DIRT 2 review

Starts with a whimper, ends (too soon) with a bang

Pros

  • Perfect on-the-go race times
  • Lots of vehicle/track variety
  • Smashing into opponents

Cons

  • No compelling career mode
  • Could use a lot more events
  • No infrastructure online play

Say what you will about the PSP (good, bad, or indifferent), there’s no disputing it’s a powerhouse for racing games. From its Day One Ridge Racer redux through upcoming and ambitious Gran Turismo and MotorStorm titles, Sony’s portable machine continues to feed the public a steady stream of superb motorized offerings.

Throwing a small-screen version of Dirt 2 into this crowded mix of games was a curious decision. At first glance, it seemed more like a poor decision. There’s little in the way of personality or pizzazz – you start the game with a menu screen and a few racetracks to choose from. No story, no character creation, just “here you go, let’s race.” The initial ones were far from compelling, too, as we blew away the opponents out of the gate. However, as we got further along, we found ourselves enjoying each level, vehicle, and setting more and more.

The races are built beautifully for portable gaming, as the individual competitions (whether they’re of the 3-lap variety or point-to-point) clock in somewhere around 3 minutes. The heart of the game is the World Tour, a four-tiered series of events featuring a mixture of real-world cars and trucks across multiple surfaces. You’ll visit multi-surface tracks in deserts, frozen tundra, muddy construction sites, and – our favorite – stadiums outfitted with nifty jumps, twists, and turns.

The cars and tracks all look impressive, and the action is generally smooth. Nice touches are sprinkled throughout, such as dirt or ice gathering on your vehicle’s rear bumper as you tear through the track or the tire marks the vehicles leave behind in the earth. The vehicles all handle very differently, too – you’ll definitely tell the difference between a BMW Z4 and a Ford F150.

Each level mixes terrain and pavement, so you’ll never be comfortable for long. Either way, you’re always battling three other cars. And by battling, we mean that literally, as we regularly smashed into our enemies if they even thought about getting in our way. The race mechanics are a strange mix of real-world driving physics and arcade hyperbole – you can’t just apply the gas like a lunatic, but you can flip your ride over half a dozen times then hop right back up again and be on your way.

Dirt 2 absolutely gets better the more you play, as the car variety increases and the full gamut of tracks is revealed. Sadly, it’s over too quickly, and too easily, as we’re far from skilled drivers but managed to get gold medals with ease on all but the toughest tier. Yes, there are Challenges and Arcade races, but they’re all variations on a theme. We also desperately wish it could have more personality – some sort of interesting career progression, perhaps? – and true online multiplayer, as the short races are perfect for quick gaming against other humans. Even so, what started out with a yawn ended up with a sizzle. We just wish we could’ve been cooking for longer.

Sep 24, 2009

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