2009 was a pretty disappointing year for racing games. Gran Turismo 5 was delayed (again), Forza 3 ended up being Forza 2 with more cars and crappier online play and Need for Speed: Shift continued its reign of disappointment for the franchise.
Thankfully Codemasters managed to salvage to 2009 racing season with one of the most fun entries in the genre with Dirt 2, which manages to perfectly balance itself between being a sim and being fun to play. Right off the bat, you’ll discover just how much Codemasters put into the game when you start the game. Instead of a plain selection screen, you’ll start off in a fully detailed, 3D trailer with the ability move around selecting extras, race, tournaments, etc. Once you walk out of the trailer, you’ll be able to go outside and select more options such as selecting your car, buying upgrades etc. It’s really hard to explain in words but once you see the presentation for yourself, you’ll go ‘wow!’
As for the game itself, you’ll soon be able to unlock a variety of races ranging from rally races, semi-open shootout races with multiple paths, open terrain races, Gate Crasher races, where you ram timely placed foam barriers to increase your overall time, Last Man Standing races where the last place driver after a lap get eliminated and many more. The races are almost always exciting with few blowouts, provided that you ignore the easiest difficulty setting. Still, if you screw up in a race, you’ll be able to rewind just like in Forza 3. The only difference is you’ll limited in the number of times you can use this feature in a race. The game also has a collection of real-world racers who’ll occasionally challenge you, and even be willing to team up with you in certain team events if you impress them enough during challenges and races.
Sound effects are wonderful, with detailed scraps, metal crumpling whenever you hit another car (which is often). You don’t have to actually see the screen to know if you’re skidding on dirt, grinding on gravel or splashing through a puddle or water. The music is pretty much your typical extreme sports affair. If you like that type of music, you’ll love it, if you don’t (like me), well….there’s always the mute option!
While Dirt 2 was released a few months ago on the consoles, the PC version was delayed a couple months so Codemasters could implement certain Direct X 11 features. Instead of giving you a boring list of technical features that 90% of you won’t understand, let’s just say that if you have a powerful enough video card and can run the game in ‘ultra settings,’ expect increased detail in water animations; some fancy cloth effects on the signs and some gorgeous lighting. While it’s not noticeable enough to make you rush out and buy a new Radeon 5000 series (the only series of Direct X 11 capable cards at the moment), the effects are pretty enough to make Dirt 2 the best looking racing game currently on the market.
For those without Direct X 11 capable cards, you’ll be glad to know that Dirt 2 runs just fine in Direct X 9 mode. While not looking as nice, you’ll still be treated to great effects like dirt splashing on the windshield when running through water and a fully animated cockpit. There are also a few advantages – mainly the fact that the game will run faster. In fact, while PC games have gotten a reputation of only running decently on high-powered 1000-dollar computers, you really don’t need an expensive rig to actually run the game. Anyone with a 2 GHz dual-core and a 100-dollar (or cheaper) video card can easily run the game at high settings at a moderate resolution (between 720P and 1080P. Just for the sake of discloser, here is the rig that I ran the game on:
CPU: Intel Core-2-Duo e8400 3.0 GHz
Video Card: AMD Radeon 5850 HD
Ram: 4-Gigs DDR2 800 MHz
Windows 7 Premium
Direct X 11
I was able to run the game in 1080P, max graphic settings and still had room to spare for X16 anisotropic filtering and X4 Anti Aliasing.
While the graphics are gorgeous, the multiplayer leaves a little something to be desired. Well, that’s really not a fair statement. The problem with the multiplayer in Dirt 2 has nothing to do with the actual game itself; the problem primarily lies with Games for Windows Live.
Many gamers know that one of the reasons why people are willing to pay around 50-dollars a year is because Xbox Live, for the most part, just works. If you want to play a game on the 360, all you have to do is simply press a couple of buttons in the games menu and you’re on your way. In theory, that should also be the case with Microsoft’s PC equivalent, Games for Windows Live. Unfortunately in practice, the online experience in Games for Windows Live is the opposite. For nearly a week, I was trying to get online with no success. While I could sign in to my profile it wouldn’t let me connect online, instead, it gave me a random error code while suggesting that I needed to check my firewall. After spending over an hour trying to fix the problem, I decided to hold off and try again later in the week. After a week trying to solve the problem to no avail, I simply gave up.
I want to stress that this has nothing to do Codemasters or the game itself. The blame here goes directly to Microsoft as Dirt 2 isn’t the first game using Games for Windows Live that I’ve had problems in. Last year, I actually had trouble accessing my save game files in Fallout 3, another Games for Windows Live game because I couldn’t download a update to the service (not the game, the service!). To put it bluntly, I would be hesitant to purchase any game using Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live service until they come up with a way to let their customers log in without wasting valuable hours trying to look up how to reroute ports or dabble in the control panel just to get online.
Overall, Dirt 2 is a great single-player game. The graphics are wonderful in Direct X 11, yet the game still looks and runs great on older computers/video cards. The game is loaded with courses, cars and upgrades to tide you over for weeks, and while the soundtrack is your typical X-games fare (an acquired taste to say the least) the sound effects are top-notch. If you’[re looking for a fun single-player racing game that’ll show off that new fancy Direct X 11 video card, you can’t go wrong with Dirt 2. As for multiplayer, well… you might have to look elsewhere, at least until Microsoft gets around to fixing their Games for Windows Live service.