Last year, Milestone's World Rally Championship ended a long hiatus from video games for one of motorsport's top-tier series. It wasn't the only one, of course - but while Codemasters' F1 2010 came with all the swagger and polish that's befitting of the world's noisiest circus, then WRC was perhaps a reflection of rallying's more diminutive following.
The worlds of Sébastien Loeb and Sebastian Vettel, though revolving around four wheels, couldn't be more different. Glamour and mud don't necessarily go hand in hand, and while champagne is the tipple of choice in the Grand Prix paddock club, when the WRC came to the UK last year and wanted to put on a show, it did so in a damp Cardiff car park where a thermos of tea was the only sensible choice of refreshment.
It's fitting, then, that last year's WRC game wasn't the glitziest. A bare-bones driving experience, it nailed the essentials of flinging a car through thick forests well enough, though it was lacking elsewhere. It's not unfair to say that, at times, WRC was as pretty as mud.
So it's only natural that it's the visuals that are getting the biggest makeover for this quickly turned around sequel. It's evident from the front-end on - menus are told through cool white screens that are both more efficient and more stylish than they were in last year's effort.
There's more to WRC's visual upgrade than a few neat menus, of course, and there's been a noticeable improvement in-game. Lighting's more pronounced, dancing through trees and off the well-modelled cars, and there's been a boost in both the number and quality of the assets.
It's most apparent in the all-new Super Special Stages, in which two cars go head-to-head across enclosed, entwined ribbons of tarmac. These arenas - of which there will be five in the final game - boast the kind of trackside detail that's not normally seen in a Milestone game, and while hardly spectacular, they're approaching handsome in their looks.
DiRT 3 is a natural comparison, and there's a sizable gulf between the two. It's understandable, given the equally sizeable gulf in the two games' budgets, and it's here that Milestone's less illustrious heritage is apparent; WRC 2, despite the many and noticeable improvements, is still only a functional-looking game.
But that's been the way for much of the studio's output, and it hasn't stopped the likes of the SBK games from delivering the finest two-wheeled experience available. With DiRT 3 so fresh in the memory - and having done such a sterling job - it's unlikely we'll be able to say the same for WRC 2 and off-road driving, but Milestone knows that and picks its battles well.
WRC 2 wisely leans heavily on perhaps its greatest asset, the official FIA license. The stamp of authenticity brings with it a wealth of content that's smartly woven in; the full calendar is featured, and that in itself promises a track list that dwarves WRC 2's competition, with 90 courses making the cut.
A steely-eyed dedication to point-to-point, against-the-clock racing - only slightly sullied by the Super Special Stages - also plays to WRC 2's favour. DiRT 3 might have boasted more traditional rallying, but WRC 2 can boast nothing but, something it plays to well.
Indeed, there's something of Codemasters' rally series - before it picked up its American twang - in WRC 2. Stages are punctuated by trips to the service area, and as it was in the days of the Colin McRae games, it's a case of simple resource management; with an hour at your disposal, it's your call whether that time is better spent patching up a radiator or doing something about that bodywork that's hanging off after you got a little too friendly with some of the scenery.
Rallies become wars of attrition, with WRC 2's surprisingly deep damage modelling chipping away at the cars of the less careful. Gears grind and splutter, burst radiators sap away at the car's power and buckled wheels can be felt as the steering tugs away from you.
This year's model does offer some immunity from such problems. A rewind feature debuts, though at present it's a little clunky: up to nine rewinds are available at the press of a button, but they're awkward to use and far from the slick time travel that's been at the core of Codemasters' recent racing games.
It's also a slight shame to see such a concession. Last year's WRC game benefitted in some small way from the lack of the feature, placing an emphasis on the kind of conservative driving that's increasingly rare in the driving genre, and engendering a real thrill when you managed to scrape a decent time together without the safety net that the rewind feature offers.
The absence of a rewind feature also placed WRC's handling on a pedestal, and it remains a highlight for the sequel. Keeping on top of the car's shifting momentum is a challenge, but the car's behaviour is predictable enough to ensure it's a pleasure.
Unfortunately - and somewhat worryingly, given how close the game is to release - this year's cars don't feature in the preview build, which offers last year's cars in place of the neutered Super 2000s of 2011. They're preferable, for sure, but it'll be interesting to see how the handling adapts to the smaller, less powerful cars that are this year's top tier.
12 months on, not much has changed, but with the fundamentals intact and bolstered by several smart additions, it's a definite step forward for the series - albeit a very small one. WRC 2 won't be challenging DiRT 3 as the comprehensive off-road experience, but it's looking to be a competent racer from a developer that's proving adept at catering to some of motorsport's niches.