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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

DIRT 2, or, Why Games Come Out on PC 3 Months Late

Back in September, Codemasters' Racing Studio released their game for the year: DIRT 2.  Since I'm a sucker for racing games (especially the Codemasters RS series, Race Driver/GRID and Colin McRae/DIRT), I decided to check out the PC demo when it was released this morning.

First impression: the game is slick and sexy.  Everything from the menus to the in-game HUD has been redone, and has been given an extra splash of style.  Gone are the minimalist white menus of CMR04/05 and the first DIRT, and in their place is a trailer, festival grounds, and other real-life areas.  The only disappointment here is the festival grounds, which are just skybox swaps for each location.

As for the actual racing, its the same gorgeous visuals mixed with the same twitchy, yet floaty, handling from the first game.  A new added bonus is that the rally stages are now staggered starts, as opposed to individual journeys, so other racers come into play in a much more direct manner.  Doing poorly will have the next driver pull up behind you, and doing well could lead to a pass (or two, if you're lucky).  The other mode offered in the demo was a motocross-style race, on a closed arena circuit, against 7 other drivers.  AI was better than in the previous game, and would yell at you if you made contact, and typically stayed out of your way unless it was attempting to run you off.

The in-car view is back, and its still good.  This view is harder, more realistic, and looks awesome.  I have no idea if multiplayer matches can lock to this view, like in GRID, but I'm hopeful.

The graphics are a step above anything I've seen this year, and actually come close to Crysis.  The amount of small detail in the game is just crazy.  Heavy vehicles like trucks hunker down and their wheels bulge under the weight, while lighter cars keep their wheel walls straight.  Brushing up against a stone wall knocks rocks off the top, creating hazards for anyone close behind.  The sun reflects off of the corner of a shiny bumper, or the crest of the roof, and creates distortions and halos around the screen.  Driving through a big puddle completely occludes the screen for a few crucial seconds while your wiper blades whisk the water off.  Since everything is so good, its disappointing to have a female driver get voiced by a man, a boneheaded mistake to make.

To top it off, here's a video capture from a replay, at 720p.

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