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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Review: Colin McRae: DiRT

Format: PC
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters

Not since the original TOCA Touring Car on the PS1 had I played a racing game, or even felt compelled to do so. It was therefore with a lumbering weight of apprehension that I picked up my newly-purchased XBox 360 controller after double-clicking DiRT's desktop icon. I felt like a stranger in a sensuous new land, the foreign sound of a lady groaning in pleasure was to greet me like an aroused ambassador, and then, the most sumptuous menu screen ever. Gliding through the available play modes - Career, Championship and Rally World - I began to feel at home as I pondered on which option tempted me most. A defining characteristic of the rally is that drivers rarely undertake a challenge without a co-driver and pacenotes, this ethos extends to most aspects of DiRT. If the player finds themselves in a fix, the Y button on the 360 controller (or up-arrow on the keyboard) provokes a knowledgeable chap to chirp up, furnishing the player with usually useful information in specific regard to whatever currently holds the game's attention. Because of a decade of suspended knowledge, DiRT is to me a simulation game because what it lacks in missile launchers it makes up for in potential to tinker with technobits before the race. Codemasters have thoughtfully provided an explanation at the precipice of every pitfall, instructing newcomers on how to handle themselves when approaching such hazardous questions as, 'Should my rear toe-angle be negatively aligned for best performance?', simplifying the issue for genre-cretins.

Goatherds will kindly move aside

The developers of DiRT have done a darn-fine job. Before playing, I would have insisted that racing is a pure and emotionally-detached event, closer to a science of angles and traction than a whole-hearted adventure, now I know better. I know that the car in the above screenshot is a Mitsubishi Evo IX Lancer, what's more, it's my Lancer, and we've been through a lot together. In each of DiRT's modes, courses are unlocked and thus the player is materially rewarded for their accomplishments. Many games, notably MMOs, use a similar 'new stuff after strife' system because it achieves a heightened sense of ownership. I don't think it's sensible to use a system such as this in a game like DiRT because it typically shrouds the best bits. DiRT goes so far as to reveal the events' name, the type of course and car involved, yet demands that the player earn the privilege to play most of the game . Codemasters ascend a steep incline of success once the better content is unlocked. As I conquered the Career Mode's tiers I was able to choose from a worthy roster of motors, learning for myself the nuances of torque and track alike.

Codemasters developed a new engine before spraying DiRT onto our screens, and its performance to annoyance ratio is top-notch. It's clear that the publishing/development duo have acquired a brimming toolbox during McRae's many trials (DiRT being the seventh iteration of the series), the rally cars' handling, the fidelity of the scenery, the camera-angles available to the player in-game and the playback features present in the action-replay, they're all marvellous. What's absent from this list of pure-gold gameplay? Well, I say that the rally cars handle well because the buggies (that are much flaunted in DiRT's publicity) handle like soap in a bath: they're slippery and you'll ultimately face frustration. The in-race camera-angles are both functional and attractive, so it's a shameful revelation that Codemaster's positioning of most of their track-side cameras is dire, dire like the kind of Bugbear that would pulverise a lesser game into the damp gravel of obscurity.

DiRT lets you take trucks off-road. That's not 'arcade', that's American.

The majority of gaming PCs won't have the horsepower to handle this game at its most maximised detail levels. If you own a 360 and a PC that hasn't had its components churned-over in more than two years, I'd definitely recommend that you purchase the 360 version of DiRT. Aptly enough, only the beginning of each race has performed at a poor speed on my PC, with far smoother acceleration accompanying the majority of races. DiRT remains, under its embossed bonnet, a rally fanatic. As such, the contours of the road will supplant other cars as the abundant challenge for the player's speeding chassis.

DiRT's audio is its disability, its crutch rather than a well-oiled clutch. Once I'd recovered from the startling onset of the stupendously sub-woofed title music, I found DiRT to be wiped clean of any music of merit. There's little audible mettle to the motors, either. The game is proudly loud, but rarely does the audio suit the atmosphere or does the terrain's visual virtuosity risk succumbing to the enunciation of the engine.

In conclusion, DiRT is a game that's well worthy of your time, even if you're not keen on the genre. I'd highly recommend that you purchase an apt controller with rumble and anaglog-stick capabilities, without which you simply won't experience this game as the developers intended. DiRT has left a persistent smudge upon my psyche.


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