Version tested: PlayStation 3
Taking the beloved Colin McRae franchise into the murky mainstream was always going to bloody a few noses, but few would dispute that Codemasters has done so with a certain amount of panache. By turning the serious business of rally driving into an exciting, glitzy, multi-discipline showcase, it opened up the brand to a wider (read: American) audience while retaining the core challenge and refined design that made the series such a success in the first place.
Having built on that success with the benchmark-setting Race Driver GRID, expectation leading up to the release of DiRT 2 has been justifiably high - if tempered by the frowning hardcore, who still loudly bemoan the series' wholesale surrender to the lure of the Yankee dollar.
Certainly, the influence of the consistently excellent Race Driver is everywhere in DiRT 2 - most notably in the adoption of its 'flashback' mechanic, where pausing and rewinding a short section of the race allows players the freedom to instantly rectify mistakes. For some, this will represent the final straw; one concession too many to neutering the challenge for an attention-deficit audience that has no truck with such old-fashioned notions as practice, skill and persistence. On the other hand, removing unwanted repetition reduces game rage no end. Just think about the trauma you'll be sparing your loved ones. And pets. And pads.
Codies has also improved the front end no end, and goes much further in trying to make you feel part of the race-day proceedings. Rather than presenting the action with simple tiered menus, the game places you right at the heart of the event in a 3D representation of your surroundings. Moving between menus sweeps you around your motorhome in first person, flitting between your career 'planner', posters on the wall and your desk. Once you've made your selection, you move outside to face the cheering throng and the rock music throb. Choose your ride, and the event gets underway for real.
There are nine contrasting, globe-spanning locations: you flit between the barren rock of Utah and the lush tropical climes of Malaysia, while also roaring around makeshift circuits set in the skeletal remains of London's iconic Battersea Power Station. With urban stadiums in LA and Tokyo complementing the more traditional rural rallying in Croatia, China and Morocco, there's certainly no lack of variety.
Likewise, the off-road variety of the events themselves remains a key part of the package, allowing Codemasters to consistently freshen things up with new racing disciplines and vehicle classes. Essentially split into lap-based or point-to-point events, it's a much more consistent experience this time around, with every mode genuinely enjoyable in its own right.
In total, around 100 events present themselves over the course of the game's exhaustive career mode. These start with simple one-off rookie races, before building up to multi-tier race events of Pro and All-Star rank, alongside the multi-discipline X-Game showcases and the gruelling World Tour marathons, where five races in a given race type must be ploughed through before you emerge victorious.