Video Game Rentals Delivered

DiRT

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-01-01 17:57:59

DiRT - Rank B


Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Date: 6/19/07

Also available for PlayStation 3 and PC

DiRT is actually the latest entry in the venerated Colin McRae rally racing series. I presume the name change was for branding purposes (we Yanks are largely ignorant of any type of racing that doesn't involve 800 left turns) and to emphasize the broadened scope of including a variety of off-road events in addition to rally racing.

DiRT is an odd series of contradictions. For starters, it's gorgeous. The cars are beautifully detailed, and each track is a stunning trail of tarmac, gravel, or good old dirt flanked by spectacularly lit environments, from lush timberland to dusty desert. Sadly, this visual splendor comes at the cost of a less than optimal frame rate. DiRT resorts to the occasional screen tearing and pop-in to keep this manageable. It's not harsh enough to affect gameplay, but it is clearly noticeable from an aesthetic perspective. (The PlayStation 3 version arrived much later than the Xbox 360 release, and this frame rate issue was lessened by a considerable degree.)

The damage physics are also remarkable. Collisions result in shattered fences and crumpled bits of auto parts strewn across the road, with detailed damage recorded for numerous critical automotive systems. In multi-part races, this results in a mini-game to repair functionality to those systems within the allotted time. For hardcore gearheads, every reasonable option is available to tune your vehicle for the upcoming race. Honestly, I only tinkered with stretching the gear ratios for tracks with long straightaways, or the suspension according to bumpiness, but if you feel inclined to optimize camber, brake bias, differentials, downforce, and so forth, it's all there.

Contrasting this depth of simulation are the paper-thin physics of the driving itself. The vehicles in DiRT don't turn on their wheels, but instead revolve around an imaginary pivot point in the center of the car. It's like steering a pinwheel. This may have been forgivable for Colin McRae 3 on the PlayStation 2 back in 2003, but is laughable in a "next-gen" release. The result is a floaty arcade-style feel to driving, not at all in line with the hardcore presentation of the rest of the game.

I also expected the emphasis of a Codemasters game to be on rally racing, only to find a plethora of fascinating non-rally events: CORR, crossover, hill climb, rally raid, and rallycross. I had no idea that some of these professional events even existed. One of them involved racing full-sized big rigs across treacherously steep desert dunes. Another had me driving a vehicle that was ostensibly labeled a Toyota Tacoma, only it looked and accelerated like a rocket sled designed to deliver a surface probe to Mars. The events that actually pit you against concurrent drivers (as opposed to racing against their times) were rendered miserable by the poor A.I. of the competitors. In order to beat them at the upper difficulties, I was forced to resort to underhanded and dangerous cutoff maneuvers that would get any professional driver chased right off the track. (To be fair, when it comes to racing A.I., there is Forza-"good" and everything else-"poor".)

DiRT's online setup is also mystifying. It provides all of the usual goodies from leaderboards to multiplayer, only it's actually singleplayer. Online races are just a series of time trials without any meaningful interaction with your opponents - not even their ghosts. I don't see the point. Just stick to the career mode, the bulk of which involves racing alone against the clock. It's a zen sort of experience, like a bushido master purposefully lost in bamboo thickets repeatedly striving for the cleanest stroke of his blade as killer man-eating pandas hunt him for cutting down all of their bamboo.

Despite all of my complaints, I gladly forgive DiRT's shortcomings. The core experience is still pure joy. Drifting along a cliff edge while trying to interpret your navigator's instructions about upcoming turns, all while gambling you're not throttling hard enough to fly off the mountainside because you MUST shave a couple tenths of a second off your competitor's lead...is absolutely thrilling. DiRT is one of those few games that causes me to involuntarily tense my shoulders, furrow my brow in anxious concentration, and grit my teeth so hard that my jaw aches upon crossing the finish line.

As to which platform to purchase it for, that depends. As I previously mentioned, the PlayStation 3 version delivers a smoother frame rate, but the Xbox 360 controller, with its superior triggers and rumble support, provides a more satisfyingly tactile racing experience. On the other hand, if you have (or plan to purchase) a Logitech steering wheel for your PlayStation 3, I would wholeheartedly recommend that route. Yes, the wheel is preposterously expensive, but it's also preposterously awesome. Just check out the features via that link. If you own a PS3, you can afford it. (Just be sure to finish checkout in a timely fashion after clicking through that link, or we won't get our commission ;) Finally, I simply wish you luck if you grab the PC version.

Ultimately, DiRT suffers from numerous flaws, but none of them are fatal. The game definitely delivers the fundamental conflict of racing -speed vs. control- in an exhilarating fashion. In previous console generations, multiple high quality rally racers vied for our game time, but DiRT now stands alone as the preeminent representative of its breed.

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