The Colin McRae rally games have been pretty much without peer for almost a decade. Since the original came out for the Playstation and Windows 95/98 in 1998, a lot has changed. Back then you needed a good deal of imagination to picture yourself as a racing car driver. While the graphics may have been fantastic for that day and age, they did little to disguise the fact that technology simply wasn’t advanced enough to pull off a realistic driving experience.
Today’s PCs and Next-Gen consoles are powerful machines. I am sure they will be laughable ten years from now but we have reached the point where our gaming rigs can provide us with a high level of realism and believable graphics. In fact, I believe we have reached the point that – without making the step to Virtual Reality – we have pretty much reached the limits of what we can do to make a game feel realistic.
Finding the boundaries
The moment that you are flung into your first race, you -know- that DiRT is Next-Gen and that it is pushing these limits. Codemasters has chosen to move away from crisp graphics, giving DiRT a somewhat murky feel instead. It is this murkiness that pulls you into the game almost to the point that you can smell the mud and taste it in your mouth. That is not to say that the graphics lack detail. Quite the contrary, the level of detail is astonishing. Drivers can be seen steering in cockpits that have obviously received a lot of attention by the developers. Dirt and grass are thrown in all directions when cars hit unpaved area's and occasionally you can see your car dragging along a piece of fence that... well... shouldn't have been there in the first place. *cough*
The tracks themselves offer a lot of variety. With the addition of circuit tracks there obviously was a lot more source material available. In fact, I enjoyed races on the circuits more than I did on the point-to-point WRC tracks that still make up over half of the available tracks. Mostly this was because of the additional cars in the race. It is just a lot more fun racing against other cars than it is to race against the clock.
The area's surrounding the race tracks rarely look generic and here the effort to create a believable driving experience is almost palpable. What surprised me is how smooth the game runs despite the graphical splendor and the often wild action on screen. Playing at maximum detail, I did not notice jerkiness or any other signs of my PC being unable to handle the game. Unfortunately there is a downside to all this detail; it becomes impossible to overlook the fact that the spectators are a bunch of dumb cows. You can drive straight into them and they won't move. Seriously. They are just 3D versions of the cardboard spectators of old. Nothing in them betrays any notion of your passing by at all. A shame but not enough to bring the graphical score down.
Colin McRae DiRT is still mostly a simulation game but less so than its predecessors. The difficulty level and handling are too steep for it to be an arcade racer, and so are its options to tweak the handling of your car. There is nothing wrong with that if you aren't hoping for an arcade or easy mode to help you coast through the game with only a minimum of effort. Because there is no such mode.
Before every race you can choose your difficulty level but even at Rookie level the game is challenging when controlled with the keyboard. The controls are highly sensitive and often you will find yourself quickly tapping the directional keys rather than keeping them pressed. Should you forget to tap, you will end up besides the track in no time, your car wrapped around a tree and unable to go any further. Especially when you unleash the full power of the engine by keeping the acceleration button pressed, the car becomes unmanageable.
No Pros and Cons at this time