Colin McRae: DiRT 2 Review (PC)

DiRT 2 was one of 2009's finest racing games in a year that wasn't in any way bereft of great racers to choose from. Forza 3 was predictably excellent as was Need For Speed: Shift – gamers haven't been short of decent racing games in 2009 and yet, for our money, Colin McRae DiRT 2 somehow stood out as the pick of the bunch for us.

Forza 3 and Shift were undeniably brilliant and each offered their own unique version of videogame driving, but DiRT 2 seemed to offer that little extra something. Although too Americanised for some, DiRT 2 also came under fire for straying too far from the roots of the previous games and their point-to-point rally trials. However, towards the end of his career, Colin McRae was competing in the X-Games, so the game's events adhere to the rallying legend's career without veering too far off-track.

Driving like that won't get you very far.
Nothing beats racing through water at ludicrous speed.

And while the game does err a little too close to the 'gnarly' side of extreme racing, there's a lot to be said for DiRT 2's racing variety. Where Rally Cross is your run-of-the-mill competitive race, there's also the frantic jostling through the pack in Landrush or the intense point-to-point trials of Trail Blazer. And there's always traditional Rally for the purists.

There are differing vehicle types for each of the eight racing disciplines too, so you'll gradually assemble a garage chock full of rugged all-terrain trucks alongside the leaner, more agile rallying machines. Again, some criticised DiRT 2 for its lack of focus and while you could indeed argue the point, we'd say that variety is the spice that makes Codies' rally follow-up a more than worthy stablemate to GRID.

Comprised of around 100 events, spread across nine stunning hot spots from around the globe, DiRT 2 will keep you racing through mud and gravel for months. Factor in the eight different race disciplines and you have not only one of the finest racers around, but one that you can tailor to suit your skill level.

On the track itself, DiRT 2’s racing is predictably superb, with the third-generation of Codie’s proprietary EGO Engine producing not just stunning visuals, but a fantastic driving model that makes powersliding around corners an incomparable, visceral joy. On PC, DiRT 2's DX 11 support takes the already sparkling graphics and shoots them into the stratosphere. Simply put, the game runs at its very best on a high spec rig.

The race events work much like GRID, with each playable while set to an individual difficulty, so casual, intermediate and advanced driving fans are well catered for with six levels to choose from. Setting the degree of challenge has an effect on how much cash and XP you accumulate after each race, as well as the number of ‘flashbacks’ you’re given.

There's plenty of fun and frantic racing to be had and each completed race grants XP towards your ongoing level.
You'll thank the gaming gods for Flashbacks during the Landrush races. Hitting a rock at speed will flip your truck right over and potentially end the race.

Flashbacks are lifted straight from GRID too, giving you the chance to rectify accidents with a swift rewind to a point before you spun out, rolled or crashed your ride. It’s a great feature that we’re seeing included in more and more racing games (Forza 3 included), as there’s nothing more frustrating than executing the perfect race before destroying all of your hard fought efforts with a single, momentary lapse in concentration.

Elsewhere you can tinker with your vehicle's settings, which is completely optional and can be switched off along with damage effects. However, squeezing the optimum performance out of your car might occasionally require a tweak of the differential here and a slight adjustment of the suspension there. Gear ratio, ride height, brake bias and downforce can also be adjusted via a series of sliders. And nothing beats the pure gratification of trouncing the rest of the pack as a result of your own custom set-up, so it’s entirely worthwhile.

Experimenting with racing configurations is also made incredibly simple thanks to a complete lack of loading times between restarts, so if, for instance the low ride height and short gear shifts aren’t working for you, simply restart, fiddle with the sliders and have another crack. Of course, you can have the best set up and still lose horribly if you fail to drive well enough, which is why you’ll quickly learn that conservative racing will get you nowhere.

Riding the brake and safe driving seldom wins races in DiRT 2. Victory demands aggressive driving, which means approaching hairpin bends with nerves of steel, throwing out the tail end on corners with just a cautious dab of the brake to keep you on course. Consideration has to be made for the track surface too, which can be a mixture of loose gravel and tarmac, sand, mud - you’re never quite sure what the next race will throw at you, so sorting your car can be of paramount importance.

If you do opt to play with the pre-race set up attributes, you’ll feel the impact upon your ride right away, which is testament to the great work Codie’s racing studio have performed in creating the sublime driving model. Failure to tune the differential incorrectly for example will leave you with too much over or understeer, so sometimes it’s a good idea to leave the settings alone if you’re not too sure – you’ll still have a blast tearing across DiRT 2’s trails.

Did we mention that the game looks stunning?
Codemasters' driving model is one of the best, bar none.

While you race, occasional radio chatter between you and your fellow drivers adds to your sense of inclusion amongst the extreme racing fraternity. If you plough into someone, you’ll be rightfully called a stupid idiot, but then if you can strategically nudge someone’s tail end causing them to unceremoniously spin off the track, a sharp reprimand is easy to shrug off as you cruise through the pack. Drive well, on the other hand and you’ll be granted a nice compliment, which is very gracious we think you'll agree.

DiRT 2 was superlative stuff on Xbox 360 and PS3, and on PC it remains one of the most comprehensive and utterly playable off-road racing game you can buy. The overall racing experience is never anything but totally pleasurable, the depth and range of challenges on offer lending masses of longevity with presentation that's never anything but exceptional. A pitch perfect balance between immediate arcade playability and detailed realism that can be tuned to your own specific tastes make DiRT 2 a rally game for every race fan out there.

Top game moment: The sublime handling and gorgeous visuals make it too difficult to pick just one moment. Driving through a big puddle is always good though.


By eloqui (SI Core Member) on Jan 10, 2010
Wow....just wow. look at those screens. Practically photo-realistic. I don't buy many racing games, but...

I heard that GRID was great, and fun. Is there anything special to GRID that isn't here?
By eloqui (SI Core Member) on Jan 10, 2010
btw, anyone remember Big Red Racing? or Whiplash?
By Richie82 (SI Member) on Jan 13, 2010
GRID is fantastic. Highly recommended. The visual style is different and the game focuses on street racing, but that same brilliant handling model is present and correct. Worth a look, especially now you can probably get it very cheap.