Scotch Corner – Digging in the DiRT

Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 3rd March.


Keeping the Legend Alive

THE DiRT series may have dropped the Colin McRae name but the legendary Scot is still very much part of the story.  DiRT Rally 2.0 chief games designer Ross Gowing insists the former world champ will always have a role to play.  He said:

“We are really proud to have a number of Colin’s cars in the game.  I don’t think you could make a rally game without putting ’95 Impreza in there and it’s the first car on the list.  Then we have the classic version of his MK II Escort so that’s the ’76 version rather than the modern spec as well as a few other that are tucked away in the game.  The studio’s heritage is built on the Colin McRae games and we remain to this day really proud of them and how much people enjoyed them and how it brought rallying to more people around the world.  If we get more people playing our games and that encourages them to get involved with motorsport and go on to be the next British World Champion, that’s what we want to see and hear.  We are very proud of our history with Colin.”

Codemasters also supported the McRae legacy with a special DLC car on DiRT 3.  Ross added:

“We are always looking at what we can do to support charities such as the Colin McRae Foundation and we are all ears for any opportunity for us to do something with them.”

The game includes a few voices that rally and rallycross fans will recognise, including Neil Cole, while eSport champ Jon Armstrong helped on the development side.  Ross added:

“This is the third game with him and working with him has been great.  We had him in for the recording and pick-up sessions over the last few months and I gave him a little bit of a tour of the studio.  He took direction well and brought his own personality and flair to the role.  We really enjoyed working with him and Andrew Coley.  Your co-driver is 2003 World Rally Championship Phil Mills, who was with Petter Solberg and it’s been great working with him.  I know Jon Armstrong had a fan boy moment when he turned up because they won the World Championship when Jon was at school.  Phil is the English-speaking co-driver in the game, although there are a few others for other languages.”

A major part of the future will be the eSports angle.  Ross revealed:

“We will be announcing our eSports plans and looking at putting in a formal structure where players can compete against each other on a global stage.  Then we can start to find the top performers and take it from there.  We have had great success in the past with the DiRT World Championship last year and Jon is an eSports champion.  We want to give our players a chance to rise to the top and eSports is a part of the gaming landscape now.”

The future looks just as bright for the game.  Ross admitted:

“We have DLC plans for seasons one and two.  Each season lasts three months.  Players who buy the deluxe editions get both — and they include three locations as well as five or six new vehicles with each season.  We are always looking at what would be cool to add and where people would like to rally.  We have some fan-favourite locations and cars returning.  We have so many ideas that I think I would need about 10 years to add everything, but it’s great to see so many passionate and knowledgeable people in the studio constantly making suggestions.”

From Simulation to Reality

WE recently had a chat with DiRT Rally’s in-house eSports champ Jon Armstrong, who hinted at a return to the real thing.  Well, the Northern Irish star was as good as his word — he ended a 16-month break by joining co-driver Noel O’Sullivan in the Galway International Rally, above.

Before the event he said:

“It’s a one-off at the minute.  If the first one goes well, it would be hard not to try to get the budget together and do some more.”

They came fourth overall.

DiRT RALLY 2.0 (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £47.99)

SIM racers have never been closer to the real thing — but they run the risk of being too tough for the casual gamer.  Codemasters are the kings of rallying challenges and DiRT Rally 2.0 is more than a reboot of the original game — this sets the bar higher and harder than ever before.  This is a tough, tough game.  If you are more of a Sega Rally-type racer then move along, nothing to see here.  It is so difficult that you don’t even get real tutorials to ease you.  You are expected to be able to drive to a certain standard.  The only way to learn here is by trial and error.

But don’t be afraid.  If you are a newcomer to the series and you do the hard yards and forget about the bad times — of which there will be many — then you’ll find one of the most rewarding racers on the market.  Fans of the series will simply lap it all up and aim to raise their levels to new heights.  The game crosses the globe with 6 rallies from New Zealand to Argentina.  That means a neat mix of backgrounds and surfaces.  In an interesting move, the system in past titles that let you build your own runs has gone.  Now you have to run pre-made stages.  That is all good, but it does mean you can learn where the corners and dips are and you lose that “blind into a sharp right at 120 mph” feeling.

