Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


(Codemasters for Xbox 360)

By Michael Palisano

Joining Xbox 360's racing elite class, Codemasters' Dirt is a solid evolution in the long-running Colin McRae series with a broader scope, more varied race types and vehicles plus additional gameplay modes including extensive online modes. Beautiful graphics, highlighted by richly detailed topography and surface types makes for an impressive title visually. The gameplay remains as challenging as ever with responsive car handling, realistic damage modeling and aggressive opponent AI. Another addition this time around allows you to race against other racers in real time, not just against the clock. This makes for a more visceral racing experience that makes Dirt an even more exciting title.

Bringing the spirit and feel of the Colin McRae rally racing series onto next-generation consoles, Dirt on the Xbox 360 represents a solid evolution for the franchise. The latest iteration branches in new directions to create a more expansive scope of off-road racing. While rally racing remains the heart of Dirt, new game modes and vehicles add new challenges to the game. Dirt presents the player with three main modes of play. In Career mode, the objective is to win races in as many events as possible. Finishing in the top tier allows you to win points and money which can be used to unlock additional events, buy additional cars and purchase liveries, which are upgrades that help your vehicle to stand out from the pack. You can also enter the Rally Championship mode, which are a series of international cups where you can win a series of tournaments to win even more points and modes. Players can also choose to play single races and mix and match events in the Rally World mode, where every track and vehicle that's been unlocked in the other modes can be played.

The game features dozens of courses and tracks, many of which can be unlocked easily, giving you plenty of variety. Adding to the game's scope, there are several distinct types of racing disciplines that you have to master as you progress through Dirt. The Rally discipline offers a standard rally fare, where you race point-to-point in long challenging races through different surfaces and environments. To make things more exciting, Dirt also includes Crossover mode, where two players race head to head on parallel courses simultaneously. This isn't to be confused with Rally Cross mode, where players have to race on tracks containing both traditional and off-road surfaces. Rally Raid mode offers strictly off road action in long, large and free-roaming courses that test your endurance with lengthy battles through dusty Western courses. Dirt's Corr championship mode offers a series of short tracks where super-buggies and trucks battle it out in tight quarters. Finally, the game offers a grueling mountain battle with its Hill Climb mode, where you have to drive straight up from start to finish, requiring a great deal of skill to navigate and win.

As you'd expect from the legacy of its previous incarnation, Dirt's elaborate courses are highly detailed with different types of turns, from hairpin to gentle curves, roadside obsctacles and unexpected twists that keep you on your toes. The courses range from long point-to-point rallies in exotic locales, to dirt strewn off-road tracks and uphill climbs. This gives Dirt plenty of variety as you play through different styles and racing challenges. While there's a huge selection of vehicles in the Rally classes, Dirt adds more variety by including massive trucks and dirt buggies to the mix as well, which present completely different types of challenges and controls. While the selection is limited initially, there are dozens of vehicles to unlock in the game, and these can be purchased by winning races and unlocking different race types. After you've completed a race, you can enter the garage and repair damage, upgrade your vehicle and view your points status. All these features aside, what really matters is what happens on the road, and this is where Dirt really stands apart. Implementing a sophisticated and realistic physics engine allows the vehicles to perform accurately, with the handling and responsiveness you'd expect. The controls are slick and the game uses either the d-pad or analog stick which allows you to drive in whichever style you want to.

Controlling the vehicles is easy enough, though you have to watch out for collisions and accidents, since these cause damage on your vehicle. The damage looks realistic and it affects vehicle performance as well, with decreased turning ability or even the car completely off-balance and listing in one direction during the race. If your vehicle takes too many collisions, your car will have terminal damage and being unable to move forward, the race will come to an abrupt end. This gives you less room for error than in some of the less realistic games which increases the challenge Dirt presents. Mastering each course requires you to know how far in advance to brake, learn each curve and know how to slide through them while avoiding going too far off the track. You can reset the vehicle, and place it back in its last acceptable position when you go off the track, but this comes at a heavy cost of time, which can significantly reduce the likelihood that you'll finish in a qualifying position. This is definitely one of the more strategic and thoughtful racing games, requiring much more concentration and stamina than most arcade racers demand.

Dirt's visuals are superb, with richly detailed environments, realistic environmental lighting, a smooth frame rate and fantastically rendered vehicles working together to create one of the most believable and coherent racing games to date. The varied track surfaces such as soil, mud and gravel have all been designed to look as authentic and realistic as possible, and Dirt's attention to detail is quite impressive. Each vehicle looks spectacular with windows, wheel chassis and doors all responding to the road, with the suspensions bouncing with the terrain to make them feel incredibly realistic. The game's damage modeling is also quite impressive, with cracked windshields, shattered bumpers and loose wheels giving your mistakes quite a visceral impact as well. Weather and light effects have also been given a comprehensive once over, which makes each track feel all the more authentic and realistic racing aesthetic.

Dirt's lavishly rendered in-game graphics are impressive but the in-game menus also deserve praise for their slick design and easy to navigate structure which adds to the overall experience. In a cool touch, the game shows you statistics about your progress, such as number of roll-overs or crashes instead of generic loading screens This helps to mitigate the sometimes long load times between races. These elements combine in Dirt to achieve a realistic off-road simulation approach without devolving into the usual 'extreme' sports clichés that mar so many other releases. With it's increased variety of vehicles, new versus racing modes, beautiful visuals and excellent control, Dirt is an enjoyable and intense racing title that offers an exciting mix of traditional rally racing and off-road racing in a comprehensive yet accessible package that should please casual and hard-core players alike.


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