Dirt 2 is, appropriately, about speed. It wants you into the action as soon as possible, calling you on its virtual cell phone to tell you that you’re not inputting your name fast enough on the opening menu.
That forcefulness is part of Dirt’s amazing unbroken world. While the previous game featured an eye-catching menu design, Dirt 2 features a menu concept that is functional and immersive in addition to beautiful.
Your introduction to the world is a race. It plays in video before you are swept into a first person view, a brilliant guide to every option in the game. You don’t navigate a menu, you navigate the game world in first-person. Each selection is available with a flick of your virtual head, and the choices are logically presented on-screen through objects.
Further immersion is present through online connectivity. Magazine covers display accomplishments from players on your Xbox Live friends list, or general statistics on popular race venues. It is seamless, and that rare design concept that elevates a sequel above its predecessor from the first press of the start button.
On the track, Dirt 2 feels similar, that familiarity masked by a design which maintains its core strengths. The eight racing disciplines are varied throughout your career, and the number of stunningly rendered courses are worthy of your time. Controls are appropriately slick, and the sensation of losing the car in the sand during a tough corner comes through the controller without any assistance thanks to the finely tuned mechanics.
The career mode, with its addictive leveling system, tournament atmosphere, and stock of real life racers, easily carries the single player campaign to the end. While races do drag in the final few hours (you’ve seen it all by that point), Dirt 2 digs deep to find something new or fresh, or offer another accomplishment to aim for.
Online races balance players according to skill and aggressiveness, allowing for rooms that place you based on karma. Like to hit and ram other cars? You’ll soon be placed in races with people who enjoy the same.
Dirt 2 is able to challenge the racing genre by not focusing on gloss. It doesn’t care if its cars look clean and sharp spinning through Japan. It wants them dirty and grungy, a refreshing change for a genre that typically seems more concerned with advertising new models than core racing. Even with the dust, mud, and grime, it’s still gorgeous. Maybe this genre needs to focus a little more on getting dirty than designing custom logos.