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Best of all, DiRT is a richly rewarding experience. We’re not just talking new cars and achievements, though success brings plenty of both, with a fair range of rare and classic Rally models, and new liveries to put on them. Instead, rewards come in the way the game logs and analyses your efforts, capturing every stat relating to your performance, then cheerfully reminding you of the miles you’ve driven, the feet you’ve jumped and the speeds you’ve reached while each stage loads. When the race ends, your performance is instantly uploaded to an Xbox Live scoreboard, so you and the world can see that you’re languishing behind NinjaGandalf247 nine-thousand odd positions down. This might be dispiriting, but it certainly gives you the impetus to go back and do things right.
In fact, the only major false note is the online multiplayer. While several events would have lent themselves to competitive racing, you’re left with a selection of sessions where you can race the same event simultaneously with 20 or so other players and watch the results rack up in real time as you drive. It’s not totally devoid of excitement, but it does leave you feeling slightly detached from the competition.
All in all, DiRT is going to disappoint some just because it isn’t the next-gen, ultra-realistic rally sim they might have hoped for. Well, they have a point, but if you can stomach the arcade handling and the injection of American attitude, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more well-rounded and invigorating off-road racer. MotorStorm might have the edge on thrills and spills, but DiRT wins out on depth and variety. If I had to pick one racer of the last six months to keep me busy, this one – not MotorStorm or Forza 2 – would be it.
DiRT is a clear departure from the existing McRae line – and in ways that will make some fans furious – yet it’s such a richly detailed, beautiful looking off-road racer that only the most po-faced purist won’t adore it. DiRT might be filthy, but it’s definitely fun.