A good yet frustrating racer
Good racers really are uncommon on this generation, which is why, although I found it very shallow and frustrating, DiRT is a breath of fresh air. It tries nothing new, and doesn't have a lot of game modes, but its graphical polish, and excellent physics do make it worth while.
Let's start off with the good, since there's a lot of it here. Graphically, DiRT is an unmatched powerhouse. The cars look absolutely incredible, and they shine absolutely perfectly in the gleaming sun, or in the soaking rain. They also show mud and dirt when they do get dirty. The tracks are all entirely destructible, and will deform as cars drive over the mud, signs will smash through windshields when run over, fences will crumble, and overall the tracks show immense detail without the slightest form of pop-in on the main road. The backgrounds also look great. Each tree has individual leaves and branches, which is an immense feat. Unfortunately, the trees do pop in as you draw near them, which isn't a big problem, but it is completely noticeable. Oddly enough, the Xbox 360 version runs miles worse than the Playstation 3 version. The Ps3 version runs constantly at 30, even during multi car races, but the 360 version will tank to about 5 or 6 during these parts, and it becomes unbearable at times. The textures and lighting are still comparable on both versions, so Xbox 360 fans don't have anything else to worry about. The extra time spent on the Ps3 version payed off, however. Overall, whichever way you look at DiRT, it does look simply incredible.
As a racer, DiRT does get the job done really well. Every car handles really well, on every track. The controls are very smooth, and simple, using the left trigger, for both reverse and brake. Acceleration is also a breeze, as most vehicles seem to be propelled by rockets. It's a very accessible racer, and is a blast to play for the most part. The variety to the tracks is pretty cool. There are straight, high speed desert courses, and there are slow, winding mountain trails. Overall, most parts are fun to play through.
The first person view is absolutely great. The dashboards look good, driver animations are realized, you can move your head, so you can see your feet, or even your co driver. Smash into a tree, and see the car door rip off, or roll your car, and watch the windshield smash, and your co driver get whiplash are all really cool, and add to the level of immersion.
But, with the good, there must come the bad.
If you have a lack of patience, then you will crash a lot. After awhile, the game begins to feel like a trial and error game. You will get 96% through a course, and then smash into a tree, and have to start the race over. The inability to fix your car in between races during an event can make you scared to reach high speeds. The way I remedied this is just settling for 3rd or 4th, instead of trying to go for it all. This is like being a real driver, considering being alive is more important than winning, but there is such a thing as too real. If you reach this point in career mode, you can turn the difficulty down if you so wish.
There's great detail that goes into a rally racer like this. The whole ordeal make you feel like you are an actual professional rally racer, which is greatly integrated into the whole feel of the game. First off, you have a co driver with you on most races, and he'll use a numeric code to tell you the track ahead. It can be tricky at first, but once you figure out the code (the lower the number, the tighter the turn), then he can be really helpful in getting through a course unscratched. Before each race, you can edit you vehicle's performance, by changing the ratios of all sorts of things, your tires, suspension, etc. It's not quite as deep as something you'd find in a full sim racer, but what's here's pretty good.
I wish the sound quality was as good as the graphical presentation. The sound isn't poor, but there's nothing that really stands out as great. Everything is pretty good, and Travis Pastrana does a great job of navigating you through the beautiful and innovative menus. The soundtrack is catchy, but the number of songs is limited.
Career mode is where you'll spend most of your time. There are 10 tiers, all with several events containing a few races. There are several kinds of races, spanning across real and original tracks across the world. There are road tracks, dirt tracks, mud courses, and my personal favorite, desert courses. You will have the chance to race on each many times. You get cash. More cash when you do good. The only thing you can buy with this cash, is new vehicles. The selection of cars is pretty good, with over 70 cars in total in the game. Each handles differently, and you'll want to get your hands on as many as you can.
The main problem with DiRT, isn't its frustrating races, but it's actually the lack of game modes and features. The customization and immersion are very deep, but aside from the 70 or so events that will take you about 15 hours to complete depending on your skill set, there isn't much else. The replays are great, as you can slow time, speed up, change camera views, and other cinematic things. The problem with this is that the game insults and teases you with the lack of being able to save the damn things. There is no split screen multiplayer, and the online is only a time trial you can do, and compare your time with other racers. There are no car on car races, and it's disappointing big time.
What IS cool about the online part of DiRT, is the time tracking. The world record is actually by somebody in the world connected to Xbox Live, or Playstation Network. It's really cool, and again adds to the immersion level, making DiRT a great online community, despite the actual multiplayer flaws.
DiRT is a more than capable racer. It's level of frustration, and lack of game modes, are outweighed by it's great immersion, graphics, and actual racing. If you have enough money for a new game, and you have a need for speed, and want something pretty to look at, then look no further than DiRT. If you have no friends, then the issues I stated probably won't bother you at all. Most people do, and that's why I didn't give it a higher score.
I do, however, love the engine DiRT is running on. Codemasters has something great on their hands, and I can't wait to see it in action again. GRID is coming this June, and I will be quick to sink my teeth into it. Codemaster's racing franchise is their flagship now, and they need to hold onto it. I'd like to see what the future has in store for it.