The clue's in the name. Colin McRae: Dirt 2 is the first of the late Scot's rally games to appear on the Wii, and it's about time too. The series to date has gone from strength to strength, evolving from faithful representations of rather lonely timed stages, to a series of other disciplines featuring a range of different vehicles. Now we have this, a game which basically consists of a World Tour of races through a variety of locations.
So, yes, there's dirt aplenty - and that's just what you want in a rally game. Dirt is plastered all over your once pristine car's paintwork as you career through clay, sand, mud, dust and a range of other surfaces. Perhaps the other crucial element of rallying, one that sets it apart from strictly track-based racing, is crashing - spectacular, barrel rolling, tree flattening, photographer-scaring write-offs.
Around The Bend
Dirt 2 has a proper crack at recreating that feeling of an epic smash up being just around the corner, but the problem is that if you stray too far off the trail you're 'respotted' back onto it. Thus you won't see your ball of twisted metal smashing down a cliff, no matter how hard you've tried to launch it on its way.
Of course, it saves you losing too much time in the actual race, but if you take the driving aids off you'll find yourself regularly clipping rocks and flipping over mid-race. Not in a frustrating way, but in an exciting, going-for-broke way. Just like the way Colin McRae himself used to drive, in fact.
The game is oh-so-nearly stalled by the slack Wii Remote control option. There's an option to control Dirt 2 by holding the Remote on its side and tilting it to steer, with the 1 and 2 buttons braking and throttling. The thing is, the Remote is far too unresponsive to get your car around a course. It's too hard to detect the dead zone (where the steering wheel would return to its neutral position) and so directing your ride is a nightmare, though the Wheel does alleviate this somewhat. You're much better off connecting the Nunchuk and taking control the traditional way. Trouble is, there's no indication in the Options menu that you can do this. The control system alters itself depending on whether you have the Nunchuk connected or not, so that's something to be aware of.
In The Mode
There are three main modes: World Tour, Arcade and Challenges. The first is a fairly standard jaunt around the world through four basic levels of difficulty, taking in dusty desert trails, tarmac-based urban tracks, rusty-red clay ridges, hill climbs and other recognisably rally-esque locales. You're limited to racing against just three other cars, all of which seem to be driven by Mary Poppins for all the threat that they pose. All regulation stuff.
The first thing you need to do is get those driver aids switched off so you can have some proper fun, initiating huge slides round the looping bends and racing through corner sequences sideways. This is when Dirt 2 really comes alive; when you're out in front of the field and concentrating on nailing the best line through a section, or indeed wrapping your radiator grill around a tree. We're content with either outcome as they both get the adrenaline pumping.
Arcade mode is a more condensed version of World Tour, a single event or string of races, while Challenges mode is perhaps the closest in spirit to rallying (see the panel up there for more on that one).
It's not a knockout for the eyes - there are some basic shading and texture effects here, giving the game a flat overall look - but that's not detrimental to the sense of speed that is by far Dirt 2's most likeable feature. There's also a decent selection of vehicles, such as the zippy Subaru WRX, the Evo X and even a Hummer. Structure and control issues aside, Dirt 2 is a very welcome addition to the rather sparse Wii racing roster. With this and Formula One 2009 on the way, it seems Codemasters is looking to cement itself on pole position as the leading driving game developer.