On Friday, Codemasters held an event called “Gymkhana Uncovered” at Battersea power station in south London. It was a glorious hot and sunny day, world-class rally driver and gymkhana expert Ken Block was roaring around the car park, and the company was showing off for the first time a number of all-new features in Dirt 3: split-screen multiplayer, replay editing and uploading, and a brilliant ‘Party Mode’.
First and foremost though, lets talk about the main game itself. Ditching the Colin McRae tag, Dirt 3 has also taken the opportunity to mix things up a little. Of course, there’s still the regular rallies that are core to the franchise, and the third entry in the series doesn’t slack in that regard. You’ve got a massive range of cars from 60s rally classics, right through the eighties and nineties up to modern WRC beasts. Codemasters has also amped up the EGO engine used in the series, bringing night-time races to more classes, and using technology from the recent Formula 1 games to add rain, snow and plenty of mud to the game. Oh and did I mention it looks absolutely stunning? From the cars themselves to the sunsets that frame some of the races, this is one very pretty game.[drop]However, the biggest addition in Dirt 3 is gymkhana. Gymkhana is a relatively new motorsport which sees drivers pulling off tricky laps and stunts around more urban environments than the rally events, such as car parks. The Battersea power station car park, for example, will be known in-game as the “DC Battersea Compound” and will be your personal gymkhana playground. Cluttered with shipping containers, scaffolds, and a whole range of conveniently-placed obstacles and ramps, the DC Compound will be where you learn to get to grips with gymkhana, under the guidance of Ken Block himself. You’ll later open up a connected area that is more claustrophobic and ideal for practising tighter moves in more confined spaces, and even the inside of the power station itself, where you can really run wild. Each of these areas have a number of challenges to master as you improve your skills through practice and competition. It adds a very different aspect to what might first seem to some to be a more pure rally experience.
But gymkhana isn’t all that’s new. In addition to the series already plentiful online multiplayer options, Dirt 3 adds in the ability to play split-screen multiplayer too. In an industry where everyone seems to be dropping offline multiplayer in favour of online-only modes, it’s refreshing to see a developer actually adding it back in. Whilst Codemasters weren’t speaking in too much detail about what’s on offer, it seems that you’ll be able to do everything offline you can online, just with the added bonus of being able to gloat in person. The company showed a two-player demo on stage, and myself and a couple of other journos managed to sneak on stage for a quick couple of laps before we were asked very kindly to return to the single-player mode – sufficient to say it looks and plays just as well in split-screen as it does with just one player.
There’s also a whole new replay system. Whereas in previous games you could only watch your replay straight after a race, you can now save them and bring them up later for editing. You can choose start and end points, playback speed (for those epic slow-mo gymkhana jumps), and then title your clip and upload it from inside the game. You can only upload in 480p, and are limited to a thirty-second clip, but even so it’s a great feature that allows you to show off your greatest moments all over the internet.[drop2]However, the most exciting new addition is Dirt 3’s ‘Party Mode’. A series of eight-player online modes, Party Mode is a whole lot of fun, and will likely make a refreshing time-out between extended rally sessions. There are three party games: Transporter, Invasion and Outbreak. Transporter is basically a car-based version of capture the flag – you all start off in a staggered circle and after five seconds a flag spawns somewhere on the map which needs to be dropped off back at base. The eight players are divided into four colour-coded teams and then the carnage begins; around the drop-off points it wasn’t uncommon to see the flag switching cars more than a dozen times before being captured, as cars smashed in from every direction. Invasion again sees players split into teams and this time the arena is littered with cardboard cut-out aliens that need to be destroyed for points. Hitting a skyscraper will lose you a point, and seeing another player heading for the same alien you are, only to send them spinning off into a pile of skyscrapers is incredibly satisfying.
The best mode by far though is Outbreak. You once again start off in a staggered circle, but after five seconds of game time, one player randomly becomes infected: their screen goes green, and they get indicators on the side of the screen and above racers’ heads to show who is still clean. They then have to infect as many of the other players as possible in the time remaining. The uninfected players get no other help, and must just run scared around the arena, hiding, pulling tricks, and just driving as fast as possible to escape infection.
It’s a simple concept for sure, but with the timer ticking down and a whole load of players running scattered around the map, it is a tremendous amount of fun to play and watch. All of the modes are reminiscent of some of the Freeburn Challenges from Burnout Paradise, and the DC Compound itself reminded me and couple of others at the event of the Airfield in that game. That of course is no bad thing – both the Airfield and the challenges were a lot of fun in Paradise, and they certainly add a whole new level of fun to Dirt 3. It’s unclear how many arenas for Party Mode will be available in the final game, but even after a whole afternoon roaring around the DC Compound, we were still finding new hiding spots and shortcuts.[boxout]I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t really a massive Dirt fan before getting my hands on the third game, but having spent some time with the game, and particularly all of the new additions that shake it up, will make Dirt 3 one of the, if not the, best racing games of this year.
You can check out all of our previous Dirt 3 coverage here.