While the Colin McRae off-road racing series has been popular in Europe, the game hasn't gained much traction here in the U.S. In an attempt to dig up some excitement, Codemasters has decided to rename the latest game DiRT.
Fans of the previous games shouldn't be overly concerned, as Colin McRae is still around in DiRT. In fact, you can race against him on the German Avelsbachring course, as just one of the three events provided in the new game demo, which also offers one course in online multiplayer mode.
While the German course features the Subaru Impreza WRX STI Spec-C on a paved surface, other demo challenges include the Monte di li Conchi in Italy, which features a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX on a dirt road with a co-pilot. Also included in the three-course demo is the Bark River course in the U.S., featuring a Ickler Jimco dune buggy on a curved sand track. (Each course is based on a real-life racing track.)
The full version of DiRT introduces new event modes to spice up the gameplay, but none are available with the demo version. In the single-player events, you're mostly racing one or more drivers in two-course laps. Difficulty levels range between Rookie or Amateur, and the competition in general is light.
As with previous Colin McRae games, the driving is realistic and enjoyable. In the easier modes, your car can take significant damage yet still keep speeding around the track. I'm sure at one point I hit a rock so hard that I dropped half of my transmission, yet somehow I managed to smoke the other driver easily.
The multiplayer action is top-notch yet is only available for one course, Italy's Monte di li Conchi. After you select a username and a password (no other information is required), you'll join a waiting room where you'll vote on a few basic aspects of the race. After the voting period is over, you're off to race with whomever else is in the lobby with you at that time.
As with many driving games, the action is a lot more fun with a gamepad or even a steering wheel, if you're a true aficionado. The demo's 3D interface has a moderate amount of gee-whiz appeal, but it's not immediately apparent how to bind the controls for an accessory.
To set up your gamepad or other input accessory, go to "Options," then select "Game Controls." Don't be confused by the "Keyboard" configuration. Scroll right to the "Customize Controls" window and then bind the controls to your connected gamepad. Annoyingly, you'll still need to use the keyboard to navigate the demo's main interface.