Game Review: Dirt 2 (2009) – Steam

Title Dirt 2 (community page as there’s no store page)
Platform: Steam / Windows
Available on OS: Windows
Genre:racing, driving, arcade
Date completed: August 2021
Game number:10 of 1005 steam games (< 1%)

Summary review: Considered by some to be a modern classic and possibly the best Dirt game ever released.
Graphics: For a game optimized for 360/PS3, I think the graphics a relatively good. The faces look weird but I’m here to drive, not stare at weird 2009 era faces.
Music: Something of a time capsule for that 2005 – 2009 era of popular music. I played enough I actually turned it off and switched my own play list. The music is still great though.
Controls: I really love the controllability of the cars in this game. The subtle use of the gamepad vibration feature is also really appreciated and using the e-brake to drift around hairpins is really satisfying.
Replayability: I’m still playing it after all this time. I must have 200+ hours in it at the point and I’m still enjoying it.
Total score: 95 / 100 – Possibly my favorite of all the arcade racers I’ve played – admittedly a limited number – something about just keeps me coming back. I love the variation in track and event types, the wide variation in vehicle types, the sense of speed and it feels great successfully drifting around a hairpin. Too bad it’s no longer for sale on Steam.


Introduction

I should probably mention that at launch this game was titled Colin McRae: Dirt 2 but shortly after release Colin McRae died. His estate insisted the game be re-titled to just Dirt 2. There’s something of a “in memoriam” to Colin McRae now in the game which was added later. I don’t think anything else changed. I could also mention the developer of this game was recently purchased by EA. Too bad for them and this series.

I don’t exactly remember how I came into possession of this game. It may have come with an ATI (back then it was ATI) video card I purchased around 2010.

Note to get this game running in 2021 there are a few steps required. It uses the “Games for Windows” DRM system, a 2008-or-so attempt to integrate PC games with the XBox system of multiplayer etc. which failed horribly. The game was never updated to remove this so you have to work around it. And there’s “play the game at all” versus “play and earn Xbox achievements” depending on your goals. Actually I think those “sign in to xbox live” guides are all out dated now as I’m fairly certain the servers for that have long since been turned off. Of course, there’s no longer a way to purchase this game for Windows so this knowledge may be a moot point.

A note on the hardware requirements for this game: I can actually leave this game running windowed at 1024×768 and keep writing a review and taking screenshots without my PC even breaking a sweat. There’s still something of a novelty in that for me for some reason.

The Premise

This game has something of a festival theme to it. You can get introduced to world of motor sport via famous racer Ken Block who then acts as something of a mentor/tutorial voice over guy.

Festival themed atmosphere

Each location you pick to go to has crowds of people, wacky-air-dancing things and music playing in the background. Actually, there’s at least one course there’s a commentator on a PA system that keeps talking during the race. You only hear him way in the background as you pass by that part of the track and he’s actually kind of funny.

Having played Forza Horizon 4 for the first time recently if I didn’t know better I would say that series is actually the “spiritual successor” follow up to this Dirt 2. Horizon also having something of a festival atmosphere/theme to it. For all I know that is the case as Dirt 3 does not continue with this festival theme. I also don’t know what Forza Horizons 1, 2 or 3 are like.

As you play through different courses in different categories in parts of the world you earn both experience points and money. With experience you gain levels that unlock new regions, tracks, vehicles, race categories while money allows for purchasing of better vehicles. And the higher the difficulty the more money each race is worth. You can’t upgrade a specific with a better engine or braking system, just buy better cars.

Eventually, you will unlock racing series events – the X Games – that involves several courses across disciplines. There also “world tours” to unlock.

There are a number of premises you end up coming across over the course of the game: different racers challenge you to one-on-races, sometimes there’s something of a “team” scenario where it’s you and an AI racer rank that add up to a total rank over all. That one is kind of a bummer because the AI skill levels is something of an “RNG” (random number generator). So it’s possible for you/the player to come in first and the AI partner to come in 5th leaving the overall ranking in 2nd through no fault of the player. It’s still kind of fun.

Well that’s one way to navigate

As I mentioned this game was released in 2009 and obviously targeting the 360 and PS3 game consoles. This is the best explanation I can come up with for why the menu navigation is the way it is: it’s a first person perspective and there’s a festival atmosphere with a trailer inside area and a festival outside area. You select different options inside the trailer then select the door and are taken outside where you can select a car, news, and game options (for graphics and audio settings etc).

I mention this because I think this game was made with a certain amount of loading time assumed and this wacky navigation from the trailer to outside just to look at game options was a way to try to hide or distract this loading time from the player.

This hide/distraction is also present on the map screens and before and after a race. There’s something of a “shaky cam” effect and a music clip will play. It’s very distracting. You would hardly know you’re really waiting on a console from 2005 to finish loading things.

This is attempt at distraction just becomes apparent when you’re playing this game ~12 years later with several times more RAM and an SSD several times faster than anything that existed while this game was in development. The load times are hardly noticeable in other words.

There is a at least one fan project trying to get this game to run on the lowest possible available hardware. And it can indeed be scaled down rather far. I mean if you really wanted to play this game on low-end Celeron for some reason with all the settings turned low.

An arcade racer with some extras

There a few different levels on the scale between “arcade” and “sim”. I think this is higher on the scale than Burnout but is definitely an arcade racer.

