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DiRT 2 (PlayStation 3) artwork

DiRT 2 (PlayStation 3) review

"Designed for thrill-seeking racing fans that embrace the idea of bending rules (specifically those involving the survival rate of accidents), DiRT 2 is everything the first game was and more."

Scratched, crumpled and covered in mud, you continue to ignore the “minor wheel damage” warning while speeding down an unpaved road. Patches of grass are sparingly used to break up the near-consistent trail of dirt – not as obstacles but as an attractive change of scenery. Puddles, on the other hand, are inconveniently located just before ramps and sharp turns, ensuring a place-altering crash or spin-out for any careless driver.

But you pull through, unfazed by the environment and its award-worthy realism. You tough out every mistake (or when necessary, completely reverse them) and cross the finish line first, rejoicing in the speedy sensations and breathtaking beauty that defy the current generation. You do it repeatedly – loss after loss and win after win – because you just can’t bear to pull yourself away from the game spinning in your PS3: DiRT 2. Designed for thrill-seeking racing fans that embrace the idea of bending rules (specifically those involving the survival rate of accidents), DiRT 2 is everything the first game was and more.

Using speed, intense camera effects and unparalleled graphics to enthrall and engage every player, the original DiRT was the champion of jaw-dropping effects on PS3 and Xbox 360. DiRT 2 follows that same path with a similar, albeit notably enhanced, set of visual tricks. The camera is the most notable; it’s rock-solid while driving normally but kicks into overdrive the moment you bump into something. Whether it’s a wall, another car, or merely a stack of tires, the camera jerks (smoothly, not jarringly) with the potency of every collision.

It may not be a realistic representation of a crash – after all, you will drive away from all but the most severe collisions with nothing more than body scars (which are purely visual) and the potential for tire damage that could hurt your ability to steer. But if you can imagine what it’d be like to drive several thousand pounds of metal into something – if you can envision how that metal would shake and how your body could get tossed around, even if safely harnessed by a seatbelt – you will completely understand what the developers were going for. They have completely captured the essence of what it means to drive dangerously, rewarding the player with repercussions that are so exciting they’re practically inviting.

If any repercussion is too great to bear, DiRT 2 lets you rewind the crash and start over. This feature, taken from Codemasters’ other monumental racing game, Grid, is a stellar addition to the Dirt franchise. Rather than making the game easier to beat, it merely takes away the frustration that came from great moments gone horribly wrong. DiRT 2 is filled with gorgeous environments that span the world: America, Japan, Morocco, Malaysia and Croatia, to name a few. The textures and intricate 3D modeling are simply amazing. You won’t find any other racing game – developed for any of the current-gen consoles – that looks this good.

But the environments weren’t made solely for the purpose of giving us something to drool over. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “And men read Playboy for the articles, right.” But it’s true – these courses are much deeper than a poster filled with Playmates. Their corkscrew paths and cliff-hugging turns are packed with rocks, bushes, tree trunks and other natural elements that become road hazards the second you touch them. More significantly, the environments feel alive. You won’t be blown away by the crowd animations – though they are good, you will usually be driving too fast to notice them. However, you will notice the trees, the grass, and the water that covers your windshield until it gets wiped away. Your eyes will be widened – and perhaps pop out a little – by the sight of the sun as it streaks through your vehicle’s window, producing unique and unbelievable shadow effects.

Your thumbs will be satisfied too as they utilize DiRT 2’s excellent mechanics. The controls haven’t been changed much from the first game, which is okay given how great they still feel. Power-sliding is tough but the steering mechanics are very manageable, even while trying to survive a hairpin turn. The important thing to remember is to use your brake button; without it, you won’t get very far in this game.

Whether you choose to brake and play cautiously or hold the gas and race carelessly, DiRT 2 has a difficulty setting (easy, casual, serious, savage, extreme or hardcore) that’s right for you. The difficulty can be set at the start of each race – a feature that’s worth noting when you consider that there are dozens of single- and multi-race competitions to compete in.

For all of its success in the area of speed, controls, crash physics and graphics, DiRT 2 is not a spotless racer. The aforementioned statement, “DiRT 2 is everything the first game was and more,” pertained to every part of the game, not just the positive aspects.

Like its predecessor, DiRT 2 has some of the best courses a video game could offer. But once again there are not enough of them. The game loves to extend the journey by cooking up new events that combine multiple race types – time trials, elimination rounds, competition-based races (where eight drivers compete simultaneously), and other variations – into one lengthy event. However, these are only cool until you realize that this is one giant excuse for the game to reiterate its tiny selection of courses.

DiRT 2 (speaking to the player, unofficial translation): “Now that you’ve completed a time trial event, why don’t you compete in another just like it? Come on, we know you want to. We’ll even throw in a new…uhh…the exact same course!”

Collectively, DiRT 2’s mechanics are top-notch. But when you single out the buggies, the game doesn’t do so well. Buggies steer horribly, crash easily, and can barely handle a simple jump. Yes, they are featured the least of any vehicle in the game. But why feature them at all if they pale in comparison to the numerous trucks, cars and SUVs?

It is unfortunate – maybe even a little depressing – that these kinds of flaws still exist in high-end racing games, particularly because they always take something away from the experience. If it weren’t for the memorable gameplay and awe-inspiring thrills, this sequel would have been a disappointment. But just like the first game, DiRT 2 isn’t really about achieving perfection – it’s a racing game that’s all about living in the moment. One that’s ridiculously impressive, to say the least, because there are few games that have done it this well, and there aren’t any that have done it better.

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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (October 10, 2009)

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