Codemasters' upcoming off-road racing game DiRT has gotten its fair share of attention thanks to its razor-sharp graphics and a driving model that seems to live up to the high standard of the game's forebear, the Colin McRae Rally series. While we've had opportunities to take brief dips in the DiRT and check out the game's gorgeous presentation and multiplayer features, with the final build of the game recently sent to us by Codemasters, our latest goal was to dive into the game's career mode to get a feel for the heart of the single-player game.
Making your way through DiRT's career mode will require you to drive through a number of races organized in a tiered pyramid system that will have you moving up through the ranks as you win races and earn points. Before you can enter a race, however, you'll have to buy a car that fits into that event's discipline (you can't run a Mitsubishi Lancer in a big-rig hill climb, for example). Luckily, the cash you need for cars is easy to come by in DiRT--and the higher the difficulty level you compete in, the more money you'll earn for winning.
At the bottom tier of the career pyramid you have 11 events to choose from, though not all of them are available to you right away. Still, in keeping with DiRT's inclusive approach to the grimier racing disciplines, there are plenty of event types to choose from straightaway--traditional rally racing, rallycross events, and CORR (Championship Off-road Racing) events are a few examples. All of them require different cars (not to mention different approaches) to find success on the track. We started off with a CORR event, which had us taking control of the massive, high-riding dune buggies that characterize the series. Switching immediately to one of the two in-car views that DiRT will feature was a shock, as the CORR buggies feature netting in front of some of the windows--which, as you might expect, is very hard to see through. As a result, we quickly chose the standard chase cam to complete the CORR event.
With 10 points for a race victory in our pocket, it was on to tier-one events such as the R1 Raid, a rally raid event that featured multiple opponents on the same track, as well as a crossover race where we went one-on-one with an opponent on a closed-circuit course. To help you get a feel for the different types of events and the tracks you'll be facing, DiRT features a detailed stage information menu mode where you can get a track map, information on surface type and weather, and a detailed audio recce of the course from your codriver. Far from being a canned reading of the text already onscreen, the audio portion offers handy tips on how to maximize your speed on the course, and points out tricky spots that you need to be wary of, such as blind jumps over crests and other hazards. Pay attention and you might just cut a few seconds off your time, and save your ride in the process.
As you make your way through your career, you'll receive advice from the game's host, pro driver Travis Pastrana. If you win a few races on the default difficulty level, Travis will suggest you move up to the next level of challenge; keep on winning and you'll be challenged to take your game to the top echelon, where the competition is much tougher, the margin for error much lower, and the financial rewards much sweeter. Couple that with the exhaustive amounts of statistics the game keeps on you as you go--tracking everything from total race wins to the longest skid you've managed--and you've got a game that is paying close attention to your progress. It also helps that the game has one of the coolest interfaces we've seen in a while--thoroughly modern-looking and easy to navigate.
Eventually, as we completed the first-tier races, races in the second tier of the pyramid began opening up. Looking at the progression pyramid, you'll always be aware of how many points you'll need to open up race events at the next-highest tier. After running and winning events in the first and second tiers, we unlocked an event we had our eye on for a while: a Pike's Peak hill climb in a giant big rig. Better yet, it was a giant big rig with an absolutely massive spoiler on the back--picture a Peterbilt crossed with a Formula One racer for a better idea of this beast. Riding in the cockpit view inside this truck is, as you might guess, an entirely different driving experience from zipping around in a rally car or even in the larger rallycross trucks. You're much higher up in the saddle, for one thing, and while the trucks are far quicker than you might expect, they still have a sort of lumbering feel that takes some getting used to.
While the constant variety and inherent challenge keeps DiRT's career mode feeling continuously fresh, the early races are typically composed of only one or two events before you move on to the next race type. Presumably, this will change the further you get into career mode, as the prerace menu does show a "repair damage" screen where you can spend time fixing your cars in between stages, as you have in previous Colin McRae games.
In all, even if you're not neck-deep in DiRT's career mode, the game will still give you plenty of options for getting good and dirty, including one-off races, a rally-centric mode, and, of course, the multiplayer modes. It's an interesting evolution for the Colin McRae series and one whose release date we're greatly anticipating. Stay tuned for a full review of the game when it makes it to store shelves in mid-June.