Dirt 2 continues the precedent of stylish menus, though it's not the same fly-at-your face graphics from the original. Instead, you're placed directly into a 3D menu environment. Career Mode has you travelling the globe in your hoopdie RV. How you drive from Japan to Croatia is a mystery to me, but let's just go with it. Each area has its own unique setup. Outside the RV, you can buy cars, check out your current ride, start races or enjoy the atmosphere. Step inside and you get access to your career stats, the career map and completed missions. The TV inside your RV is used for watching primers on the different race types. It's an inviting interface and certainly warmer than the stylish menu from Dirt 1.
The tour begins in London at the Kerrang Battersea Blast. Dirt 2 Career Mode features a driver leveling system reminiscent of Forza 2. As you place in events, you gain experience points. New levels open up new spots on the map and, of course, new events. But, like the upcoming Forza 3, each level achieved also opens up some gifts. Where Forza gifts a car with each level, Dirt 2 showers you with sweet liveries, new co-drivers, and dashboard trinkets.
The trinkets are worthy of special mention. There are all kinds of goodies that can be added to the dash or hung from the mirror. Hula girls are a natural fit for the dash and fuzzy dice a no-brainer to dangle from your mirror. Xbox 360 owners get a special bonus – having their Avatar hanging from the mirror. Of course, you can only enjoy these extras if you play in the cockpit view. Through the first four levels, gifts were lavished upon me. It's a nice feeling of accomplishment.
XP can also be earned by completing missions during a race. These are fairly simple. High Jumper requires you to jump to a certain height, Stuntman tasks you with driving on two wheels and Persistence rewards you for the number of hours you've driven. Each of the 11 career mode missions has multiple levels. Meaning that all start at an easy-to-achieve first level, and progressively get harder (but offer more XP).
There are six difficulty levels, ranging from Easy to Hardcore, that can be selected before starting an event. Your difficulty doesn't affect the experience points earned. Instead, it adjusts the number of Flashbacks available and the max dollars you can earn. Currently, the Career Mode difficulty is completely out of whack. The difference in first place times in Rally events is three seconds between Easy and Hardcore. That has to change before Dirt 2 ships in early September. It's just way too hard on the lower difficulty levels, but fittingly challenging on the top two tiers. That's an easy fix and one I'm sure Codemasters is working on before sending Dirt 2 to retailers.
As for the Flashback (AKA rewind), it works similarly to the system in Grid. At any time in a race, hit the Instant Replay button and the game rewinds a few seconds. You can then pick your spot along the replay to Flashback. You basically get a redo from this point. This worked extremely well in Grid and I'm sure it's a welcome sight for many gamers. My only concern is with the short rewind window. While it worked for Grid, rally racing has far more turns and greater demand on managing your speed. Quite a few times, I simply couldn't rewind far enough after a misjudged corner to adjust my speed in time to make up for my previous error. If Codemasters can add an extra two seconds, this shouldn't be an issue, but as is, I'm a little concerned with how well the Flashback is going to function.
The Flashback and difficulty issues aside (two things that could easily be fixed), Dirt 2 is an amazing experience. The control is spot on, the visuals are absolutely gorgeous and the new relationship system is promising.
What's this? Relationships? Yeah, you aren't exactly racing alone on the course. Sure, Dirt 2 has time trials and rally races (now with staggered starts so that all cars are racing the track together, but at different intervals). But there are just as many, if not more, races against multiple cars on the track. Some of these cars are driven by AI representing real-world drivers. They are even voiced and have some personality. There's a lot of chatter during races between both your buddies and your rivals.
Depending on how you treat people on the track, you will build friendships and create enemies. Raid pro Katie Justice might "think you're pretty sick," but all those sideswipes at Dave Mirra might make him hunger for vengeance. It should be interesting to see how these relationships develop through dozens of hours of racing.