A franchise that bides its time more than most in between iterations, the Colin McRae games have proved, over many versions, to be really something quite special. Colin McRae: Dirt is, thankfully, no exception.
And the reason is that Codemasters refuse to sit still. Each version of McRae that we’ve seen, for better or worse, has been the result of some decisions and risks and a seemingly genuine thrust to make things different and hopefully better. So while the core rallying element has steadfastly remained in place, there’s been a challenge to wring more out of it.
With Dirt, they’ve succeeded. What’s more, this feels far more like a top-to-bottom reworking than an update, and the game is better for it.
You jump in – if you follow the logical route – at the game’s career mode, which is now structured into tiers. This proves to be a good plan, as you move up through the numerous tiers by earning points from races. It means that you don’t need to tackle every event in a tier, and if there’s one mode of racing you’re not keen on, for instance (and the game offers rally, hill climb, rally raid, rally cross, crossover and championship off-road racing events), then you can side-step it. You’d miss a good chunk of the fun should you do so, though.
Progress also allows you to go car shopping, with over 40 vehicles waiting in the game’s garage for your delectation. There’s a Hell of a variety in there, which – crossed with the game’s varied racing modes – does open up some real longevity. Even so, it’s a game that won’t take the hardened driver too long to get through.
But heck, they’ll have fun doing so. McRae Dirt is tremendous fun, once you’ve wrapped your head around the tricky vehicle handling. Sometimes you might scream out for a more effective co-driver, but the game is simply exhilarating when it hits top gear, as it frequently does. What’s more, it’s friendlier to novices than we remember from its last outing; certainly one of our test subjects was grateful for the scalable difficulty levels, which genuinely make a difference.
What’s more, it looks the business too. The graphics engine holds the frame-rate well (although you’ll need a beast of a PC on the top settings), but crucially it reflects a level of realism that has moved the bar a couple of notches higher. Every bash of the car, every bit of damage to the scenery, it’s all up there on screen and it’s never looked better.
Colin McRae: Dirt can be a little bit unforgiving at times and it’s not easy to handle in the thick of the action. But it’s as fine a rally game as you’ll find on the shelves, offering plenty to do and some high class entertainment. A treat.