I had been looking forward to this game for some time, having enjoyed playing through Colin McRae: Dirt some months ago, so I was excited when it dropped through my letter box and fired up for the first time.
The looks, unsurprisingly, are very impressive, and coupled with very slick presentation and an extremely well thought out UI and menu system, they draw your interest and leave you eager to get started on each race. This uses the Dirt engine, but it's been optimised, so not only are the graphics a little crisper and smarter, they also run more smoothly than previously, and the knock-on effect is that this will run nicely on a more modest PC than its rally predecessor. It's a fun and involving game. However...
Let's say it's lucky I didn't write this review straight away, as the opening races (where you are picking contracts to race for random other teams) were a painful experience. The first car you drive handles like a wet bar of soap on a pane of glass. The next car will handle differently; it might be Imperial Leather instead of Dove... I got so annoyed fighting with my xbox-controller-for-PC (essential kit for this game) that I almost destroyed my entire set-up. At that point I would have written a very damning, probably amusing, spleen-venting rant of a review...
But I persevered. For several reasons. Partly because I love racing and car sim games above any other genre, and usually don't have this initial problem with them, and partly because I had read such positive reviews elsewhere.
This game comes into its own when you finally reach the point of starting your own racing team (when you've earned enough dosh by racing for other teams). I am always a fan in these games of starting at the bottom and slowly working up to the more powerful machines, and this game offers that once you get past the initial stages. This is an interesting idea, making it more of a "career" for you as a driver, but it is akin to throwing a novice swimmer in the deep end and telling him to retrieve a brick that's in the shallow end.
When you do finally get your brick though, the game becomes a joy to play. Its slicker-than-slick presentation and flashy style can be slightly irksome, but it doesn't interfere, and when I did finally work my way back up to the more powerful cars, I found that all the practice with earlier models had got me used to this game's "soapy" handling, and I had no further troubles.
The revolutionary trick this brings to the table is the ability to rewind time. Codemasters have implemented it by basically taking the replay system, which is otherwise the same as 90% of other current racing games, and giving you the ability to restart racing from any point in the replay (which generally extends back about 20 seconds before the opint it's triggered). This means that a tiny loss of concentration that sends you into a barrier of careering off a corner can be rewound and eliminated. You can do this 5 times per race on the default difficulty level, and it's a good feeling and an interesting addition. Be warned, however, that the races have been made damned unforgiving to compensate!
So anyway, I urge anyone who's picked this up then ignored it in a blind fury to give it some more time. Even once you're into it, this game still has the ability to annoy beyond reason from time to time, far more so than any other racer I've played recently, so consider yourself warned. But it also brings many good things to the table, and is a worthwhile addition to the colection of any race-head like me!
I hope my thoughts have been helpful.