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Xbox 360 Review: DiRT

Players: 1-100 [Xbox Live Tournaments]

Price: $59.99

Platform(s): Xbox 360 (PS3, PC)

Developer: Codemasters

Publisher: Codemasters

ESRB: Everyone

Website: http://www.codemasters.com/dirt/index2.php

Rating:

Once when I was a kid (and only once) my mother decided to grant my brother and I permission to play in a neighboring empty lot. See, the kicker is that the lot was made completely of dirt and this was during a rain storm...oh, how the mud and dirt was divine. We spent the entire day hucking giant globs of sodden real estate at one another; the air was luxuriant with childish laughter. In short, dirt is fun. Codemasters knows this, so by extension, DiRT is also fun, and for the exact same reason that my brother and I loved that bemired plat.

Video games, like a mother to us all, have acted just as my own matriarch had acted in all the years preceding that muddy memory. In racing games up to this point, the goal is almost invariably to reach the end of the stage with your vehicle 100% intact and clean to a shine. They punish those who leave the set course, and leave as evidence of this punishment; dirt, mud, scratches and other cosmetic damages. Sure, you could leave the track and go in the mud, just as my brother and I could have gone in that lot during any other downpour, but we wouldn’t have gotten a very kindly result. Nor would the player.

In my mind I can’t help but link the release of DiRT with that day. Finally, after all these years we are allowed to really get dirty. DiRT frees us from the prude constraints of modern racers and demands that we dig into that mud and spray it everywhere. Indeed, if you manage to get through an entire race without getting your vehicle dirty, you’re a far more talented person than I will ever hope to boast. Every time a car shoots through the mud, pieces of wet earth fly in all directions. Visually, this game is a wonder to behold and is on par with every other racer on the market today (Yes, that includes Sony's fanboy coveted, Motorstorm.) Every car in the race starts off shining with grandeur; close-ups of the cars before the green light goes up even work to augment the desire to splash through the dirtiest pool of muck you can find.

Slowly but surely over the course of the race your car will be transformed, one splash at a time, into a disgusting mess. And goddamn if isn’t gorgeous. The environments are equally beautiful, as well as extraordinarily varied. From the south western American mountain climbing races, to the tight narrow winding, narrow paths of the UK wooded mountains, to the wet tarmac in Tokyo, you’ll travel the world experiencing every environment within a race that you can imagine. Dozens of different tracks, and just as many unique locales, each as lovingly detailed as the last.

As I just mentioned, there are dozens of tracks, but that doesn’t nearly do justice to the amount of content there is to take advantage of. The fact is, the track, the weather, and the car all combine to form a completely unique experience. Change even one aspect and it’s a whole new race that bends the limits of a player's skill. So with that in consideration, there are hundreds of different races available. And if you don’t think that racing uphill through dirt in a pick-up truck is any different than steaming downhill on a wet mountain road in a front wheel drive car…DiRT will change your mind.

The way the type of track changes force the player to adapt to a new strategy comes into play in almost every race. See, almost every one of DiRT's tracks switches terrain at some point. Some tracks start off as a slow, muddy, slip sliding affair, and end up as a blazing fast street race.

Now by reading the above paragraphs, one might get the impression that DiRT is a casual racer, built for the everyman to traipse through some puddles and call himself king of the track, but not so. In truth, DiRT is a game for everybody. There is no set way to race any given track, as there is in a Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo. You can do things your own way. If you like to race games like Burnout, you can earn victory by spining out your opponents one-by-one and taking the rough route through the bushes. Alternatively, if you enjoy the simulation side of the genre, you will be able to tweak and alter every aspect of your vehicle before every race. Then you can jump into practice mode and learn to take every corner just right so that when the race starts you’ll leave them all in your dust...er, dirt.

By now you get the picture, this game is really damn good, but I’m not done yet. The sound is right up there with everything else. Every imaginable scenario has a unique sound to it that plays perfectly to what you would expect. If the car goes over a crest and the wheels don’t leave the ground, but the stress is taken off, there is a different sound than if the car actually gained air. Each bump in the road affects the emitted noise based on which wheel it hits and with how much force, not to mention which car you’re driving. Codemasters must have devoted a dozen guys to sound design, and it paid off. It’s remarkable. That is why I cringed to find that Codemasters went and got themselves a celebrity spokesperson to help you through much of the complex parts of the game. Travis Pastrana was brought on hand to thrust his annoyingly joyous voice into your cranium for good. Remember Stryker from Burnout 3? It’s almost the same thing here: great game with a narrator that while never coming close to actually ruining anything, still puts a damper on things. On the plus side though, Pastrana is put to good use providing a tutorial for hardcore racing newcomers in the garage portion. He provides a how-to guide (if you want one) for every tweakable part of the racer. Annoying, but nonetheless useful.

The Colin Mcrae Rally series has struggled for a long time to shake it’s niche label and attract a wider audience. Despite having extremely solid gameplay and a physics model that is admired by pros for it’s realism, the series has always struggled, because it refused to let players race against actual competition. It was always player vs. the clock as rally races occur in real life. With DiRT they recognized what made their games so hard to get into, and ultimately got rid of what was so damned not fun. Thankfully, DiRT combines all the fun that previous Mcrae games lacked, with the physics and playability that made previous entries in the series so beloved by the hardcore.