After a significant delay suffered in the pursuit of incorporating the advanced capabilities of DirectX 11 into the game, the Games for Windows LIVE version of Colin McRae: DiRT 2 will finally arrive at UK retail this coming Friday, 4th December 2009. A three month delay is significant for any videogame release, suggesting that a touch of Capcom’s insecurity about the piracy issue concerning PC videogame releases may have brushed-up against Codemasters, but wherever the truth lies, one thing is for certain: those three months have not been wasted.
The high-definition console release of Colin McRae: DiRT 2 proved to be one of the best Racing games of 2009, eschewing the constraints of striving for realism in the likes of Forza Motorsport 3 and Gran Turismo and instead reflecting on the high speed thrills and competition of virtual racing. That’s not to say Colin McRae: DiRT 2 doesn’t hold realism in high regard, it’s simply less important than having fun.
The presentation of Colin McRae: DiRT 2 within the Games for Windows client mirrors that of the console versions. All events and options in between races take place at your caravan; an elaborate, lively and colourful setting wherein players choose their event, purchase new vehicles and view their statistics. More than this though, the caravan will follow them throughout the world, presenting a unique locale for every different racing destination. From the map inside the caravan, the player chooses their race event, split between ranks and location, with more becoming available through gaining XP. XP is earned through completing mid-level challenges, beating rival’s challenges and, of course, winning races.
The handling model is closer to that of Codemasters’ other genre-defining Racing title, 2007’s Race Driver: GRID, than the precise realism of many competitors. Floaty and yet allowing for precise, turn-on-a-dime manoeuvres, it’s nothing less than a pleasure to nail that elongated hairpin turn whilst speeding past less confident (or more sensible) competitors without collision, and the variety of races and vehicle types certainly asks the player to mix-up their strategy with races quickly turning from wide tarmac stretches into narrow, dusty tracks with ditches, walls and foliage prepared to prematurely end your race with just a moment’s indecision or late breaking. Thankfully, the game borrows from Race Driver: GRID with the replay and Flashback system, allowing players to restart from any point during the mid-game replay, correcting a single mistake or race-ending collision. The variety of track and race types is, quite frankly, astounding – effortlessly more comprehensive than the vast majority of videogame packages.
Divided into several disciplines, the Rally and Trailblazer events use staggered starts in lap and point-to-point based races respectively, while Raid events provide numerous shortcuts across the varying terrain. Land Rush events are the dirtiest of all, spraying dust and water in your wake as you speed across jumps and banks, career around twisting corners and tussle for position. Rally Cross races are were the original Colin McRae: DiRT made it’s name, more defined here with tight, level circuit tracks mixing tarmac and dusty surfaces in some of the fastest, and most frantic, races in the game. Of course, each different discipline has a number of vehicles available for the player to purchase and decorate with their livery and dashboard accessory winnings, but many can also be converted for use in multiple disciplines for a small price.
Earning points through races in each of these disciplines will unlock further events, leading to an appearance at the world renowned X-Games. Effectively tournaments offering a culmination of all the skills players have learnt by mixing-and-matching from all the event types, the X-Games are a genuinely inviting punctuation to the player’s progress. The Throwdowns offered by other, real-world racing stars deliver a nice breather from the more chaotic events, offering a single objective or opponent and adding to the feeling that a player can become a star in every discipline through perseverance.
The varying disciplines are also divided as such when playing online. The all-encompassing Jam Session allows players to more accurately define their chosen rules and events, whilst the Pro Mode is effectively a reinterpretation of Ranked Matches. Online multiplayer features it’s own level system that mirrors that of the single player, and the Pro Mode is likely to be absorbing most of your time, offering every discipline or breaking the events down into groups of three similar events types.
While the bulk of the improvements obviously lie within the game’s graphical prowess, the four months delay has allowed for a number of other areas to receive a bit of a tidy-up. Introducing the player to new event types, locations and vehicles is handled with a little more panache than in the console versions, and even the preliminary speech provides much more information on the player’s Caravan set-up. The visual detail at the caravan appears to have had additional effects layered upon it and, of course, the vehicles during races are effortlessly sharper than the console versions. The soundtrack remains largely the same as the console editions, with the likes of The Prodigy standing side-by-side with Elbow and Bloc Party – few will have cause for complaint.
Colin McRae: DiRT 2 on consoles was an inspired Racing game release. Easily one of the best titles of 2009, and possibly of the generation so far, Colin McRae: DiRT 2 was a fine tribute to a man that has become a racing legend. The Games for Windows LIVE version of Colin McRae: DiRT 2 is every bit as engrossing as its console cousins, and with a number of refinements and slight modifications, provides the definitive version of one of 2009’s best Racing games.