While the general level of track design is a step above the disappointing McRae '05, there's still an inescapable feeling that the handling has been dumbed down to give newcomers the ability to drive more than 400km without their front wheels falling off. Judging this from a neutral perspective (i.e, from the POV of those that don't live and breathe mud), this is unequivocally a positive move for the series, but Colin McRae: Dirt's new-found thirst for mainstream acceptance may leave long-term fans feeling like their well has run dry. Indeed, even poor old Colin McRae is reduced to the status of a wallflower as Codemasters openly flirt with their audience. Your navigator screams annoying messages of encouragement at you at a rate of knots. While you've got to congratulate the guy for excelling in his chosen career path despite the considerable drawback of having a completely paralyzed face, you'll still wish Codemasters thought to map an ejector seat on the bumper buttons.
We're getting bogged down with things that don't count for a great deal. The simple meat of the matter is that Colin McRae: Dirt is a compelling package, absolutely rammed with content, and - crucially - not one bit of it sucks. Getting the best times on the rally events is as furiously addictive as ever, and even rally virgins will soon be memorizing vague instructions in order to gain an extra edge. At the other end of the spectrum, the racing events don't suffer despite their "me too" feel - although the simple-minded AI obviously didn't get the memo that it's not 2002 any more. Luckily, their buffoonery isn't dimwitted enough to spoil the overall racing experience.
But there's one critical thing to know about Dirt and that thing is this - Dirt promises us a mud-bath, and then tips barely half a flowerpot over our heads. Everything is far too sterile and clinical for a game of this nature, especially after experiencing what we have on the PS3's MotorStorm. Every suggestion that enters your head from looking at Dirt in motion is that the engine is clearly capable of better things - Dirt, more than anything, feels like a test run for something even better in the Neon Engine's near future.