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DiRT Review

publisher: Codemasters
developer: Codemasters
genre: Racing

PIV 3000, 1GB RAM, 12.5GB HDD
ESRB rating: E

release date: Jun 19, 07
» All About DiRT on ActionTrip

I have a DIRTy little confession to make. I've been driving over 10 years now and I still regard cars as simple means of transportation - not more and not less than that. So in light of that fact, I'm probably not the hottest choice for a DIRT reviewer, but as it so happens, I'm also the only one who's either not on probation or in hospital for driving like a maniac in this office. Sometimes, it doesn't even take a drivers license around here. You take that as you will. And no, I'm not kidding. I'm actually working with automobile maniacs here.

That said, the question about DIRT is whether it sates the appetite of fans, as well as live up to the standards of its forbearers, namely all the games in the Colin McRae series. You see, the thing with DIRT is that Codemasters has obviously made a conscious effort to steer clear of the Colin McRae name for whatever reason. Actually, the reason may be pretty prosaic, yet very powerful - it's money. DIRT is desperate to make it big across the Atlantic, which is why the series has been completely Americanized. In itself, there's nothing wrong with that. However, I wonder how many Americans are keen on driving a FIAT on some dirt road in Italy.

The Americanization of once profoundly Euro-centered racing series has brought a stronger focus on off-road driving and all sorts of FWD vehicles. And while this is a valiant marketing effort, gameplay-wise, it doesn't go much deeper than that. As soon as you scratch beneath the surface, you'll see that Rally driving is still the cornerstone of this game, and the choice of cars has by and large remained consistent - if you're looking for the top cars in each discipline that is. The number of available cars in the game stands at a whopping 46 (that's a lot in my book). You buy them with Euros as you win races, and modestly customize their appearance for an additional amount of Euros.

The main option in the single player portion is certainly the Career Mode. As you start off, you'll get a relatively wide selection of racing championships to participate in. Some will be based on beating the clock, while others may have you going one on one against another driver in a knockout type of competition, or going up against a number of other drivers in 2 or 3-lap races. Still, Rally remains the predominant racing type - by far the most demanding driving category in DIRT. The selection of difficulty levels is very well balanced and the same can be said about progressive AI toughness. The higher the difficulty level, the more money you'll make, therefore having additional resources for buying new cars and such.

The multiplayer mode is still an integral part of the game, though, for that, I strongly advise that you get yourself a good racing wheel. Going up against virtual driving fanatics can be an exercise in futility unless you come packing (with a wheel that is).

As in all the other Colin games, DIRT offers a multitude of tweaking options for your car. You can set to your liking just about every damn nut and bolt in your vehicle.

This brings us to the nitty-gritty of DIRT (pardon the pun), which is the driving itself. I commend the folks at Codemasters for still holding the title of driving simulation champions when it comes to PC gaming. The gameplay in DIRT is fine-tuned to offer the most intense driving experience on the PC. Cars all act very differently depending on the surface and the car type itself; breaking (though overly efficient on lower levels of difficulty) feels very natural, and so do the forces pounding the car as you enter a sharp bend at high speed. Granted, you won't actually feel your butt stick to the seat and then possibly fly off depending on how well you executed the turn (don't worry, you'll be belted at all times), but this is close enough for me. The sound effects have been made more powerful, so that each bump and crash feels like an actual impact occurred. The damage model is excellent, and it is quite often that you will suffer terminal damage when hitting an object like a tree at high speeds. This makes Rally driving an intense experience (even though there are usually no cars to race against), emphasizing cooperation between your co-pilot and yourself, as well as patience and concentration as Rally driver's greatest virtues.

Visually, DIRT impresses with very detailed car models, excellently designed backdrops with effective use of pixel shaders (and especially particle effects to portray mud or dirt-covered chassis), realistic-looking cockpit view and more. Motion blur is borderline overdone, but it's still a welcomed visual addition.

What I didn't like about the game, from a technical standpoint, are some of the visual effects (the overdone HDR lighting, and whatever filter the developers used to make everything appear "grittier" - it simply didn't seem crisp enough for a PC game, but that was obviously intentional), and, of course, the horrible frame rates that I was getting. Even after installing the patch, the game ran like ASS (that's 'ass' in CAPSLOCK) on my AMD 3800+, 7900GT, 2GB RAM work rig, and on medium visual settings! (Surprisingly, the frame rate wasn't THAT much lower on Ultra Settings.)
The frame rate would be passable while driving a Rally race, but when more cars would come into play, even on 'medium,' I was more or less getting a slide show. To quote some crazy Aussie: "W-T-F, MATE?!"

I understand that there are a lot of (physics) forces at play (after all, this is a great sim. game), but, Christ, what's the point of all these fancy effects and great features when I'm getting a headache from the slide show I'm seeing on screen?! And with a decent computer too!

To sum it up, is DIRT a good game? Besides suffering from a mild identity crisis, this is a very good racing game. It is complex, demanding, and it can get pretty intense, especially in Rally races. Will this game be playable on most rigs? I very much doubt it. For whatever reason, the ridiculous hardware requirements are seriously messing with the overall impression that you get from playing DIRT.


8.2   Very Good

Excellent feel to racing, intense Rally action, damage model, physics, a ton of options, great sound effects.

Hardware hog. Actually, scratch that - a freakin' HOGZILLA!



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