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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Dirt 2 (Playstation 3)

Gamers looking for exciting, visceral off-road racing action should definitely check out Dirt 2, a solid and challenging racer that showcases excellent visuals. The appeal is more than skin-deep as excellent physics, superlative handling and, sophisticated AI make for some intense and challenging races that will keep players on the edge of their seats throughout. A deep tour mode allows you to unlock plenty of extra content, additional vehicles and race locations quickly and effectively. Look inside and discover why Dirt 2's slick production values, deep gameplay and addictive modes make for an excellent package that offers another solid entry into the racing genre.

British Developers Codemasters has developed a fairly consistent reputation for delivering outstanding racing titles with slick production values. Recent releases such as Grid, Fuel and the first Dirt brought the genre forward with innovative menu systems wrapped around excellent gameplay. Sophisticated physics engines, extensive garages filled with licensed vehicles and addictive unlocking structures have become CM hallmarks, and Dirt 2 is the latest solid installment. While there are some superficial similarities between this game and the original, there have been numerous changes made. The most immediate is the new 'underground' vibe that brings players into the world of street racing. Gone are the sleek but somewhat bland menus of the first game, replaced with an interactive world that places you inside a trailer, where you immerse yourself in the racing culture. Instead of bland techno, there's a harder rocking soundtrack, and tattoo-styled menus that reflect a harder edge. You'll meet up with many other professional drivers as well, and there's a lot more trash talk this time around. While the game's attitude may be different, players don't need to worry about thing getting watered down. Dirt 2's basic premise and tech underpinnings remain solid and highly enjoyable. Once you get beyond the menus and look deeper, you'll see that there are more tracks, additional vehicle types and plenty of new options to look through. Dirt 2's structure has been simplified and it's easier to progress up through the ranks. Changing options, selecting vehicles and customizing them is also much faster this time around. Once you get on the track, you'll find an enhanced set of controls that bring you much closer into the action, with added weight, improved physics and better handling apparent immediately. This gives Dirt 2 an added sense of realism and authenticity right off the gate.

While the single player modes serve mainly as a practice mode to help familiarize yourself with the main game, Dirt 2's real depth comes in its Dirt Tour mode. Here, you begin at the bottom of the heap on the professional off-road circuit and compete in various race modes to earn and unlock additional content. At the main menu screen, you're given a large overview map of the races you can compete in, which are divided into continents. As you win races, you'll earn experience points which increases your level, unlocking additional areas. Dirt 2's racing structure in this mode is fairly non-linear and you can compete in any event in any area that you have unlocked. You begin with a small garage of vehicles, which can be upgraded as you gain access to more advanced classes. Purchasing additional vehicles adds to your garage. There are several types of races, ranging from basic rally events, to point-to-point races plus more interesting modes such as eliminator, where the lagging car on each lap is eliminated. These modes offer plenty of variety, and the game's online modes add even more depth to the gameplay. Each race is open to a specific type of vehicle, such as buggies or rally cars. Placing in the races earns you experience points, money and the respect and friendship of other drivers. As you win races, other drivers will be added to your 'buddy' list. Once added, they'll invite you into special races, join your team in co-op races and give you hints along the way. Winning races also allows you to unlock additional items, such as extra liveries for your vehicle, items you can place and see on your dashboard and extra horn sounds as well. Items and bonuses unlock at a fairly steady rate once you start winning races, which gives you a strong impetus to keep playing, though these seem almost too easy to acquire at first. Likewise, the map opens up quickly, and you should be able to compete in a large variety of races and locations with an hour or two of playing.

Dirt 2's excellent physics engine brings the intensity and action of a real-race to the PS3 in convincing fashion. With so many different vehicle types, it's impressive to note that each class brings a different feel to the track. For example, the game's heavy trucks are more stable, but more difficult to maneuver while the more nimble buggies and rally class cars have a greater chance of sliding off the track. Dirt 2 brings plenty of realism in how they perform because each vehicle has a lot of weight on the track. There's plenty of bumping with other vehicles and they perform realistically when damaged, with noticeable degradation in responsiveness when they've been hit. Obviously, with an off-road sim, mastering the Drifts and power-slides is an essential skill, which is a matter of timing and precision. Knowing the track layouts and mastering them ahead of time can give you a huge advantage, since you can anticipate hairpin turns and brake beforehand. The controls are very good, and players can use either the standard shift buttons and analog stick or configure the game to use the d-pad and face buttons. Performance in these modes is mostly a matter of personal preference, though the added nuance of analog controls makes drifting much easier. There's a bit of a learning curve in Dirt 2 that takes some time to master. At first, you'll find yourself sliding around the track, but once you get the feel of the controls, these moves are fairly easy to perform, and how easy it is to get out of tail spins depends on the vehicle you select. Players can customize the performance of each vehicle before each race or use the standard configuration, which should be adequate for most causal gamers. Those looking to go a bit deeper under the hood will find that Dirt 2 offers plenty of real-world physics and dynamic controls, but this doesn't come at the expense of enjoyment.

What really makes the game work so well is that it creates a fully coherent world that wraps around the races. It's these small details that make all the difference. For example, the banter between the other drivers during and between rounds gives the game a kind of story narrative that makes you feel like you're right in the middle of the action. Excellent controls and physics are what makes the difference as well, and keeps you playing on. As you slowly build your skills, you can definitely see how much the game offers, its nuanced driving mechanics and movements make you feel like you're actually driving these vehicles. Dirt 2's smart course design mixes different surfaces, hairpin curves and muddy section to create some truly challenging tracks that will keep you coming back for more. A variety of locations ranging from the Baja desert, to China and more urban sections like London's gritty docks and Tokyo's side streets gives you plenty of variety. Numerous special events and challenge modes add even more to the experience, which gives the game plenty of depth with loads of course and vehicle types to master. There's an impressive level of detail evident throughout Dirt 2, and the visuals in each stage are brilliantly rendered. Each track feels authentic and realistic with excellent light sourcing and environmental effects used to create a stunningly beautiful game world. From a driving standpoint, the game feels great and does an excellent job in recreating the feel of off-road racing, with the rally stages particularly impressive. This is no surprise considering the franchise's roots in the famous Colin McRae series. It delivers on its legacy in a number of ways. One example of this comes in the fact that Dirt 2 offers several camera angles, with the standard out-of-car views complimented by some breathtaking first-person and inside-the-cockpit perspectives. This makes for some superlative production values that give the game a slick, yet authentically gritty look throughout. It doesn't quite match the slick look and feel of Grid or Fuel, but this is an excellent off-road racer that brings some intense action and surprisingly deep physics to the genre.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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