Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC - Xbox 360 version reviewed.
Really, how far does a series have to drift away from its original premise before it all gets a bit ridiculous? Bar the appearance of the Scotsman’s name in the after-race placings and the fact that it’s an off-road racing game, finding elements that link DiRT to previous titles in the Colin McRae series is something of a challenge. Where have Colin and Nicky Grist disappeared to? Why has everything gone transatlantic? Why is the very first thing you hear when you start the game the voice of US pro-racer and X-games gold medallist Travis Pastrana? Do you want to play a rally game in which your co-driver addresses you as dude?
If you’re a long-time fan of the Colin McRae series and this sort of thing sets your teeth on edge, prepare yourself. It gets worse. DiRT takes it in the same sort of direction that the TOCA Race Driver series has taken TOCA, with Rally itself now only one of a range of motorsport events that includes Rallycross (eight cars on one part mud/part tarmac track), Hill-Climb, Crossover (two cars on two tracks that cross over halfway through), Rally Raid (4x4s in competitive off-road racing) and the US CORR series (dirt-track racing in trucks). In fact, throw buggy-racing into the mix and you might well note that several of these events were actually covered in the last instalment of TOCA. For some people, the fact that DiRT doesn’t stick to sensible cars and sensible sports is going to be a problem. I could cope with the massive 4x4s of Rally Raid, but when I found myself doing a hill-climb in what looks like the business end of an articulated lorry, even I started to worry about what was going on.
In short, if you’re a Rally purist this might be the point where you bail out. You don’t even want to know about the baffling exclusion of Scandinavia from DiRT, or discover how suspiciously arcade-like the handling model has become. Nope. You’ll just end up gnashing your teeth and wondering why Codemasters has sold the world’s best-loved Rally series down the river in obvious pursuit of the Yankee dollar. You will. I guarantee it.
If, however, you can bear this sort of change – read on. DiRT might not be the best rally game ever (I’ll leave it to the purists to argue whether it’s Rallisport Challenge 2, Richard Burns or Colin McRae 4) but if you can leave your preconceptions behind you’ll find that Codemasters has created something different, and it’s still a great racer in its own right.