Colin McRae: DiRT
Accessible is probably the best word to describe Colin McRae: DiRT, the sixth game in Codemaster’s popular rally simulator. This is something that either speaks ill of its predecessors in terms of mass appeal, or Codemasters is attempting something mainstream than everything that came before. After spending time with the PS3 version, and before that its distant 360 cousin, it’s the latter. Yes, DiRT is more mainstream. But for once, that isn’t a bad thing. You see, despite the sights being set on a much broader demographic, DiRT remains true to all that defined the franchise and made it so popular in the first place.
As a simulated experience it’s still vying for utmost realism – the physicality of each vehicle, their handling, how they react to varying surfaces, course layout, the AI of opponents and so on. All of it is supposed to echo the sport DiRT is based upon. DiRT is about realism first and foremost, despite its beautiful menu system and all the other aesthetic bells and whistles that come with it. Unfortunately, that’s right down to such annoying things as small rocks, logs or tree trunks jutting out of the side of the road, which could cause you to lose control of your vehicle and get forced into the wrong direction. Or, even more annoying, making you terminally damage your car well beyond repair. But, y’know, that’s rally driving, so put up or shut up. The reasons it infuriates may be arbitrary, but it comes with the territory. After all, this isn’t Sega Rally we’re talking about.
Although, that said, DiRT does unintentionally highlight just why Sega Rally is so damn good. And the first, most immediate reason is the locations. There are no big waterfalls or luscious green flora in these tracks, oh no. DiRT is, as the name implies, a game with its emphasis put firmly on the brown stuff. No, the other kind. And where it really surprises is in the beauty of its bleakness. Tearing down rain-soaked roads at immense speed, a dull grey or overcast sky above, frog-strewn forests to your left and right… what should be a disheartening, possibly even upsetting sight in real life is an absolutely gorgeous image in the game. And that just describes tracks from Germany and Japan. Australia features, too, with the blistering hot sun causing you to kick up a long trail of dust as you careen around corners.
Sure, it’s a far cry from something like MotorStorm in terms of visuals and the destruction from crashes. But it looks stunning for its own reasons, despite odd tracks here and there looking like someone’s just come and smeared Vaseline all over your screen. More importantly than these things is the fact that, in this time of shallow and disappointing ports hitting the PS3 replete with downgraded visuals, DiRT is actually a better-looking game than the 360 version. It’s sharper, less shiny and – thank God – it has nowhere near as much vertical syncing. Some exists, typically when a good number of racers are jammed together, but we’re talking trace level here – and not something that should ever be a problem.
We mentioned the word "shallow" a moment ago and it’s something no one could accuse DiRT of being. Codemasters has stuffed it to bursting point – perhaps not in online features (there are no eight-player races), but certainly tracks and vehicles. Not to mention the varying difficulty levels of the multitude of courses you can race in Career mode. Structured like a huge pyramid, Career is where the bulk of DiRT is set. You also have Rally World and Championship modes, too. Where the former is self-explanatory, the latter presents races where your final time through each stage of a particular race combines to decide who wins. The races in Championship are part of Career too, which also has standard six-player races and traditional rally – arguably the best part of DiRT. By using a points scheme, players unlock new tiers on the pyramid and, by virtue of that, races. Said races are split into five difficulties and the higher you go, the more cash you get. Eventually you’ll hit the top to win the all-important Champion of Champions event. Then you’ll probably restart. And the reason you’ll do that is because, infuriation and mass-appeal aside, we’re talking about the most entertaining game in the franchise. Six entries on and, yeah, while it suffers for being bloody annoying at times, the sheer sense of fun doesn’t entirely erase those problems as much as take them down in a hit-and-run. There are times when DiRT even borders on twitch gaming – thanks largely to the immense speed and enjoyment of rally races. That’s because Codemasters has good experience in this field, with five previous games acting as proof. DiRT is the sixth and it’s a success, not just for the franchise, but the PlayStation 3 in general. So prepare to get filthy.