Colin McRae: DiRT revolutionised the racing genre.

With some never-before-seen damage modelling it was highly acclaimed, even though it did leave sim fans sitting rather high and dry. So it's with some anticipation that we booted up our Colin McRae: DiRT 2 preview code, especially after having seen some stunning screenshots recently.

DiRT 2 centres around the World Tour mode, which will take the player around the world through a range of different events. DiRT 2 seems to separate itself even more from traditional rally, catering more to a wider off-road market. This is painful for many traditional fans of the game, as Colin McRae titles used to be the pinnacle of rally, and now rally really has just become a small part of a much larger title. The packaging of the career though, along with the menus is done amazingly in a full 3D environment, which looks incredible. The range of game modes as mentioned is vast, with many modes having been in the original DiRT, but the few new ones really stand out.

"Trailblazer", for example, is a high-speed run through a wide open track, minus a co-driver, which is fast and exhilarating - especially since the spills are that much more extreme. Another mode has you racing against others over a track with a range of short cuts allowing you to gain an edge. These modes are fast paced and exciting, and even the Rally Mode (despite shortcomings) has received some excellent additions. The best aspect is that as rallies take place in a tiered starting line-up, by racing well you will be able to overhaul other racers (either that or they will crash out) as they race the course with you, kicking up dust trails, damaging the environment and churning up the track. This adds to the overall realism and immersion of the title.

The second you jump into a race though you will notice the arcade emphasis that this title has. Sure, its no SEGA Rally (thank god), but its also not a rally sim. This has its pros and cons however, as it really is very fun throwing the car into the corners at blistering speed. It's still possible to destroy your car on a hairpin, but the inclusion of Codemasters replay feature allowing a player to restore the car a number of times is certainly going to help you rectify some of your errors. This is a fantastic feature pulled directly from Codemasters GRID, but we certainly won’t be complaining. The game does strike a good balance between hard sim and arcade, but the general trend towards mainstream is going to hit a few rally fans hard.

Thankfully in many areas Colin McRae: DiRT 2 is a real step up from its predecessor. The graphical overhaul really stands out. The level of gloss and detail is astounding, which shows the advancements that the Codemasters engine has had in the past few years. The physics engine seems a little more fine tuned as well, with the cars seemingly bouncing along a little more realistically. The blades of grass waving in the wind, the dust clouds, and the way your car churns through the dirt, deforming the road as it tears it up. Its certainly a level of detail we’ve never seen before, and though there are a few hideous textures here and there, they are far and few between and we can only hope that in the final version they are no longer present. It's becoming very clear that Codemasters have an incredible knack for packing in a huge amount of awesome into their games.

A shame then is that (at least in our preview code) the damage model has taken a substantial hit. While it is still incredibly detailed, it seems more "arcadey" in its implementation. It seems to take much more for parts to come off the car, particularly for a lost tire. This might appeal to those frustrated by the original DiRT, but for the rest there is still hope that this was just dumbed down slightly for the preview code.

Overall we have a good impression so far; the lack of multiplayer and only a limited number of races for the World Tour in the preview means it's difficult to assess if the game gives a real emphasis to any particular race type. But the graphical overhaul that the game has received alone is a reason for us to stare in awe. The inclusion of a deformable environment and of an upgraded physics and graphics engine though certainly make DiRT 2 a worthy upgrade for fans of the previous titles, or any other Codemasters racer for that matter.

Codemasters are clearly staking out their position for the racing crown, across a range of racing titles, and although we will have to wait for our final review code to know for sure, we can’t say that’s a bad thing at all.