Friday, 9 July 2010

Go Get It Dirty: DiRT 2

I'm going through my backlog at the moment and it occurred to me that I might as well write a short something about every game that I finish. It should help me clear my thoughts and such.

First up is DiRT 2, a game about cars. Cars that move and sometimes bump into each other, sometimes both at the same time. Shocker. I know. What cars does it offer? Nice ones. You'll find your favourite among the 35 World Rally Cars, sports cars, SUVs, trucks, off-road vehicles and buggies... well maybe not among the buggies. All in all, the general theme of your vehicles is what drives in the dirt. As a result, most tracks consist of generous amounts of gravel and sand. But there's no Car Wash mini-game. Sadface.

The DiRT 2 Tour, which is the singleplayer career mode, is spread over a hundred events split into eight different racing categories. Sadly, the two I liked best, namely Rally and Trailblazer, are shamefully under-represented. There's entirely too much soap-on-ice racing with SUVs, trucks and the dreaded buggies for my taste. I went in expecting a few non-Rally-ish races, but not considerably more than half of it. It's not that they're out of place in DiRT 2, as the name has probably given away. But still. I would've liked more Rally. I like Rally.

DiRT 2 is incredibly good at giving the player a constant stream of positive reinforcement. "You were in the zone out there", says Ken Block after a successful race. Katie Justice congratulates me on my progress. Dave Mirra apologizes for denting my car by being in my way of driving. And Mohammed bin Sulayem thinks I'm a legend. Woot! After every race the game hands out XP as if they're on fire. It's ultimately pointless because your level is just an increasingly higher number, but it feels good in a weird way. There's also more meaningful stuff like liveries for cars and even whole new cars that unlock, with things like custom horns or deco items (think bobblehead and fluffy dice) thrown in for good measure. It had me absolutely hooked. The future of racing games is an RPG?

But then it just stopped. After reaching level 30 I had unlocked everything. Outside of a few special cars there was nothing left to be rewarded with, the game no longer congratulates you on your progress, there is no achievement for reaching a higher level (only for completing the game). This happens at about fourty percent into the tour. And it's a problem. Because at around that point the variety and newness of the events disappears and gives way to uninspired racing. Granted, it's a racing game and you'd expect there to be races, but out of the blue it just refuses to continue the relationship with the player that has been built up for the last 10-15 hours. It's like the game had been finished at a point when someone from high up said: "We can't have just 50 events in our racing game" and someone lower in the food chain said "Okay. We'll make it one hundred." That person then proceeded to duplicate the racing content via copy and paste while the Department of Awesome Stuff wasn't informed so their work ended after half the DiRT Tour.

It's a shame, really. Why they didn't follow through with their progression and reward system is beyond me. Spread it out thinner, give me more filler or make me work harder, or have fewer events but don't just stop right in the middle. The fact that there's only 41 tracks doesn't help. I know I said "only", but consider that most of the later events consist of driving a track this way twice and one time in reverse. For three laps each. Its completely retarded and steadily sucks the fun out of the singleplayer tour. There's a track you only drive once in the entire game. At the other end of the spectrum, you can expect to clock in about 50 laps on some courses. Madness.

I get this nagging feeling that Codemasters did all this on purpose though. A lot of statistics show that on average, games tend to be played only to around the halfway mark and not all the way through. And strangely, that's the point where DiRT 2 stops being rewarding and becomes repetitive. I know it's a developers nightmare to have all this content that most gamers never see, but leaving it out is a ridiculous option.

And then there's multiplayer. In another strange move, Codemasters decided to implement a half-assed dual progression system to separate the online and offline content. Offline you gather XP for your level. Online you gather Fame for your Fame rating. Duh. It's exactly the same thing, but in blue. And the stuff you unlock offline can be used online. So you have to progress through both if you want to play just multiplayer, as you need to unlock the better vehicles to stand a chance and you can't even unlock stuff in multiplayer. Very clever Codemasters. Not.

Maybe it's just me, but I was really a bit offended by the worshipping of Colin McRae the man throughout the game. "He was a hero.", "an inspiration to us all", "he influenced my career significantly" and so on. There's even a tribute achievement called "For Colin". I think its all a bit too much reverence for a man that killed himself, his five year old son and two family friends in a helicopter crash because he flew too low and with an expired license. But I guess I'm alone with that opinion.

Oh my, words words words and I haven't even talked about the racing. It feels good and sometimes proper, but certain vehicle types are so much un-fun to drive it's a wonder I persevered. The Hummer H3 doesn't feel like the 2 tonne monster that it is in reality. DiRT 2's version behaves like you'd expect a rock taped to a soap-bar on a water slide to behave. Funny to watch, but a nightmare to steer. Thankfully the rally cars have a good weight to them, it's just a shame there's not enough events for them.

Still, I've had fun in my time with DiRT 2. The game looks fantastic and the audio design is excellent. But it's not a revolutionary racing game, and sadly not enough of a rally game.

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