Dirt 2 Preview
Racing fans still mourn the loss of Colin McRae, but that doesn’t mean his good name can’t live on in excellent racing titles like Dirt and the upcoming sequel. The original was a solid off-road simulator that felt a little like Gran Turismo on dirt, and in some ways, featured a better-implemented gameplay mechanic than those Rally events in the famed GT series. Dirt was visually attractive, appropriately deep, and a joy to play for fans of the niche racing genre. Since then, racing followers have seen an influx of off-road gems, including last year’s MotorStorm: Pacific Rift and Pure, but now it’s time to consider a return to realism and authenticity. High-flying acrobatics and spectacular crashes are great, but some of the more avid racing buffs want a little bit more…and Codemasters is gonna give it to them. Dirt 2 is shaping up to be a definite must-have for 2009, and here’s a look at the upgrades and enhancements you can expect.
Now, while this will indeed be a simulator, it will also take a cue from those aforementioned titles: it’s time to toss in some attitude. Thanks to a recent eyes-on presentation given to GameSpot, we have learned that Codemasters intends to really emphasize the flashier – yet still mud-encrusted – side of the sport, so when you first see a teaser video, don’t be surprised to see half-clothed females and plenty of over-the-top action set to fast rock tracks. Some of the purists will find this a little unnecessary and maybe even offensive, but let’s face up to facts- attitude in sports is a primary driver of sales and popularity. Besides, it adds a little to the overall excitement, doesn’t it? Anyway, it’s hardly the only change you can expect; there’s also the new addition of stadium rally events, which means the roar of thousands of assembled fans will now accompany your charge around the track. There were always fans standing on the road courses, but this is an entirely different animal.
In the presentation, Codemasters showed off a gameplay video of a fictional stadium inspired by London’s Battersea Power Station, and the arena featured the dark, gritty style one might expect plus as many as 120,000 screaming fans (a significant upgrade from Grid’s 40,000 fans). One of the modes you will find in stadiums is the Stadium King Shootout, and we imagine we’ll be spending plenty of time sliding around these new tracks, which may also boast more opponents. Although Rally racing typically focuses on the participant racing against the clock, wouldn’t one have to assume that a stadium event would include multiple participants in a standard race-to-the-finish format? Racing fans who have never liked the Rally format will point towards a lack of intensity by saying, “racing against the clock isn’t anywhere near as intense as dealing with other racers on the same track.” There is some truth to that, and perhaps this is Codemasters’ response to that complaint. Besides, it’s not like indoor Rally events don’t exist; they do, and it certainly enhances the appeal and panache, in our opinion. Let’s just hope there’s no rubber-band AI to infect the inherent realism…
There’s also a marked improvement in terms of visuals and physics, so expect a more dynamic presentation the whole way ‘round. GameSpot said a tech demo of the game featured “puddles that appear to be at least a foot deep,” and obviously, this can have a seriously adverse affect on your driving capability. Straight-up racing in ideal conditions has every racer attempting to take the same line on most every part of the track, but when you’re facing a relatively wide stretch of filthy road, dotted with nasty puddles and mud slicks, you’ll have to improvise at a moment’s notice. Rain and wet pavement or dirt isn’t anything new in the racing realm, but what we’re talking about should significantly alter the commonly anticipated experience. In the simplest terms, we recall the Flower levels in Super Mario Kart, when it was better to take a certain route through the muddy mess. Clearly, it’s going to be a whole lot more advanced in Dirt 2, but we just wanted to give you a foundation for the mental imagery.
Lastly, you will find yourself racing everywhere from the U.S. to Croatia to China, and let’s not forget about the impending online matches. In the original game, you were forced into “multiplayer” action that consisted only of single time trials; this time, Codemasters has responded to the fan outcry. The online multiplayer will feature matches against other racers in real-time, which is exactly what we need. All in all, Dirt 2 is guaranteed to be one of the year’s most anticipated racers, and we’re hoping it arrives some time this summer. There’s little chance of seeing Gran Turismo 5 in 2009, so why not turn your attention to what should be a fantastic and ultimately entertaining racer?
3/3/2009 Ben Dutka