Codemasters has long been a pioneer in rally racers with its Colin McRae franchise. Today, the series has evolved and has moved away from its original namesake, by being simply called DiRT. Actually, at one point, the game went through so many name changes that we had no idea what to call it anymore. In any case, DiRT has been out on the Xbox 360 and PC for about two months now, and has received some fairly decent reviews. But the game still had some issues that should've been resolved (such as the framerate), and Codemasters has said that the PlayStation 3 game is the version that fixes most of what ailed the others.
Immediately what you can notice from the demo is that the absurdly bright bloom lighting has been toned down to a much more acceptable, and realistic level. No more will you be blinded by a burst of orange and yellow reflecting off the surface, rendering your judgment of the road ahead impaired. But even though Codemasters toned down the bloom, making the game much easier on the eyes, it's still overdone. The game still looks like it takes place ten feet from the sun, so get used to the color yellow being quite dominant.
On the other hand, DiRT does sport some good texture work in the environments. The grass and road look pretty convincing, but once the game's blur-filter kicks-in when you increase speeds, their details won't be very noticeable. What's impressive about the engine is that it doesn't load a single thing in the environment when you're racing, and that means not a single pop-up to be seen. Now, because this is a demo, there seems to be some draw-in with the road, as the road texture sharpens up a few feet in front of your car. The mip-mapping effect is hardly noticeable, and hopefully will be gone in the final game.
As far as the framerate goes, I've only noticed it bog under one condition: when there's a full grid of cars displayed on one screen. Even so, when that does occur, the dip isn't terrible, perhaps five frames at most; but a keen eye will notice it.Car detail is pretty solid, if a bit washed out by the overexposed lighting. More importantly, the deformation of each car is pretty cool. I've yet to wrap my car around a pole, but I'm working on it. Lastly, according to Codemasters, wind-wakes from the speed of the car is supposed to disturb the swaying of grass, but I've seen no such thing in this demo. It could be because the demo is incomplete, but it could've also been hyperbole - my money's on the latter.
The game play quite well, I must say. Unlike previous Colin McRae games where the controls were overly sensitive, DiRT seems to have nailed the controls right on the head. Turning in and out doesn't feel like you're dancing on ice anymore. Instead, road feedback is tight and the cars behave accordingly. Of course, if you damage your car's suspension, expect play in your steering. In other words, if you bend a control arm, your car will begin pulling towards whichever side was damaged, so exercise caution.
Each class of vehicles control differently, so don't expect the same grip you get from an AWD car when using a 2WD vehicle. But do expect the very best in grip and structural integrity out of the game's buggies. The reinforced buggies are capable of withstanding some absurd amounts of abuse before finally caving in and going immobile, where as regular cars can't.
The demo of DiRT isn't terribly limited, as it allows you to play with three different cars and tracks. And based on what I've seen, fans of the Colin McRae franchise should find themselves enjoying DiRT quite a bit. Look for the PS3 version of DiRT to hit shelves in September.
8/20/2007 Arnold Katayev