DiRT 2 Preview: Rally Racing Extreme
Rally racing, perhaps more than any other motorsport, tests the driver as well as the machine. The pilot must know which tactics to use at which stage in the course, he or she must be aware of the condition of both the car and the track, and must be certain about what is coming up as their automobile speeds down a narrow gravel road at 90 mph. It is no surprise that, given the inherent challenge of the sport, it has spawned countless video games that attempt to capture its finer aspects.
Codemasters are the preeminent makers of rally racing video games, and their most recent effort set the bar for both realism and fun in the current console generation. 2007’s DiRT was a rare and successful blend of arcade sensibilities and realistic physics. Even though in most events there were no opponent vehicles to fight with, the subtle pleasures of testing man and machine in a solo time trial was well preserved in DiRT. Furthermore, realistic physics, handling and damage combined with breathtaking graphics to make DiRT one of the early showcase titles for next-generation gaming.
Not content to sit on their laurels, Codemasters are back to take another try at crafting the ultimate rally game. DiRT 2 looks like it could be a contender, and the team has made some serious progress on the game since its announcement back in November 2008.
DiRT 2 will have more of an arcade feel, bringing it closer to recent games like Motorstorm. In early target renders, cars are adorned in livery from energy-drink-maker Monster, suggesting the new “xtreme” direction that the developer has taken. We aren’t particularly excited by this choice of style for the game, but the real test will be in the gameplay and driving mechanics, a place where Codemasters usually excels.
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Some of the new events will take place on circuits where players will have to battle other cars on the course at the same time. One such series of events takes place in the old Battersea power station in London. The course is unrealistic, but fun – obstacles include standing water and a spectacular dirt jump. For better or worse, it’s demolition derby meets rally racing.
While the first game looked great, it suffered from some framerate drops and other graphical glitches on the Xbox 360. The sequel will receive a complete graphical overhaul, using the latest version of Codemasters’ Ego Engine. The game can now support multiple light sources and more advanced filtering, so events can take place in a variety of environments, even at night. We haven’t seen any actual in-game screenshots, but rest assured that the developers are working hard to make this game a graphical powerhouse.
Perhaps the biggest gameplay innovation in DiRT 2 will be the introduction of the replay system from GRiD. This helpful tool allows players to rewind a race to replay a section where they are having difficulty. Its usefulness will be tied to the difficulty level, so expert racers don’t need to rely on it if they don’t want to.
DiRT 2 is headed our way in September 2009, so the developers still have plenty of time to work on aspects like multiplayer events and the final roster of vehicles.