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Dirt 2

Despite the sad demise of the series’ flagbearer, 2007’s Colin McRae: Dirt managed to retain the feel of the previous games in the series while, at the same time, rebooting the franchise to give it a more universal flavor.

And what a reboot it was. Dirt may have Americanized what was previously a very British game, but it also dragged the staid rally genre into the next gen, with Codemasters applying a similar level of spit and polish to the road racing as they’d already done in GRID. Purists may argue that Bizarre’s Project Gotham still has the edge in strict driving terms (and they’d be right), but when it comes to effortlessly conveying the sheer, raw physicality of the driving experience there’s nobody to touch Dirt.

Next step for the team then: beef up the graphics to unforeseen levels of earthiness, and engineer a handling model to put Dirt in the same gameplay universe as Gotham. From our lightning-quick playtest, they’re well on course to succeed. Visually, the game is a sumptuous polygon picnic – well up there with both Blur and NFS: Shift, albeit packing more camera-browning compost.

Yet it’s the Codie craft that resonates; a spot of blurring here, a sprinkling of particle effects there – all combining to convey the perfect illusion of intense speed, real danger and utter unpredictability as we smashed our way from pitch-black Battersea to orangey Baja. Crucially though, the refined handling model empowers you with the ability to compensate for the punishing courses and feel almost as skilled as the man McRae himself while doing so.

Brace yourselves for both cosmetic and thematic front-end overhauls as well, some of which admittedly concerned us slightly. Seems we’re in for a Motorstorm/NFS: ProStreet hybrid that ditches the original Dirt’s ultra-slick menus for a virtual motorhome, carnival atmosphere and ‘extreme sports’ vibe. Jury’s out there. Tacky bodywork aside, that engine still purrs, ensuring Dirt should once again cement its place as king of the rally ‘em ups.

Jul 16, 2009