The game also introduces surface degradation.  Where you start has an effect.  It can add to the “fun”.  You’ll want to be the first car out on fresh surfaces as those starting later will have to overcome routes that have been cut up.  It may not sound like much but ask any real-life rally driver and they will say it can be a massive advantage.  And that’s all before it starts to RAIN.  Most of your time will be spent in career mode where you try to build a team based on wins and cash but, like real life, money is limited and a third or fifth-place finish can be vital to your survival hopes.

The game also has the licence for the World Rallycross Championship — eight tracks with the official cars and drivers.  You can drive 50 high-tuned machines — each one has a different feel and handles in its own way.  There’s everything from classic Minis to legendary Subarus and a new V8 class.  It’s insane and shouldn’t work but is a blast once you master that throttle.  The game is mind-blowing — the way the sun rises over the mountains or the trees cast shade in the forest is stunning.  When things get wet, the look is 100 times better.  You can take or leave the soundtrack but the stars are the cars.  They are beefy and raw.  The turbos scream and the thud of fibreglass hitting a ditch side is more exciting than it really should be.  The voice acting is top-tier from Neil Cole.  He is back to cover the rallycross side and real-world co-driver Phil Mills barks out the orders from corner to corner . . . but he does stay very controlled.  Come on, at least get excited when you do well on a stage!

DiRT Rally 2.0 is, quite simply, a gaming masterpiece.  Yes, it takes an already great game and makes it even better.  Yes, it is very much the Dark Souls of driving games in that is brutal and is totally unapologetic about it.  It will chew you up and spit you out time after time but stick with it and you will be rewarded.  Each little victory will give you a massive feelgood factor.  You just need to be in control while all the time you are looking out of control.

Score: 5/5

The Grand Tour Game (Xbox One and PS4, £11.99)

LADS will be lads.  And The Grand Tour lets Jeremy Clarkson and Co be lads.  Now Amazon Games has given us the chance to be part of the fun.  An episodic game is nothing new, but linking it to the latest TV show is a great step.  For instance, episode seven of the show was a road trip in Scotland, so the latest new bit in the game will let you play along.

This is extreme arcade racing.  It’s refreshingly basic — hit the gas and drift to go for gold in the races.  There are also a host of other challenges from the show — from drag racing to burnouts.  It’s fun, enjoyable and not too taxing.  Each episode lasts about an hour and we expect 12 episodes from season three and a few from past series.  You can avoid the cut- down version of the show before being thrown into the action, but why would you?  It’s TV gold.  Of course, there is an argument for saying this is just a glorified advert for the show because, at any point, you can jump on Amazon Prime to watch it.

The four-player split-screen couch multiplayer has a Mario Kart-style pick-up system where you can text to slow others down and use speed boosts.  The graphics can be a bit basic.  The soundtrack is OK but the bits from Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond are flat and dull.  However, this is the first real console game from Amazon Games and it’s a ground-breaking idea.

Score: 3/5

Sphinx and The Cursed Mummy (Switch, £26.99)

TAKE an old game, give it a makeover and let it fly on the Switch — that seems to be the mantra at the moment.  THQ Nordic have snapped up the Sphinx and The Cursed Mummy and given the 15-year-old action platformer a new set of clothes.  The original got rave reviews, but never sold in the big numbers expected, so this could be this year’s uncovered gem.  You play as a Sphinx who wants a magic sword, but is transported to Luxor as Prince Tutankhamen’s brother turns Tut into a mummy.

Sphinx and Tut join forces to save the day.  It’s classic Saturday morning cartoon fun for up to 10 hours, with a mix of levels and mini-games.
There is a neat chunky look that has survived well and the soundtrack carries the Egyptian vibe, although we would have liked some voice acting to add depth.  There are a few age-related issues like the camera and the distance between save spots.  The combat is also a bit hit and miss.  It’s interesting and charming.  A real blast from the past.

Score: 4/5

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border. Catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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