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DiRT 2
Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online or System Link)
Genre: Racing/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
There's no sense mincing words here: DiRT 2 is an amazing game, and anyone who even remotely appreciates the racing genre will love it. It's intense, accessible, and gorgeous to boot.

The EGO engine is in top form. The level of detail in DiRT 2's tracks, cars, and overall presentation is phenomenal. The Menu screens are axed in favor of a well-implemented thematic approach: your RV and the tables outside contain all of the game's Menus. In addition, the development team has whittled the instant replay down to an art; you can rewind, fast-forward, pause the action, and mess with several camera angles. I haven't even gotten to the first-person view, yet. This terrifyingly awesome perspective is impressive at every turn. Splashing muddy water onto your windshield will cause your heart to skip two or three beats, and every crash will leave you thoroughly disoriented.

DiRT 2 sounds just as good as it looks. The roaring of engines, squealing of tires, and grinding of metal lend a lot of intensity to the action on the screen. In addition, the licensed music fits the game like a glove. Unlike other sports games of the sort, DiRT 2 doesn't rely on pseudo-punk or high energy pop in order to establish how intense it is. You'll hear a lot of heavy metal, most of it modern. Your fellow professional racers will often talk to you, even though most of what they say is redundant. As a bonus, you can have them use your actual name, provided you have a reasonably common name. If you don't, you can always choose a nickname to go by.

Since this is all rough and tumble stuff, you'll likely embrace DiRT 2's "in your face" presentation, cliché as it may be.

The meat of DiRT 2 is the DiRT Tour, and it's here where you'll spend most of your time. You are an off-road racer who has fallen into good company. By that, I mean your friends are Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, Dave Mirra, and several other extreme sports icons. You've got your own RV, as well as a couple of cars to start out with. You'll progress from event to event and country to country as you win a number of different events. You earn cash by winning events, and you can use that cash to buy new vehicles. You'll often get different rewards on the side, as well. These bonuses range from new liveries to toys for your dashboard.

Events range from staggered-start rally races to wide-open raids to rally cross. The five main event types offer a ton of variety, and the tracks are very well-designed.

Of course, none of this would matter if the racing itself didn't deliver... and boy, does it deliver. Each type of car controls differently, though cars in the same class often feel similar enough. Most importantly, cars handle exactly how you'd expect them to (with regards to accelerating, braking, and steering). It's this wonderful sense of balance that makes DiRT 2 one of the best racing games out there.

If the DiRT Tour didn't already offer enough depth and variety to pull you into an off-road addiction, there's a killer multiplayer component that includes every single event type from the DiRT Tour. My only qualm is that you can't race with a buddy in the same room -- if you can't access the PlayStation Network, the multiplayer will only act as a fifth wheel.

DiRT 2's learning curve is more than generous, and its presentation helps to ease you into the experience. Your RV's television set will explain each new event as you progress, and by the time you start the event, you'll be ready to tear the track up.

If you've never played a game like DiRT 2, you might have a lot to learn. If you're a hardcore racing sim fanatic or a Need for Speed fan, you'll be right at home. However, if you're a Burnout junkie who only uses the brakes for 150mph drifts, your first hour with DiRT 2 will likely be a trial by fire (even if the fire isn't as hot as it is in games like Gran Turismo).

You are given the option to set DiRT 2's difficulty level before every single event. If the difficulty is set to one of the lower settings, you'll be given more Flashbacks. However, this comes with a trade-off: should you win the race, you'll be awarded less cash. It's an interesting conundrum, but I found that higher difficulty levels don't offer quite enough incentive to try them out.

Game Mechanics:
DiRT 2's Flashback mechanic is kind of a difficulty buffer. At one point or another, you're going to make a serious mistake -- the kind of mistake that will destroy any chance of you taking the gold. With a touch of the (R1) button, you will open an instant replay that contains about ten to fifteen seconds of footage. You can move up and down the timeline looking for the right place to jump back in. Once you've found the right spot, a tap of the (Square) button will start the race from that exact spot. Everything is taken into account: most importantly, your speed and the locations of your opponents. The Flashback isn't all that innovative, but it's a monumental success when it comes to the game's accessibility.

I mentioned that DiRT 2's instant replays are a joy to watch. This unfortunately sheds light on one whopper of a disappointment: you can't save replays. During my first raid, my stock Baja hit a jump at a terrible angle and went into an airborne roll. I was about ready to hit the Flashback button when my vehicle landed smoothly... on top of Dave Mirra's. I hitched a ride for about a hundred feet until he plowed straight into a guardrail that was at the end of a gentle curve. The inertia carried my truck cleanly over the rail and onto the track. The scream that moment elicited from me could very well have woken the entire neighborhood, but my smile was gone at the end of the race. If you could save and share replays, DiRT 2 would have been that much closer to perfection.

I may be lacking in experience when it comes to racers, but I know something special when I see it. DiRT 2 is special. The late great Colin McRae would approve.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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