This is a terrible setup for this course. Gear ratio should be way higher if nothing else. Which course? You’ll know when you see it…

There’s different track surfaces to contend with, manual transmission (which I don’t bother with) is an option and there’s a very rudimentary car setup screen. There are also several camera options from third person way-out to first person/holding the steering wheel.

Each setup category does include a brief audio clip of what it does and what the two extremes will do for the car.

Ultimately there are only so many combinations of the six categories. Maybe a Mitsubishi rally setting will work for a Chevy Baja truck.

At least the game does let you save customizations to recall later. And there aren’t any restrictions on which saved setup can be used under which circumstances.

This setup screen is actually completely optional. I had to go into options to even turn it on. You can also race perfectly well with the default setup of everything straight down the middle. Watch out for that gear ratio. That will get you.

I love how this game has such a wide and diverse selection of categories: there’s “RAID T1” and “Baja Trucks” on the one hand and Rally/RallyCross on the the other hand. Baja tracks are really short on really lose gravel with pick up trucks. While Rally involves often really long courses with a co-pilot calling turns for you as they come up. RallyCross is closer to rally cars over a short track and “Trailblazer” seems like rally but without the co-pilot.

In addition to this vehicle setup screen there’s also an e-brake for carefully taking corners. Sometimes that’s worth using and sometimes it isn’t.

One complaint though: if you don’t save a custom setup before a race there’s no way to get back to the save setup screen. You either have to restart the race – you have just got first – or lose the custom setup. It’s just annoying.

I should also mention due to having to disable Games For Windows this game no longer as a “soft keyboard” so to save a custom setup you need an actual keyboard handy to give it a name. Which is fine. It’s just not going to be like a console in that sense.

There is also a time trial mode with support for “ghosts”. By default the “world record” ghost will turned on by default but can be turned off and after setting a personal best time you can race your own ghost. This is useful for trying to dial in a vehicle setup.

Rewinding time

I don’t know if this is the first game to have this feature or not but I’m fairly certain it’s one of the reasons this game became as relatively famous as it did: the ability to activate a “flashback” to rewind time some number of seconds and pickup from before that slide into a tree or fatal crash over a cliff. The higher the difficulty the fewer flashbacks are provided. Furthermore if you have flashbacks but don’t use them there’s that much more money to be made.

That 2000s attitude

I love how that 2000 – 2010 period feels like some kind of retro past now to me. Lets play some Blink 182 and complain about George W. Bush.

Anyway, this game is something of time capsule for the time period it was developed in. Between the music and the references to the X Games it’s just a product of the time.

Which is probably why there ends up being so much banter during the race. I own probably all the Dirt (and Dirt Rally) games and this is the only one that includes this in-race banter between racers.

For instance Colin McRae will go Ah-hah! while passing me or where’d you come from?? while I pass him. Racers will complain about my running into them as well. Some people might find this grating after a while but I actually don’t mind that much. It really matches the whole vibe of the festival and this same group of people racing each other all of the world. Like they’re a close-knit group even though they are competing. Sometimes one of them will even ask if another racer is alright after collision or crash. It’s a very positive sort of atmosphere.

Dial it down?

Here’s a tip if you did want play this game (legitimately on a game console). When you first start the game turn the difficulty all the way down and leave off customizations and make sure damage is “visual only”. Well maybe it’s more of a “grind” this way way but you’ll speed run through all the courses, unlock the tracks and all the cars and have lot and lots of money to buy cars. This way you can develop a preference for which make/model of vehicles you like and learn the courses.

Then when you’re ready dial up the difficulty, turn on damage and vehicle setups and you can play an actual challenging game the way it was intended.

Now some negatives…

The only things I can really think of that I don’t like about this game is the awkward way I have to enter a name for a name for a custom setup and how I can’t save a setup after a race. The entering a name of a setup can’t really be held against the game as that function had to removed with the death of Games for Windows. The second part I do find annoying.

I also question some of the AI decisions in this game. I swear it must be cheating. “There’s no way that car can go that fast on that track” sort of a thing.

It might just be the amount of time I’ve played this game but at some point even the wide variety of tracks started to seem repetitive to me. The course in Japan for instance is one track in both directions. Then it’s that track but in “elimination mode” where last place keeps dropping off until there’s only one racer left.

Conclusion

I’m not sure what it is exactly about this title that keeps me coming back. But I do really, really love it. I think that it’s varied enough I can switch between scenarios, tracks and cars to keep it from monotonous.

I should probably play a console version to make this review more relevant since the game is no longer available for PC/Steam. If you can find a key on eBay or some place I can’t recommend this higher.

In case you do need to modify this game for play on modern systems:
PC Gaming wiki entry for DiRT 2


Metadata

Method of control used Xbox One Gamepad
Controllable via both one analog stick or digital four-way (“HAT”) n/a
Hardware requirements: Relatively low to run, optimized for 2005 hardware after all
Supports 21:9 aspect ratio screens?5120×1440 seems to work okay for me
PCs tried on ~2019 era core i7 laptop/nVidia GPU
Works with 4:3 screens yes, but doesn’t matter for this purpose
Initial setup requiredModify an ini file to skip “Games for windows”
Time to complete~20 hours (I’ve played enough I actually have no idea)
Steam UID12840

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