junior_ain's DiRT 2 (PC) review

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Good off-road racing simulator.

Some discrepancies must be sated before anything else. Racing simulators are essentially different than arcade racers. Arcade tends to go for enjoyment over anything else, the sense of maximum speed controllable–sometimes uncontrollable–, crashes, curves at insane speeds and all that. Simulators on the other hand focus on the experience of driving. Since I can drive in real live and this so called experience is not as impressive as it sounds I tend to prefer the former. Simulators never go easy on the player, corners can’t be done recklessly and the speed quickly becomes a problem to be dealt with the break button or pedal.

The most noticeable difference is how tight arcade racer feels compared to simulators. If the sense of speed is extreme in arcade the controls can’t be loosy, the players would soon go insane with how quirky it would feel. Simulators have this tendency, their controls are loosy because it generally tries to compensate this sensitive viewpoint in velocity. If you want to faster you can go ahead, just pay the price for it, and this price is steep.

Be aware that in games like this you can’t challenge a corner in full speed and hope to get away with it Need for Speed-style. You will use the break, you will try to drift slightly but without losing the back of your car. Moderation is the key word. At first it’s strange how slow you have to go during a turn, in U-turns you basically have to park the car and build up speed from scratch. This is the regular occurrence, Dirt 2 is not broken or anything like that.

Like most simulators be prepared to enter hell and be face to face with Satan himself if you plan on using your keyboard. Something so usual and mundane in Burnout couldn’t feel more “wrong” in Dirt 2. What a pain it is to try to compensate the digital key smashing to stabilize a car after a turn; if you somehow managed to squeeze a drift in the end tears should streak down you face, you’ll probably stick to maintaining your car straight for the duration of the next straight path.

A set of wheel and pedals is probably the best way to go, after all nothing screams “simulation” better than those. It better be responsive too. Since most people won’t bother with those the X-box 360 controller works wonders to make the experience at least enjoyable. Using the analog stick to control turns instead of tapping a key on a keyboard 1 million times each corner you encounter is much more pleasing. Plus, the analog shoulder buttons on the controller offer dynamic acceleration which players will find amazingly useful.

The campaign is pretty solid. There are dozens of races to be found. As always, you go unlocking new ones as you beat existing ones earning experience and money. Experience will get you to new locations, new events and better reputation. Money will get you new vehicles and upgrades. Each locations has a different set of events, places like China, Baja and Croatia have their own setting and different types of races.

The off-road racing is prominent here, but there’s still some regular circuit races here and there. In the rally you have the help of a secondary racer who will spill the beans about what’s next in the track, that’s probably the closest most of us will get to a real-life rally. The wide array of differing events call for distinct set of vehicles. There are different kinds of cars, trucks, buggies, of all shapes, sizes and potency. You can’t freely race a sports car on an off-road track designed for a buggy, but you can choose the buggy that best suits your needs.

The tracks are amazingly detailed, this is probably the best looking race game I’ve played. There seems to be less attention to detail on background while the track itself is a wonder to behold. The dirt, track-markings on the soil, grass, everything flows beautifully. The soundtrack is pretty amazing too. There’s no music going on probably to go with the harsher nature of a game like this. While both Need for Speed or Burnout sport numerous licensed tracks to accompany the insane gameplay, Dirt 2 merely lets you listen to the humming sound of your motor engine so you can clearly remember you’re in dangerous territory.

When you’re racing sometimes you’ll be notified that you’ve acquired some kind of mission. It stands for one the several missions listed waiting to be fulfilled. They range from total time raced to how far you’ve flew with cars. As the game progresses the levels are being acquired and raised. Experience can be gotten from that. Some other thing that has direct relation to how many experience you’ve got and how far you’ve gotten in your career as a racer are the relationships. At first, many figures like Dave Mirra only have heard of you. You progress, make a name of yourself, and people will start thinking you a legend for example.

The game modes are numerous but often revolve around a central objective, finish first or as close to that as possible. Rallys for example are long point-to-point off road stages; but cross rally is split between off-road and asphalt in shorter tracks. Gate Crasher offers the most diversity, there will be some yellow blocks during the tracks that will hand out 2 seconds to your countdown chronometer, you start with a fixed amount and has to break these to last the race. Trailblazer is just a fancier term for Rally really, long courses, point A-to-point B races; it tends to have shortcuts that might help a little though.

Raids are crazy races featuring featuring point-to-point tracks and tightly grouped racers. The same basic principle of Land Rush, with the exception that it’s set in arenas with laps. Domination gets a track and splits into several sectors, the best times for each sector is recorded and given a score; At the end whoever scored more points wins the event. Last Man Standing is pretty straight forward, after a short while the countdown will start and whoever is placed last at the moment it reaches 0 is disqualified; after a retired player is taken out the countdown starts again waiting for its next victim.

For the ultimate experience in extreme racing you can participate the X-Games. Set in different continents and level-locked at first, it lets the player join a 3-part championship. In the first two–quarter and semi finals–you have to qualify by finishing within the first 4 racers to go to the grand finals. In the finals finish first to earn your gold medal and massive cash prize. Again, closest thing to X-Games most of us will ever be.

As you race a few unlockables can be acquired but nothing too fancy. The car customization is limited to a few overall look change and some trinkets for the rear-view mirror. For those willing to take it to a whole new level–in the case of controller and keyboard–the player can switch from automatic to manual clutch. It’s mandatory for wheelers out there but should you feel the instinct of true simulation nothing will stand in your way.

Aside from clear difficulty differences between racing on easy and hardcore there’s the replay function difference. If you somehow screw up during a race you have the opportunity to use the replay function and go back in time a little. Easy riders have 5 of these to use while hardcore racers have none. Tough job.

The multiplayer is pretty down these days, especially since games like these tend to have sequels that completely empty the fanbase leaving only the extreme hardcore. It might be reasonable to try but to focus on multiplayer the latest iteration of the Dirt series should be picked, and even so, it won’t be a complete blast, except if close to release.

Dirt 2 is a great off-road simulator. If you think you’ll go crazy with your car through arid deserts and arenas you might want to skip this one. The controls are extremely unforgiving even after a long while and should be treated as simulation in every sense of the word. It might be a good starting point to the world of simulators so it’s not a bad idea if you think the idea is at least remotely fun.

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