Driving at high speed at the very apex of control has been one of the most reliable constants since videogaming began, be it on manicured, gently cambered tarmac or – in the case of rally sims – dirt. The thrill of the chase, the battles with physical limits of grip, the careful balance between risk and reward: none of this is new or revolutionary, but they’re all notions that have sold racing games at a steady flow (and with increasingly realistic manifestations) since the 8-bit years.
DiRT 3 continues this recent tradition, its transatlantic influence present in everything from the interface voice-overs to the choice of tracks, vehicles and race types: Codemasters might have come true with their promise of more solitary, driver and road rallying but there’s still a huge slice of American attitude that’s soaked throughout the game. Whether you think that’s a positive or a negative is a battle you’ll have to fight yourself, but you can be sure that you’re unlikely to ever get another pure rally title from the publisher.
In the end, of course, the variety plays in the game’s favour. By splitting the single player mode so neatly into seasons, sections and then events, the player can opt to dip in and out of their favourite disciplines at will, assuming they’ve amassed enough points from earlier races. It’s possible to skip some events entirely, then, but completists will find themselves trying out the rather more esoteric genres soon enough and with multi-car rallycross nestled against hill climbs and drift challenges there’s more than enough to go around.
The head to head races aren't quite as exciting as you might think, although the game does at least attempt to create some interesting track designs. The biggest surprise: a series of courses set in Monaco, the Formula 1 favourite.
In addition to the main single player mode are an open duo of single races and the much more enterprising time trial mode, which includes leaderboards and downloadable ghosts to ensure as much competitiveness as possible without something like Autolog. There’s a wealth of multiplayer too, and in addition to a most welcome split screen option for two players on a single console (something all too rare these days) there’s a full rack of online options, with some new choices in the form of the evergreen capture the flag and a rather in vogue zombie-type thing in amongst the usual race types.
Perhaps the most interesting new addition is Gymkhana, Ken Block’s calling card and what the majority of DiRT 3′s pre-launch marketing has been pointed at. It’s essentially a show-off mode, combining tricks like smashing through targets with precision throttle and drift control, and whilst ridiculously tricky to master at first quickly becomes second nature as you spend more time with it.
It’s clever, not least because it’s entirely different from the rest of the game, but also because whilst the result (a score) is just as tangible as a time, it’s the way that score is garnered that provides the most excitement. Great players will be able to make use of the ramps, cones and targets in almost balletic fashion, racking up highscores and then posting the proceedings directly to Youtube from within the game for all to see. Participation is forced during the single player mode, but it never outstays its welcome.
The car selection is nothing if not comprehensive, with rides ranging from the Mini Cooper of the 60's through to ridiculously powerful 800hp monsters. Each discipline has its own car set, and each car has a cockpit view.
And those shooting for a perfect run (or, indeed, those at the mercy of a brutally direct set of AI opponents) can make use of the instant rewind function, which, carried over from previous Codemasters games, gives the player the opportunity to go back a few seconds and try again. The number of times you can do this depends on the current level you’re playing at (the most basic mode with the most assists give you five rewinds) but when used sparingly it’s a great feature – it’s penalised during the career mode, points wise, but not so much that you wouldn’t use it when really required.
- Released on May 24th on PS3 and Xbox 360
- Requires a pass to enable online multiplayer, which requires the Store to be up on PS3
- Frequently gorgeous graphics
- Gymkhana is a nice new addition
- Sublime, albeit hardly sim-like control
- Lovely UI
- Weather effects are great
- Too few locations
- Frame rate takes a dip in multi-car events
- Some of the event types really aren’t that much fun
- Point-to-point courses are mostly too short
There’s a lot to like about DiRT 3 – it controls superbly (twitchy and direct but without losing the sense that there’s some serious physics going on) and, once you dial down the assists, actually offers a surprisingly deep, technical ride. It never pretends to be a sim, though – tuning is basic and the cars come as they are - but it’s certainly not using cheap arcade mechanics either, instead somewhere in-between the two as the series always has. DiRT 2 fans will dig this the most, but the new Gymkhana mode will attract a whole new audience too.