Dirt 2 Impressions Sans Porn StarS

Unlike E3, there were no stars of adult movies to distract us from focusing on Dirt 2 when the game showed up in New York this week. It's muddy racing with some unexpected narrative touches.

The developers had to make some big changes to the second Dirt, for both gameplay's sake and due to real-life tragedy. They appear to be ready to manage both with surprising grace.

Dirt 2 is the successor to the 2007 Codemasters rally racing game released outside of the U.S. as Colin McRae's Dirt, just months before the star racer was killed in a helicopter accident in September of that year. This sequel acknowledges McRae in a manner unexpected of a medium that typically does not address real-world death. From a gameplay side, the game has significant gameplay additions.

I attempted to race over the muddy tracks of a course set near England's Battersea power station in the game's new lap-based rally-cross mode, but having little experience with the series, I won't presume to comment on the handling. Was I sloshing around the track bumping into walls because of the game? I blame myself.

I can recount the features I witnessed or was told about.

The game offers 350 cars and 100 racing events set in the series' traditional point to point rally races but also in the new lap-based rally-cross. Multiplayer supports up to eight cars. And the crowd size around races has been upped from 40,000 spectators to 100,000.

What was striking is how the developers are incorporating the themes of racing success and of McRae's passing. While I wasn't shown it, I was told that the player will have an RV that gradually becomes more adorned with the ornaments of success. That means stickers are applied, fans show up, and, in the words of the Codemaster rep showing me the game, "you pick up women."

Racers in the game include Ken Block, Tanner Faust, Dave Mirra, and Travis Pastrana. The game begins with Block giving the player his old Subaru. But where things sound like they get interesting is in the incorporation of McRae's legend. Other writers talk about McRae during races, and winning races advances the player toward a Colin McRae Memorial Cup. The game isn't attempting to hide its inspiration, but rather to celebrate his memory and achievements.

Ultimately it's the handling of a racing game that matters most. And, unfortunately, it's the aspect of the game I'm least equipped to report about given my brief time with the game. The project appears to be going in a good direction and a brave one.

Dirt 2 is set for a September 8 release for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii DS and PSP.