March 28, 2007 - Codemaster's upcoming installment in the long-running and exceedingly popular Colin McRae series isn't just the best-looking rally game we've seen, it's one of the best-looking next generation titles, period. This week we've been lucky enough to go hands-on with Colin McRae: DIRT and were immediately blown away by the impressive visuals, superb handling and high-speed rally racing. Clearly Codemasters has had its best development team locked up in a garage for several years with only programming tools for company, if the impressive results we've seen so far are anything to go by.
Vehicles get dirty as mud and dust is thrown up from the tracks.
For those that haven't been following the progress of DIRT - more fool you - it's the latest rally game featuring Scotland's favourite off-road racer. After successful appearances on previous generation consoles, Codemasters has invested plenty of time and effort into this latest iteration, even building its own game engine (called Neon) especially for DIRT. It's also the first Colin McRae to feature Hill Climb events and Rally Raid competitions. So far, so good… but we were interested to see if DIRT could live up to our high expectations.
Luckily, from the moment we fired up the preview build of the game, we were amazed by how slick everything felt. Even the menus have a level of polish we weren't expecting. As you select the race you want to take part in, options fly around like someone's been watching that bit with the futuristic computer in Minority Report too much. The impressive menus continue as you're waiting for a track to load. Rather than a simple loading bar, stats flash up on the screen showing how many miles you've covered, how many times you've travelled on just two wheels and other fascinating, if superfluous, information. For once we were quite happy for the game to take its time loading up.
There are plenty of different vehicles for you to unlock during the game.
Truthfully, we would have settled for a kitten in a bucket during loading, given how good the actual game is. Our first challenge was a Hill Race on Pikes Peak - a location immediately recognisable to American rally fans - and we were instantly impressed by the astounding level of detail Codemasters has packed into the course. Everything from mountains to houses, or even port-a-loos, are in exactly the right place compared to their real-life counterparts. Other nice touches include crowds lining the edge of the track that, unlike Gran Turismo HD Concept, actually respond when your car slams into the barrier in front of them.