Visually, too, DiRT 2 has come on leaps and bounds in the past two years, with a rewarding backdrop of contrasting tones and hues that demonstrate the progress the Stoneythorpe studio has made with its impressive EGO engine. Whether charging headlong through the cloying tropics of Malaysia or the parched desert starkness of Utah, the settings are never less than stunning. Especially noticeable this time around are the extra fine details; the beautiful lighting, the dust clouds, the lush foliage, all rendered at a rock-solid 30 frames per second. Add to that some of the most impressive crunching damage effects yet in a driving game, and you end up with a consistently satisfying spectacle.
With that in mind, it does seem strange, then, that a few features present in previous Colin McRae games are conspicuous by their absence. Varying weather conditions, for example, don't figure at all, with not a single drop of rain or flake of snow to disrupt visibility or track conditions. And although certain tracks (such as those in Malaysia) feature evidence of wet weather, Codies has made no attempt to implement track deformation. In addition, although the damage modelling effects have reached new levels of realism, the removal of the need to repair your ride between races results in a much more reckless approach to driving, knowing full well that not only does the damage have zero effect on your chances of winning a race, but that none of this damage will carry on to the next race. In this case, DiRT 2's accessibility is taken to an unwelcome extreme. The same could be said of the game's strict adherence to short, sharp, sub-four-minute races: would it have hurt to have a few epic stages towards the conclusion?
On a more positive note, Codemasters has at least taken a slightly less US-centric approach to presenting the game this time around. You might ruefully recall the nauseatingly excitable comments from Travis Pastrana in the original DiRT, which gave the game all the subtlety of a brick in the face, but this time his exuberance has been dialled down a notch, much to our relief. Elsewhere, the co-driver pace note duties are now shared between a Scot and an American, and it's much less grating on the ears as a result. Top marks, too, to the folks responsible for the rock-heavy soundtrack, which must rank as one of the least offensive we've ever heard in a racing game.
A special mention, too, should be made of the game's flexible multiplayer features. Although the absence of split-screen play is an annoyance, the online and system-link play is exceptional, and retains all of what makes the offline single-player so entertaining. Essentially, all of the game's offline event types are present and correct in the game's ranked Pro Tour online mode, so you can take on up to seven opponents in any mode in the exact same way you would offline, with team-based racing for up to four players. And for those who fancy breaking the game's rules, the unranked Jam Sessions mode allows you to tinker with all manner of elements to create your own custom race as you see fit. Want to race trucks on a rally course? Go for it. The game warns you if it thinks you're doing something silly, but the point is, it's fun to try.
Although DiRT 2 won't satisfy the hardcore's demands for a return to the serious tone of the old-school Colin McRae titles, this is nevertheless a fine sequel to an admirable title. Adding GRID's flashback feature allows the game to hit that sweet spot of accessibility without blunting its appeal, and allied to a plethora of consistently entertaining race disciplines and locations, it's an absorbing and technically accomplished experience from start to finish.