Colin McRae: DiRT Download
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
I Can Still remember where I was when I heard the news. At a press event at Rockingham racetrack, a Codemasters representative quietly whispered it in my ear. My jaw fell. The sheer incredulity of it stunned me. One of my ways to measure the year's passing, one of gaming's staple titles wasn't going to see a release in the year of 2006. Was it even possible for a year to pass without another edition of Colin McRae? Would the world stop spinning? Had Codemasters finally got bored of the title?
Fear not though, because behind closed doors, the Codies team have been busy with the latest edition and now we've had a chance to slide sideways round the full game, we can happily report that Colin McRae: DiRTis well worth the wait.
First things first. This is not the Colin McRae you've played a hundred times before. Everything from the sound effects through to the graphics, even to the game modes has been stripped down and built back up again to create a completely new experience. Whereas before, playing one Colin McRae title meant you'd pretty much played them all, now the game has changed almost beyond all recognition. It seems that Colin's not only been resurrected, but reincarnated in a vastly superior form.
Shiny And New
Drawing on their multi-motorsport experience with TOCA Race Driver 3, Codies have introduced a raft of new racing genres to the game. No longer just restricted to plain rallying, this time round, they've managed to cram in practically every type of motorsport that features copious amounts of mud and dust, demanding that a car wash and a well-equipped mechanic be standing by at the end of each race. While standard rallying still plays a big part (appearing in RWD, FWD and 4WD forms), there are also five newcomers to the scene: Crossover, Rally Raid, Rallycross, CORR and Hill Climb.
But let's start at the beginning. From the moment the flashy new floating 3D interface pops up (reminiscent of Windows Vista, with the exception that everything works), the Scot of the title is conspicuous by his absence. Instead, your presence is greeted by the American tones of Travis Pastrana (see 'Wunderkind', p67), motocross legend, rallying newcomer and all-round nice guy (makes you sick, doesn't it?).
Quite why Colin's disappeared is a mystery; you see his name popping up in races as you pip him to the post but that's as much of an appearance as he makes. I guess middle-aged Scottish guys just don't pull in the crowds like an all-American urban hero who does backflips on motorbikes, says "Awesome!" way too much and commands instant respect from any beanie-wearing kid.
See The Pyramids
Three modes are open to you: Career, Championship and Rally World, although the latter's really just a free ride mode. Championship mode offers some classic McRae gameplay, with its selection of rallies that you can compete in, stage by stage. But what you should be most interested in is the Career mode. Selecting this option swoops you off to a flashy pyramid-like structure.
Starting at Tier 1 at the bottom of the rung, there are 11 different races, with each tier featuring one less race - all the I way up to Tier 11 at the top. Progression through the tiers is dependent on winning points from the races in the tier below.
Moving up in the world offers faster cars and more difficult tracks, going from straight roads to ones in which your codriver will barely be able to keep up with the twists and turns. This pyramid structure cleverly offers lower-level drivers plenty of chances to experiment or stick to their best events, only to force you to master them all at the higher levels. There's also a difficulty level that can be set for each race, hopefully preventing you from getting stuck on any tough races. Or should that be stuck in the mud...
What's Your Style?
The new genres bring their own unique features into the fold and despite a definite similarity running through them, the resulting selection of races help to make the game feel huge and varied. The different driving styles are a breath of fresh air and unlike the unwieldy number in TOCA3, the smaller variety feel more enjoyable, better implemented and more essential to the game. Plus, there's no monster truck racing. Thank god.
But don't think that if you didn't get on with the arcadey handling of previous Colin titles you'll be any more accommodated here. Each race provides a distinct lack of grip on the road, from the muddy circuits of CORR to the dusty winding trails of the Hill Climb. Luckily, the handling varies significantly between cars too. Jump from a 4WD rally car to a RWD and you'll instantly notice the difference, with the back-end kicking out under power and offering plenty of butt-clenching moments as you narrowly avoid (or don't) large immovable objects on the roadside. If I had to criticise, I'd point out that it's quite tricky to keep a sideways slide going, but with the vehicles successfully going round corners anyway, it's hardly a problem.
If, like me, cars are your thing, then there's a good selection of machinery to get excited about. Hillbillies are catered for by the Hill Climb big rigs; basically, the working end of an articulated lorry, complete with oversized spoiler big enough to have a picnic on. Old-schoolers will surely appreciate the legendary fire-spitting Audi Sport Quattro SI and the classic Renault 5 Maxi and Lancia Stratos HF. Plus, there's a host of modern machinery to get excited about too, such as the modified Lotus Exige and the Mitsubishi Evo IX. Or, if everything I've just said means absolutely nothing to you, that's a lot of cars that go fast. The only vehicles I didn't enjoy as much were the CORR buggies, although that was more down to their fragile nature and consequent pile-ups than the handling.
Rest assured though, whatever car you choose, the gorgeous new Neon graphics engine makes everything look amazing. Instead of re-using old assets, Codies have started again. The result is a stunning engine, which despite a bit of over-reliance on bloom effects, produces some spectacular screenshots. It's almost a shame that thanks to the speed of the game, it's only when everything's paused or on replay that you even have time to notice just how good it looks. Each vehicle's modelled with painstaking attention to detail, from bolts on spoilers to interiors. The tracks look fantastic too, with their amazing draw distances allowing you to see into the distance. Sunlight filters through the tree-lined tracks, with the resulting shadows being reflected beautifully on your car. Trees, bushes and vegetation are all modelled and smoke, dust and spray are all thrown in too, with the mud that builds up on your car during a stage being a particularly nice touch.
Let's face facts though. This is a rallying game and you're unlikely to make it through an entire stage without suffering at least a few dents. Still, at least you get to see the excellent damage engine in full effect. Panels get scraped, bumpers crumple and fly off, windows smash and everything has a technical effect on the way your car drives too (a la TOCA3), meaning as I always, danger lurks in the form of trees, road-signs and other immovable objects. If you do stray off the beaten path, small trees and bushes will bend and slow you down before snapping, while bigger trees and solid objects like walls should be avoided if you fancy continuing. More than once, I was about to cross the finish line first, only to crash into the surrounding wall and irreparably write my car off, to an accompaniment of swearing. The game's accompanying sound effects are worth a mention too, with some excellent wastegate chatter (the part that sounds a bit like a canary every time you let off the throttle), turbo and engine noises filling your ears.
But now for the bad news: all of these tip-top effects come at a cost. You need a monster of a machine to run the game how it's supposed to be played. Devoid of DirectX10 features, you'll at least be spared from having to endure Vista in order to play, but recommended specs include an Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM and a 768MB graphics card. That's a pretty hefty set-up. Even on our uber games machine, we experienced the odd bit of slow down, and lesser systems will be hard-pressed to keep up the pace.
Another disappointment is on the multiplayer side. Although there was talk of 100 players competing simultaneously, that's a bit of a fib. With the only options being the point-to-point races of the Hill Climb or Rallying stages, each player is given their own instance of the track, with the times simply being compared once everyone's finished. This is a shame, as featuring the circuit races online would have really given the game a great web presence. Plus, I'd love to try out my 'PIT' manoeuvre on some unwitting players.
Annoying as these downsides are, they're still only minor detractions from what I reckon is McRae's finest outing to date (minus, of course, Colin himself). The new types of racing offer far more variety of gameplay, the sound effects are impressive and there are eye-searingly gorgeous graphics and an excellent career mode to boot. It appears that DiRT's rejuvenated the tired old McRae formula and put it back onto the pole position of rallying titles. As Travis Pastrana would say: "That's awesome.