Reviewed by Roger Gibson, Posted on 2007-07-22


Developer: Codemasters Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: June 19, 2007 Also On: PC, PS3 & Xbox 360

DiRT is in fact the next line in the Colin McRae series that CodeMasters has been putting out for many years now. Haven't heard of them? That's precisely why DiRT isn't named "Colin McRae Rally" as are its predecessors. CodeMasters needed a bigger audience abroad, though the previous titles did very well in their own right and have a dedicated following. A more attractive title and presentation was the thing that boosted DiRT into the minds of many gamers, but the actual gameplay is what keeps it there as more than a rental.

If presentation could sell a game alone, DiRT would be the best selling game of all time. As soon as the game loads up, you're eyes are graced with the finest menus and user interface this side of the Mississippi. Nothing is out of place. It feels so streamlined and progressive that even Travis Pastrana's questionable slang is tolerable during the quick indoctrination to the world of DiRT. Unfortunately, however, you'll hear his voice throughout the whole game. Though he's a badass in the dirt (in freestyle MX and rally), his commentary can use some beefing-up, but at least you can turn him down in the options. Back to the positive side, the music in the menu is catchy and pumps you up for some down-and-dirty rally racing.

Since Microsoft didn't add any dirt tracks to Forza 2, the Xbox 360 had nothing notable to quench racers' appetite for a simulated trip down a bumpy road with sheer edges and 90 degree turns. Nor is there any other game that allows you to control rally cars, diesel trucks, CORR trucks, buggies, and other dirt slingers across desert paths, between German towns, through tree-filled forests, up hill climbs and around sanctioned courses. DiRT has almost all the flavors of dirt racing on four wheels. Not even previous McRae games offered more than point-to-point races. In contrast, DiRT allows all these race types as well as the use of official cars on real tracks around the world. DiRT also boasts a damage system that affects the vehicle’s performance and body parts (they’ll fly off!). In fact, DiRT has such a great system it rivals that of titles like Burnout. As such, DiRT offers gamers two experiences: sweet, sweet rally for the hardcore and some fun out on the roads and trails for those who want to partake in spectacular crashes.

Now I'm going to broach the subject of "real world” since this is a simulator at heart. DiRT does an excellent job of portraying it, even as you rocket past or come to a screeching halt. The graphics are nothing short of fantastic. Every blade of grass, tree branch, rock, stick and anything you catch yourself gazing upon while you should be driving looks as real as could be hoped for. Even the feeling of speed, which is exhilarating, doesn't affect the splendor of the environments. The only questionable aspect is that the color palette is a bit muddy, which is similar to the look of Rainbow Six Vegas but at least a touch more vibrant. And the lighting is worthy of particular note: Though the tracks are always raced at a particular time of day and/or season, each is given special attention to the real-world lighting effects. If it's cloudy, there's but a small shadow cast upon the environment and less glare. If it's sunny, there's lots of glare from the car, off water, and even long or short shadows cast by objects in the environment as well as your car. All this is particularly noticeable as you gaze lovingly at your lap from the replay screen. Sound effects are also extremely accurate as each vehicle sounds true-to-life in exhaust tone, engine and turbo whine complete with boost blow-off, etc. Even the diesels sound like the torque-monsters they are with those huge turbines whining and air brakes engaging.

This game also has impeccable collision detection and real-world physics, which can be a bad thing if you get sloppy! You can use other racers to your advantage by "bumping to pass” or they can be a big object in your path to glory. The collision detection also works really well against inanimate objects... trees, rocks, stumps and cliff edges are not your friends and can easily cause damage to specific components such as cooling fans or suspension as well as cause "terminal damage" where continuing the race is not possible. It's great fun to be between and up the tailpipe of the competition in an attempt to overtake, but it's just plain embarrassing to get that big "DNF" (Did Not Finish) by causing terminal damage to your vehicle because you swung wide on a level 2 turn and smashed into a tree.

Though the collision detection and damage physics are spot-on, the actual driving physics aren't as impressive, which puts DiRT just slightly behind the power curve in comparison to its predecessors. Every vehicle, whether it be the buggies or the huge Raid trucks, have the same pivot axis. There's very little differentiation in the feel and length of the vehicle as it slides the corner. The only way you know you're driving a bigger vehicle or a FWD compared to an AWD seems to be achieved with more simple mechanics. The big ones turn slower, seat your view higher, and bounce quite a bit more over the rough stuff. Furthermore, most all of the vehicles feel more like driving a boat then a car due to feeling floaty. The vehicles just don't FEEL like they're on the ground. True, a rally machine has very dynamic shocks with a high spring rate to absorb impact, which is what I'm sure CodeMasters was trying to portray, but they still didn't quite get the relationship with the tires and the road quite as accurate as I'd hope. Even the detailed tuning options DiRT offers don’t help this issue, but it does help in performance, especially if you plan for the type of course you’re racing next. If it’s all tarmac, some road tires are better served than some nobbys.

DiRT also supplies some multiplayer fun as well as Leaderboards via Xbox Live. There’s just one problem with the multiplayer: you don’t get to see the people you’re racing. You’re basically only racing another player in a time trial and only on Hill Climb and Rally venues. There’s no “race rubbing” or drafting to overtake; no sliding in front of a competitor to show of your skills; and no smashing if you get road rage and decide to try to end the race for the both of you (which I do not condone!). It’s a huge disgruntlement for me, but at least the single player Career mode makes up for it.

This game is just plain FUN no matter how you flip it and irregardless of the missing multiplayer features, and that's the true brilliance behind DiRT. There's no question that DiRT makes you feel the stress of sliding a very expensive car between trees and rocks at 50+ mph or the exhilaration of launching said expensive car end-over-end. In fact, if not into a serious race, it's fun to just hit the course and see if you can beat your best number of rolls, longest jump or time on two wheels. Flip the car, jump it off cliffs; do your worst or your best and have fun. You’ll continue to be amazed by the varied amount of tracks, vehicles (which you can purchase as you progress), and especially the arcade feel combined beautifully with a rally simulator.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.5
Written by Roger Review Guide

Reviewed by Roger Gibson