Review: Resolution Interactive Dirt Moto Racing
Putting together the right combination of graphics, sounds, and gameplay for a racing game isn't easy on any portable platform, and the iPhone OS introduces unique control challenges, as well. Resolution Interactive has done better than most companies with its prior titles Clusterball Arcade and Aqua Moto Racing, which had strong 3-D graphics engines and floaty vehicles -- a space ship and a jet ski -- on their sides; now the company has returned with Dirt Moto Racing ($5), an ATV racing title with similarly nice 3-D visuals and obvious depth. While Dirt Moto has some issues that prevent it from being a truly awesome racer, and it's not quite up to 2XL Supercross's level of impressiveness, there's a lot to like, anyway.
In Dirt Moto Racing, you control an upgradeable ATV as it drives through four North American locations: forest-laden British Columbia, Toronto’s cityscape, the sand dunes of Death Valley, and the beaches of the Florida Keys. Thirty-six unique events are promised, with a total of 108 total events when variations are counted. A brief tutorial shows you how to tilt the iPhone to steer, use a right-mounted acceleration button, and hold down a Super turbo button to boost your speed for a limited period of time; better yet is a Cruise Control option that accelerates automatically for you and frees you to concentrate on steering and boosting. But it really seems to be there for another reason: the game also includes an ATV trick system that can only be activate by swiping in various directions in the center of the screen, which is neither easy to master nor really even possible when you have to worry about acceleration and boost buttons. Once Cruise Control is turned on, it’s easy to focus on just steering and boosting to win races, which can go from 1 to 3 laps on a given course.
Where Resolution Interactive does best is in its ATV-savvy approach to graphics: it uses a lot of its polygons to render your vehicle and your five competitors, while also crafting tracks that include the requisite hills for jumps and scenery to keep everything interesting. Though 2XL Supercross’s environments were a little more detailed and interactive, complete with track-side objects that could be crashed into and moved, Dirt Moto’s are more varied. The sand dune stages use both on-track and top-of-screen arrows to guide you from checkpoint to twisting checkpoint—a feature that would help in other levels, such as the Florida beaches, as well—and of course, as you’re learning the track layouts, you can always follow behind other riders to understand the sometimes less than conspicuous turns. Ideally, Dirt Moto would include more types of environments, but the tracks it does offer are a good start.
Dirt Moto’s music and sound effects are both fine—fairly repetitive engine noises, rock-ish audio tracks, and grunts from the riders can be heard throughout the game—and gameplay is pretty much on track if you’re looking for a simple, fun racer. A career mode takes you through 108 increasingly challenging stages in user-selectable clusters of multiple stages, but also lets you upgrade your ATV enough to stay comfortably ahead of the pack so long as you’ve mastered the steering. With one exception, we found the game’s controls to be spot on without calibration, and there was only a brief learning curve before we knew exactly what we were doing.
The only part of Dirt Moto Racing that we really didn’t like was its trick system, which has all the right ideas in place but just doesn’t feel responsive enough: put aside the occasional challenge of moving a finger to center screen to flick at just the right moment in a jump for a trick, and you’ll find that the commands are too often not responded to. Trying a second time, at less than the peak of a jump, frequently leads your ATV to crash; Resolution Interactive really needs to improve the touch responsiveness or the feedback for the trick system to make this part of the game work as well as it could.
Overall, Dirt Moto is a fun, visually impressive ATV racer that’s easy to pick up and enjoy—a good value for the $5 asking price, and a far better than average demonstration of how close the iPhone and iPod touch can come to joypad-backed competitors. While more environments and a better trick interface would help, fans of ATV riding will enjoy what’s here, particularly as they master the art of jumping dunes, spinning, and doing tricks all at once.