Developer Firebrand games has put its stake in DS racing titles for a few years now, going all the way back to the Race Driver: Create & Race series, moving onto GRID, TrackMania, and now Dirt 2. Over the years we've seen countless evolutions, including sim racing, full-on arcade attempts, and creation elements across all versions. With Dirt 2 now releasing on all systems the team is back at it again, and the final result is a fun experience, though one that doesn't quite stand up to some of the team's best efforts already on DS.
Dirt 2 is a true remix of the racing world, combining some classic tarmac sprints with snow rally, dirt, and the over-the-top attitude found in today's arena racing. With so many disciplines and styles, however, the game ends up being a decent racer on all fronts, but not a standout experience on any in particular. You'll race in everything from Hummers to Lancers, and while there's obvious high points to the game – dirt rally rocks – it also feels like a little too much for the team to tackle. You'll get a taste of all racing types, but not a full-on AAA effort in any of them, which is what Firebrand has offered in the past on DS.
The overall gameplay in Dirt 2 is arcade-inspired and pretty fast all around. Players jump across the world and participate in events divided between three difficulties, with a larger purse for winning harder races. The entire game will take a good eight or so hours to complete, which is a beefy single player offering. Most of that time will be spent on the track, and while the areas themselves are pretty varied (circuit and point-to-point races are supported) there isn't much of a career feel outside of unlocking the next race, getting more cash, and unlocking/upgrading a new vehicle. I had fun ripping through the game's varied terrain and level set, but it also was never much more than quick spurts of a few laps each.
Even when you sit down to really dive into the game you'll find that Dirt 2 moves along at a pretty quick pace – which is nice, since I'd rather spend more time in races than in menus – but also doesn't hold a whole lot of weight to any sprint on its own. There's no glorious race-to-the-top scenario, each event feels like a standalone experience, but it's still fun to jump in and play at leisure. Cars can be raced in either automatic or manual transmission, and learning to use the handbrake to initiate drift is a fun addition, and really makes the drift feel come alive on DS. As one minor gripe, car collision in the game is a bit odd. Running into other vehicles will bounce you off them in the direction you hit, which can cause some pretty unexpected collisions or spin-outs if you aren't careful while passing. It can be annoying, but it's pretty seldom that it actually gets in the way of a competitive race.
Upgrading and car unlocking is also pretty simplistic, but it at least gives you a reason to go back and complete finished races on a higher difficulty. It's as simple as earning enough cash to purchase your car and upgrades – steering, body resilience, speed, tires, etc – but it also gives the game some decent legs as well. I'm not into huge, heavy vehicles in racing games – give me a Lancer EVO in Dirt 2 any day – but when there was cash to spare I was still buying, upgrading, and giving it at least a few runs around the track.
On the customization front Dirt 2 is a pretty expected experience on DS; at least if you've been following Firebrand's other racing options. A full-on 3D track designer is included in the game, allowing for piece-by-piece editing (using unlocked pieces found in career mode; another incentive to keep playing) or on-the-fly stylus drawing to set up your track. The created courses don't have nearly as much detail or look quite as nice, but the create-and-share concept is still there, and it works great. Sharing a level with a nearby friend takes all of a second, and single card multiplayer is included for those that don't have their own copy of the game. Created tracks can also be used in multiplayer as well, so if you've got a few friends that each have a copy you're looking at some easy replay value right there. In addition to track editing you've also got a decal editor as well, allowing you to make your own pixel-pushed stamps and smack them onto your ride. It's a simple addition, but it's also a nice way to get around the lack of extra cart space for tons of paintjobs and designs.
As perhaps the biggest downside to the package, Dirt 2 doesn't allow for online racing or track sharing with a global community. DS doesn't get a whole lot of online play in general, but even a simple database of uploaded tracks for people to rate and download would have rocked, as would leaderboard times for those looking to race against the clock in career and created tracks. This was something missing from Firebrand's TrackMania offering as well, and while Dirt 2 has the benefit of licensed cars, multiple driving disciplines, and a stronger overall visual look it's also still not quite the "killer app" racing game on DS. Both GRID and Race Driver: Create & Race had online, and both were made by the same developer and same publisher. What gives, boys?
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