difficulty level you're playing on. There are five difficulty levels in the game and they range from the easy Rookie level to the challenging Pro level where mechanical damage is very likely, terminal damage is possible and the AI is very challenging to say the least. In addition to the Career mode there are Rally Championship and Rally World modes. Rally Championship allows you to take part in a European, International or Global Championship. European Championships are comprised of events in the UK, Italy and Germany whilst International Championships are comprised of events in Japan, Australia and Spain. Global Championships, as the name implies, are comprised of events from any region. Rally World lets you take part in a one-off race as well as taking part in time trials.
Rather than simply provide a standard rally game experience, DiRT throws plenty of variety your way. There are six different racing disciplines in the game. Rally is the more well known of the bunch and here you'll compete in point-to-point races with the winner being the one with the best overall time. Crossover is a head-to-head race where you and an opponent race around a special circuit. Rallycross is a wheel-to-wheel racing discipline where you'll get to races on circuits that are made up of both on and off-road racing elements. Rally Raid is where you'll drive Rally Raid vehicles, head-to-head, on long off-road circuits in the US. Hill Climb is a point-to-point race where, as the name suggests, you'll drive up a mountain with the winner being the one who records the quickest time. Finally there are the CORR (Championship Off-Road Racing) events which are wheel-to-wheel off-road races involving vehicles such as Super Buggies and Trucks.
For the most part DiRT is very enjoyable although a couple of things could have been better. The cars don't always appear to handle as they should on certain surfaces. On gravel and dirt for instance the cars seem to handle much better than they do on tarmac which is certainly strange. I played the game using the 360 controller and the handling felt a little floaty at times. The brakes also seem to be a little too sharp. Even when driving on fairly hazardous surfaces you seem to stop almost instantly when braking and this just doesn't feel right. Without access to a steering wheel (for the PC or 360) it's impossible to say whether a wheel would have given any better handling. With practice you do get used to the rather floaty feel the steering the game has but it's a shame that the handling isn't as good as it was in previous Colin McRae Rally titles.
Those expecting a good multiplayer mode in DiRT will be disappointed with what the game actually offers. There are no wheel-to-wheel races to take part in so you're never going to feel like you're actually racing against someone. The only two events you can play online are Rally or Hill Climb. Essentially it just feels as if you're competing against the AI and doesn't feel like a multiplayer mode in the slightest. In fact it's more of an online time trial mode which is bitterly disappointing especially when the single-player game offers a decent selection of wheel-to-wheel races which would have worked really well online.
The game's presentation is first class with the 3D menu system looking particularly impressive. As you're waiting for an event to load you'll get to see various details of how you've performed so far which is a nice touch. Both the Xbox 360 and the PC versions of DiRT look great and by far it's the best looking game in the Colin McRae series to date. Both the racing environments and the vehicle models look superb. The damage modelling on the vehicles in particular looks very impressive. We recently looked at Forza Motorsport 2 and it was disappointing to find the game offered no in-car view. DiRT offers two in-car views (called dashboard cam and helmet cam) and they both look excellent. There are six driving views in all bumper, bonnet and chase cam views included. Of course PC gamers will have to have a powerful system in order to have a fairly smooth experience. You'll also need a fairly recent graphics card. I was unable play the game on our main review PC as our graphics card (an ATi X800XT) doesn't support SM 3.0 even though the card is actually more powerful than the one in our other system which does support SM 3.0. The Xbox 360 version looks superb and runs smoothly during the events that only have your vehicle taking part. In events where you are racing wheel-to-wheel, the frame rate noticeably dips and the racing experience isn't as smooth as it should be. Naturally, the performance on the PC version will vary according to the system specification you have.
There is a decent amount of speech in DiRT and, unfortunately, none of it is subtitled. When you're selecting an event to play in the Career mode you can press the Y button to obtain info on the discipline. This information is rather useful but it's verbal only. You're also given verbal only information before and after events which deaf gamers will be completely unaware of. During races none of the co-driver's pace notes are subtitled. You can choose to view directional arrows that have a coloured bar underneath them to show the severity of a bend in the road. The coloured bars are green (which indicates a safe turning), yellow, orange and red (which indicate a bend where extreme caution should be used such as a hairpin). This system works quite well although it still doesn't convey as much information as the co-driver's verbal pace notes.
There are many aspects of Colin McRae DiRT that many gamers will enjoy. The variety in the racing disciplines is certainly refreshing and will definitely widen the games appeal to attract those who may not have been interested in previous Colin McRae rally titles. The graphics are very impressive and include real-world roads and the vehicles all look superb. The frame rate issues, the poor multiplayer and the slightly floaty handling are all negatives that take away from the experience. That said you do get used to the handling after spending an hour or so with the game and the frame issues are only present in wheel-to-wheel races. On the whole, DiRT for both the 360 and the PC is a very enjoyable racing title but there's clearly room for improvement, especially on the multiplayer side of the game.
Colin McRae DiRT is both visually impressive and more appealing to a wider audience than previous games in the series. A better multiplayer experience is sorely needed however.