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Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 100 (Online)
Genre: Racing (Simulation)

Graphics & Sound:
One of the unique features of DiRT is the treatment of its User Interface (U.I). DiRT's menus and other U.I. features are handled in what is best described as what people were expecting Vista to look like. All of the menus are displayed as arrangements of 2D screens displayed in 3D space. You can rotate the camera around to look at these menu screens from different angles, and additional details on certain items are displayed by moving through a floating "stack" of 2D screens. The entire time, little 2D symbols are flying around... it's hard to really describe what it's like, but it's a very interesting menu system. When you get to the point that you're going to play a game and you're at a "loading screen," there is an extending arrow that the camera follows to 2D displays that show different stats about your gameplay so far while the game loads and then the arrow bypasses one of these 2D displays when the game is ready to play and continues off into the distance as the screen fades to your upcoming game. Again, this menu system needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The graphic capabilities of DiRT are not limited to menus, thank goodness. The environments, car models and even the drivers are nicely detailed. When racing in a Rally race with a co-pilot/navigator, both players are shown in the car and actually have animated exchanges after the race. The navigator in the Rally races is also a good example of DiRT's use of sound - specifically, voicework. You navigator will actually describe the upcoming section of the track in an abbreviated, sort of coded manner. He will say something like, "40, Left 6 over crest, 20, Right 4, Left 1." This means that you will be going (roughly) straight for 40 meters, then taking an easy left turn over the top of a hill, followed by another 20 meters straight, then a little more tight right turn, followed by a wickedly tight left turn. The numbers after a direction indicates the sharpness of the turn, with smaller numbers being tighter turns. This takes only a little bit of learning and a bit more practice and then it becomes more useful than the radar-like overhead map.

The realistic (and actually helpful) navigator/co-pilot is a refreshing change from other rally racing games. It's pretty cool to go barreling down the road, using your co-pilot's directions, rather than the track itself, to determine whether you need to slam on the gas or the brakes.

DiRT provides 46 vehicles, a multitude of varied racetracks, and an increasing challenge level as you rise through the ranks. Many of the cars and trucks in DiRT are locked at the beginning of the game, but as you progress and win races, you will earn prize money, which can be used to purchase (and, hence, unlock) additional vehicles. Occasionally, you will also be awarded a vehicle when you win races. To give you an idea of the variety of gameplay in DiRT, I'd like to point out that the vehicles are grouped into these different categories: FWD, 4WD, Classic, RWD, CORR Super Buggy, Corr Pro 4, Class 1 Buggy, Hill Climb Big Rig, Hill Climb Unlimited, Rally Raid T1, Rally Raid T4, Rallycross Modified and Rallycross Supercars. Each of these types of vehicles has corresponding racing styles that are available in DiRT.

If you're ever wondering what cars you have available, or for that matter, how you're doing, in general, you should head to the Garage option. The Garage not only shows the cars that are available in the game and which ones you already have, but it also is your one-stop shop for stats for everything from your total number of races to your fastest speed, longest time on two wheels, number of clean stages or (statistically) favorite racing surface. Basically, all of those stats that are randomly displayed during the flashy loading screen can be perused here at your leisure.

There are three modes of gameplay in DiRT: Career mode, Championship mode, Rally World and Multiplayer mode. Career is where you work your way to the top of the charts by improving your skills. Championship mode lets you play specific championships, either single race championships or an international (multi-race) championship. Rally World offers Single Race, Single Event and Time Trial, and provides a way to practice individual events and races outside of your Career play. Finally, Multiplayer allows you to either play in races with up to 100 players, either online or over a LAN. Be warned, however: you'll want to be on top of your game before trying your luck in the online arena... the competition is stiff, to say the least.

The early races in DiRT are not all that difficult, once you get the hang of the game's handling. Racing around a track a couple of times will help you get the feel for it, so I would definitely suggest practicing on each track before you actually race it.

I wouldn't worry about not finding DiRT challenging enough, however, because there is a noticeable increase in difficulty when you leave the first "level" of races to the next higher tier. Mind you, the difficulty is adjustable; there are five difficulty levels to select from: Rookie, Clubman, Amateur, Pro Am and Pro. You can select one of these difficulty levels at the beginning of each race. As you increase the difficulty level, the prize money increases, the opposition skill increases and you have to monitor your mechanical damage and watch out for hitting things that can give you terminal damage, totaling your vehicle.

It is worthy of noting that when playing at the easier difficulty levels, since damage is not as important a factor, you can T-bone opponents in tight turns, knocking them off the track and stopping or slowing yourself down to a speed that makes the turn navigable. Avoiding those time-consuming slow-downs in turns can help shave precious seconds off of your time. However, this trick can't be easily used when playing at higher difficulty levels, so if you're planning on increasing your difficulty level as you go, you might not want to get into this "bad habit."

Another thing that can help out a bit, if you're in a race against other cars, are the little red arrows that show up at times at the bottom of the screen. These arrows are indicating the direction of vehicles behind you. The deeper their red color, the closer the opponent is; when you pull away from other vehicles, these arrows turn white and fade away. You can't be passed by a vehicle that is directly behind you, so you can drive defensively and keep the arrows directly behind you to avoid being overtaken. Be warned, however, that an opponent directly behind you can ram into you, and this can interfere with your driving.

Game Mechanics:
DiRT is a slick package, filled with beautiful visuals, good physics simulation and racing goodness. This game gets an "A+" for presentation, because it pays attention to the little things, from your co-pilot's directions, to the difference in traction when transitioning from pavement to dirt, to your vehicle getting more filthy as you drive through dirt and mud.

The difficulty level system seems to be relatively simple and reasonably balanced; if you find it easy to come in first on Amateur, you're likely to find yourself fighting hard to place third in Pro Am... and that's assuming you don't make any mistakes. Having difficulty levels that are properly spaced adds to the replay value; as you increase your skills, you can try old races again, but on hard difficulty levels, and find them challenging again.

If you like racing, but you haven't been able to find a good rally/dirt event racing game out there, then DiRT is the answer to your prayers. I would suggest it to any rally racing fans, gamers who are anxiously awaiting another Grand Turismo fix or, for that matter, PS3 owners who are looking for another good game for the PS3. Wait no more; DiRT is it.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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