Crossing the Steams 10.09.12: DiRT 2
Personally, DiRT 2 is one of my favorite’s games of this generation. It isn’t that different from other of Codemasters games, but it has a special place in my heart. Grid, Dirt 1, 2, and 3 all pretty much play the same. I omitted Dirt: Showdown from the list because it’s a weird off-shoot that seems like it failed spectacularly. Never the less, DiRT 2 is the one that I started with and the one I’m going to talk about in this week’s column.
Dirt 2 (which I’m going to call it, instead of the stupid spelling), is a hybrid of arcade and simulation racing. It actually is almost a perfect blend of this formula, with you being able to get into the nitty-gritty aspects of your cars aspects, gear ratios and suspension pressure, or you can just dive in and race. Having this choice is nice because it allows you the freedom to get in there (if you know what you’re doing), or just to get into the race and drive.
The driving model in Dirt 2 is incredibly smooth but it requires you to pay attention. When turning around corners, going over straightaways, or landing a jump, you’ll need to always be aware of what your car is doing and how to best control it. When you hit a turn, you can try and power-slide around it, but the road will always fight you. Different road surfaces mean different things, with tarmac being smooth, dust and dirt being a bit slippery, mud being extremely slippery, and puddles being like pools of Jell-o that slow your car down. Going around a right handed turn in tarmac is fairly simple, but doing the same turn while in the mud, it fights you constantly.
The game is broken down into various locales, be it from the mundane Croatia or Monaco, to the exotic land of Utah. Each location kind of looks the same, which is the only real knock against the game. Each setting just looks like an off-shoot of a desert, with a few levels being different, but not much. Dirt 3 rectified this, with some better weather effects (snow, for one), but it is the only real minor criticism with Dirt 2.
As you race, you get experience and money with how well you did, and with higher difficulty levels you gain more. The game is pretty challenging but never feels cheap. The money you get, you used to unlock new cars and to upgrade those cars for higher class racing. You don’t buy specific parts for a car; you just buy an all-general upgrade pack for, “pro” and “all-star” races. The experience you get in a race feeds into your driver level. When you gain a level, you get access to new races, or locations, as well as unlocking bonuses, a new horn, liveries (car paint jobs), or dashboard toys. It is kind of an inconsequential system, but it does keep you invested in trying to complete everything.
The race events in Dirt 2 are pretty similar as in other Dirt games, or even other racing games. You have Rallycross, Raid, and Landrush races, which are all about 8 drivers on the track at the same time, with variations on driving surfaces, or what the vehicles you can use.
Rally and Trailblazer are two other event types, with each being a staggered race start, with you and a co-driver. With a staggered race, each participant is started about 20 seconds from each other, with the goal to have the fastest time for the over-all track. Trailblazer races usually involve hill climbs (or descents), while Rally racing involves getting around a treacherous or technical course. The co-driver is there to tell you when to turn, how much to turn, and so on.
The more specialized race types include, Last Man Standing, Domination, and Gatecrasher. Gatecrasher is probably the most fun, as it involves you racing against the clock (the person with the most time wins). You smash into yellow gates on the track which adds time to your clock, giving you more points. Last Man Standing is pretty self-explanatory, with it being the last place racer is eliminated in 20 second intervals until the last one is left. Unlike in Dirt Showdown though, this race type is fun, because it gives you more time to get in first place. Domination involves the track being split into 4 different sections, and you trying to achieve the lowest time for each section. You are awarded points for how many sections you control, as well as your over-all place during the race. If you read my earlier Dirt: Showdown review, this will all sound largely familiar.
Another familiar system is that of the Flashback system. During the race, if you press select, you can rewind time a bit and retry something. If you took the turn wrong, or crashed hard into a wall, you can use the Flashback to hopefully try and correct that mistake. The number of Flashback’s you get is dependent upon the level of difficulty you are playing at, very easy you get 5, easy you get 4, medium you get 3, and so on.
One unique system in this game is the respect system. Different drivers will think different things from you, from not even noticing you, to thinking you’re “a legend”. It is fairly half-baked, and doesn’t go far enough, but it was a neat idea. It would have been cool if they really built it out, so you could get rivalries going, or if you could build a special relationship with a specific driver, so you could use them as your partner in one of the occasional team-based races. This system was dropped completely from Dirt 3 (and Showdown), which is kind of a shame. By the time you get to the halfway point of the game, everyone will pretty much love you. At the beginning of a race, you’re told another racer is the “One to Watch”, but this has no bearing at all in the actual race. Often times, you are chosen for this, which kind of breaks the system further. It would have been a good idea, but since it doesn’t matter at all, it becomes rather pointless.
