Dirt 2 (Xbox 360)

There is no doubt in my mind that the makers of Dirt 2 have watched every single X-Games from start to finish. This game was not created by people who worshiped A. J. Foyt or Mario Andretti, and they may not even know who those people were. No, Dirt 2 is all about the new and the now. My generation slapped “No Fear” stickers on our cars; in Dirt 2, your default ride has “www.NoFear.com” printed across the front.

Dirt 2, obviously the sequel to Dirt 1, puts gamers behind the wheel in the world of off-road racing. After picking your first name from a list so that the game can address you audibly, you’ll be turned loose with the pedal to the metal. “C’mon, Rob,” virtual in-game Travis Pastrana encourages me, “let’s see what you can do!” What I can do, unfortunately, is pummel the crap out of my virtual Subaru Impreza. Like a 2,000 pound version of Hansel and Gretel I leave a trail of Subaru crumbs in my wake. “Hey Rob, you’re going the wrong way!” Yeah, I get it.

Graphically, Dirt 2 for the Xbox 360 is simply amazing. I typically roll with a 3rd-person view when racing, but the cockpit view in Dirt 2 is real enough to make you taste dirt in your mouth. Speaking of dirt, you’ll be driving on it — a lot. I’ve been lucky in real life to spend most of my driving time on dry, sticky asphalt. In Dirt 2 you will learn that pavement handles like ice, and dirt handles like ice after a layer of snot has been applied to it. Drifting with the hand brake takes more skill than I acquired after more than a couple of races. The car models look fantastic, but you’ll need to work on your driving skills to see much of them (unless they’re passing you).

Throughout your virtual career you’ll attempt various types of races. In Baja you’ll line up “land rush style” and made a mad rush for the finish line. There are normal point-to-point races and rally car races too, where your navigator informs you of upcoming twists and turns (”60 degree left, soft right”). I’ve found driving into a tree at about 50mph shuts her pie hole for a minute or two.

When things go really wrong — and they will — you can use your “flashbacks”, which enable you to rewind the game’s footage and attempt a do over. Depending on your skill level you start with somewhere between three and five flashbacks — not enough to use on every corner, but just enough to save an otherwise good run from one stupid mistake, little hitting a bridge underpass head on with the throttle wide open (he says, from experience).

Dirt 2 is all about fluidity and motion, right down to the menus and the pause screens. Yes! Even when the game is paused, the in game camera slowly floats around, gently reminding you that it’s time to get moving. Of course, pausing the game also gives you a break from the constant camera movement, the loud sound effects and the pounding rock soundtrack, so it’s actually kind of nice. It’s kind of like going to the bathroom in the middle of a concert and enjoying hearing yourself think for a moment. “Hey Rob, get back out there!” Okay, okay!

For those who like to tinker with the virtual settings on their virtual cars, Dirt 2 allows it. There are seven different things than can be changed for those that wish to, although I found I did performed equally poorly regardless of my tweaks. Dirt 2 is more arcade than simulator, but there are enough options to keep the sim-drivers placated.

Other racers’ AI is surprisingly advanced. They crash too, and it’s not unusual to watch the leader slip, side, or roll his way out of your path. The PIT maneuver (which I learned from watching too many episodes of Cops) also works pretty well here. Weight-wise, it doesn’t feel like your opponents have any advantage over yourself.

With multiple skill levels, the ability to turn damage on or off, several different styles of racing and dozens of do-dads, race tracks and cars to unlock, Dirt 2 should keep racers racing happily for a long time.

“Hey Rob, get off the computer and let’s go race some more!”

Sheesh, this game never lets up!

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