Polish to a high sheen
Colin McRae: DiRT 2 is rich with detail on and off the track. Everything from the realistic vehicle damage to the way your co-drivers and rivals address you by your real name (providing you forename is relatively common) immerses you in the experience further.
The graphics are crisp and polished, with the fully licensed vehicles in particular boasting impressive attention detail and eye-popping reflections at the start of each race and, invariably, a thick coating of mud by the end. Environments feature varied backdrops and road surfaces, with landmarks giving a strong sense of identity to each real world location, be it the London Circuit's Battersea Power Station or the Rocky Mountains in Utah.
Topping off the glossy presentation is the soundtrack, which leans heavily towards indie and alternative rock, and features bands old and new, such as White Lies and The Stone Roses. During races, you'll be listening to the roar of engines and context-sensitive chat between your rivals.
Friends in high places
In Colin McRae: DiRT 2, you're more than a pair of hands on a steering wheel; you're a professional driver on the DiRT Tour. You'll develop friendships and rivalries with real life stars such as Ken Block, Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra, and hear them chatting to you during races.
While on tour your trailer is your home, and it's here you'll find the DiRT Tour map. Select a location, be it London, Croatia or one of seven others that are gradually unlocked, to view the racing events on offer. Good results earn XP and upgrade your Level, in turn, unlocking new events such as the European, Asian and American X Games - the world's leading extreme sports competition.
Under the bonnet
While handling varies between vehicles, gameplay generally falls somewhere between arcade and simulation racing, making it easy to jump behind the wheel and negotiate simple corners while retaining enough complexity and realism to challenge driving experts. This also extends to the game's approach to difficulty settings. You can select one of six levels before each race, and while you can progress playing the entire Dirt Tour on Easy, upping the challenge rewards you with more prize money and XP.
Increasing the difficulty also reduces the number of Flashbacks available - a feature that will be familiar to fans of Race Driver: GRID. At any point, you can press the SELECT button to bring up a replay of the previous few seconds. Pressing the Square button returns you to the exact point being replayed; effectively letting you rewind time after a missed corner or a bad crash.
Race events come in various types: the closed circuit events are Rallycross, which is off-road racing for up to eight cars on tight, intricate tracks, and Landrush, where cars all start side-by-side and circuits feature more dramatic changes in elevation.
Rally events are open, point-to-point races in which drivers' starts are staggered to try and keep them apart; Trailblazer races are similar, and feature straight, narrow courses that let you build great speed and feel the very limit of your car's control. If you prefer a bit of contact, then Raid events let all drivers loose at the same time, on branching courses that include potentially lethal shortcuts.
Adding further variety are the special events: Gatecrasher is a time-trial challenge where you must crash through barriers and finish the race before the timer expires; Domination charges you with completing each section of a track more quickly than your rivals, not necessarily crossing the finish line first; and in Last Man Standing, the last placed competitor is eliminated whenever the timer runs out, and the winner is whoever survives.
Bumper to bumper
Colin McRae: DiRT 2's online experience starts in My DiRT Party, where you and up to seven online friends can get together and race for fun.
Pro Tour is where it gets serious. You can compete in solo events to boost your Online XP in any of the game's event types, or take up to three of your friends into a Team Event.
Online Tournaments are set up weekly and offer the chance to win bonus XP and special prizes every once in a while. Each week, a different challenge is set, completion of which in any of the game modes will enter you onto the Tournament Leaderboard. The player on top at the end of the week takes the prize.