Graphically, the game looks good, even to this day. It uses the Ego engine which is Codemasters proprietary game engine, for good and for bad. Tracks are great to look at, cars are beautifully detailed (especially when they crash), and the game feels speedy when you race….IF you have a powerful enough machine to run it on. I’ll discuss that a bit further down, but even on the lowest settings, Dirt 2 looks fantastic, even if most of the aesthetic feels like it fell out of a Mountain Dew-inspired X-Games nightmare.
The only thing better than the gameplay of Dirt 2, is the audio. The game features some voice work of the current Rally greats, Ken Block, Tanner Foust, Travis Pastrana, and so on. The co-drivers are also good, and sound appropriate to the game. There isn’t much in the way of sound effects, but car engines each sound different, trucks are growly, and lighter racier cars sound peppy. The music is superb though, all of it from licensed musicians. Bands like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Biffy Clyro, and The Futureheads all make their presence known. Yes, this game was developed in the UK, if you hadn’t guessed. There are a few American musicians also, Rise Against, Queens of the Stone Age, etc., but the European influence far out-weighs the American one. It helps give the game a very unique sounding flavor, with a soundtrack that should be enjoyed, even separately from the game.
The game installed fine and runs….ok. My older computer had some issues with it, specifically my processor and video card. My new computer runs it fine, although even with an i7 2.3ghz and a Nvidia GTX 560, I still get some weird performance hiccups. The game seems to stutter in spots, especially after pausing the game, or using a Flashback retry. It’s nothing particularly game-breaking, but you will need a fairly robust computer to try and get the most out of the game. The game also uses GFWL DRM, which can be bothersome to some people. Sometimes it works (this game is one where I hit no problems), and sometimes it doesn’t (Bioshock 2 anyone?). I didn’t have any issues with it, which was kind of nice.
There is a decent amount of replayablity within Dirt 2. There is an online multiplayer system that is still up and running, and you can find a few races on it. The big thing though, is just the sheer amount of races the game has, and all the events you can do. Each location has, at least, 5 events to do, and with 8 locations, that adds up. There are also a few championships and other stuff to keep you entertained, as well as a very nice tribute to the departed Colin McRae, who died shortly after the release of the first Dirt game. It is a heart-felt moment, and good on Codemasters for including it.
DiRT 2 remains one of the best racing games of this generation. It’s full of technical racing, but is thrilling and exciting at the same time. The PC port can be a bit sluggish at times, but is beautiful to behold, even compared to its console cousins. Occasionally, it goes on sale for 5$, and at that price, it is well worth a look. Even at full price, you will spend hours racing and having a blast with this game.
Graphics — 9.0 Completely stunning, with a good sense of speed, destructible cars, and some gorgeous scenery. The only knock is that locations tend to look very similar to each other, but that is minor, in the grand scheme of things.
Gameplay — 10 One of the best racers to have ever come out. Different road surfaces lead to different ways of driving, making standard event types incredibly fun. It’s a special feel from other racers, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a blast.
Sound — 10 It may not to be to everyone’s liking, but it is to mine, Dirt 2 has amazing music. It is full of European musicians playing songs that mesh well with the racing action. Add in good car engine sounds, and some British voice work, and it’s a slam-dunk.
Ease of Installation/Playing — 7.0 It uses GFWL, but the game didn’t have any problems with it. The game requires a fairly beefy machine to run it, and has problems even on top of the line machines, today. It’s nothing that will crash the game, but is jittery at points.
Replayabiliy — 8.5 There is multiplayer, but it is a bit empty. The amount of events and races though, will keep you entertained for 20 hours, easy.
Overall — 8.9 (exact), which I’ll round up to 9.0
Other Steam News
SOFTWARE! ON STEAM! Isn’t everyone excited?! Yeah….I didn’t think so. This week sees the release of 5 games on Steam. On Oct. 9th, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored are both due out. XCOM is the reboot of the old XCOM franchise, a turn-based tactical game where you kill aliens. Dishonored is a first person, steampunk shooter that looks pretty solid. On Oct. 10th, Worms Revolution is due out, which will no doubt please my Worms-obsessed friend Ben very much. It’s more Worms…so if that’s your thing, have at it. On Oct. 11th, Of Orcs and Men and Blood Bowl – Chaos Edition are out. Of Orcs and Men looks like an action-RPG, featuring….Orcs and Men. Shocker, huh? Blood Bowl – Chaos Edition is yet another game in the Blood Bowl franchise, where it’s a football strategy game, only with monsters and a lot of killing. Next week I shall look at Crysis 2 Maximum Edition.