DiRT comes to the Xbox 360 racing scene in full throttle, with next-generation graphics and gameplay innovations. While it reinvents the benchmark for off-road racing, that is not to say that there are no stumbling blocks to its other content. On its shell, this is basically an improved Collin McRae title but the driving mechanics are more like the Rallisport Challenge on the old Xbox console. Visually, the game will blow you away! The rendering of cars, tracks, and damage modeling are in its finest seen to date! It’s easy to be mesmerized by how the cars look so photo-realistic that you think you actually own one of them. The tracks are just as impressive. From the countryside of Britain to the dry outskirts of Italy, the game truly takes you there. DiRT uses the lighting effects effectively, not just to show off the shiny paint job on cars but to bring out an unbelievable realism of atmosphere towards the environment.
The one brilliant component of the game is the damage design on how cars can disintegrate into debris of scrap metals. You can trash your doors, shatter your windshield, or even tear-up your shiny bumper during a hard collision, where your car flips over and over again. While the remaining parts of a vehicle slowly give way to the force of nature, underneath the wheels, there is a whole of mud, dirt, and gravel constantly kicking into your face! So expect your car to be buried with a thick pile of road grime when the dust settles. The game also gives you room to drive recklessly. You can bust through barriers, fences, and bushes if you want to cut everybody off. Another jaw-dropping visual feat in the game is the navigational menus. It’s built with hovering boxes with selectable options that focus in and out when highlighted.
During the loading screens, you are presented with real-time stats of your accomplishments, ranging from the longest jump, fastest speed, favorite tracks, etc. DiRT’s overall presentation may seem impressive to fans of racing, but the performance is not up to par. The game can be frustrating at times due to its unstable frame rate. The animation on single-player session is fine but it becomes unbearable when multiple vehicles are bunched up on the screen. The most irritable part is the long load times. You’re sitting there pumped up, waiting to smoke your opponents, but the lengthy loading just gets you annoyed and drains your appetite to compete. Fortunately, the racing portion is easy to pick up. Codemasters made sure that the driving aspect is more on the arcade side rather than fussing on pure realism. Still, the higher the difficulty level is, the more sensitive the car becomes to damage and flipping over.
The physics of the game are far from being realistic—that is not to say they are out of control. Actually, the wackiness of it translates to some of the most amazing car wrecks! When you’re driving, you feel as though you’re floating for each bump you clear on the track. You just need to nail the control to get the feel of the racing mechanics. The game features an incredible collection of camera views. You can immerse yourself in the racing experience depending on what kind of camera perspective you choose. You can go for the full cockpit mode for intense realism or go for the overhead view to gain a level of the playing field. When you adjust the camera, you also adjust the sounds of the engine surrounding you. The closer you are to the cockpit mode, the louder the sound of the engine roaring.
The game’s audio mechanics did a fine job in producing materials needed to evoke a racing environment, including those spectacular crashes, “burning” of rubber tires, tearing up the tarmac, engine noise, and what not. The voice-over work is alright for the most part. It could use more enthusiastic dialogues in the future. The edgy music fits the object of the game well, providing players some adrenaline rush. However, these soundtracks aren’t licensed at all. The game includes six different racing options, which are broken into rally, rally cross, hill climb, CORR, crossover, and rally-oriented competitions. DiRT also has a nice intersecting career mode where winning races earns you points, which unlock new tiers. The cash you potted buys new cars and upgrades. There are about 45 vehicles to unlock and more than 50 career events to complete. Don’t be surprised when your thumbs balloon up with calluses.
The single-player experience of DiRT is great but we can’t say the same for the multiplayer mode. First, you are only limited to rally and hill climb. Second, there is no way for you to pick specific cars or tracks that are available offline. Third, there is no online racing. Despite those, DiRT is an amazing off-road game with its nice visuals, damage modeling, sounds, and great controls. The game’s arcade nature put you at ease for a more casual driving style, while the sleek camera views provide you with a greater level of comfort. The idea that you can bust through fences and various barriers are a nice touch to cutting corners to gain a lead. We like that you can drive those big rigs, yep, you read it right. Just imagine the chaos semi-trucks can bring onto the tracks! But DiRT isn’t perfect. It is riddled with long load times and fluctuating frame rate; however, if you can look pass its shortcomings, you should be able to enjoy the game. For now, DiRT sits at the throne for best off-road title–that is until maybe a more sophisticated Rallisport Challenge comes to the Xbox 360 scene.