Driving Sideways: TSA Gets Down And DiRTy

Codemasters’ EGO engine, it transpires, is particularly adept at rendering tetrahedrons.  I can’t remember the last time a racing game, let alone a rally-based one, focused so much on little three dimensional triangles, but DiRT 3 seems to love them.  They spill out from behind your car in the gloriously slow-mo menu system; they form the basis of the campaign structure, folding out like patchwork origami; heck, even the little autosave icon looks like a plan of Giza.

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Consistency in the UI, at least, is one of Codemasters’ calling cards.  Little touches abound: your latest ride patrolling the sterile white canvas as you navigate the chunky options so beautifully done it looks pre-rendered, but in game the car models are appropriately matched and the ditching of the overly ambitious trailer system from past games highlights the fact that this time around, the vehicles are the focus.

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[drop]It works, not just visually but also mechanically – the handling is refined and precise, the steering twitchy but directional and the physics create a real connection to the road.  Rally games often miss the crucial point that the sport is defined by the omnipresent requirement to push the cars, and the drivers, to their absolute limits – constantly on the edge of traction and control – but here, at least in the core rally mode, DiRT 3 nails it.

The version Codemasters dropped off is a near complete but still very much preview build, the campaign structure is in place – points are awarded for each event and thus unlock previously unavailable ones in due course – and the game looks and feels like it will on release.  Our career mode offered up the first year, which dished out a variety of race modes and vehicle types, and opened up the first section of the Battersea Gymkhana complex.

It’s more than enough to get a real sense of how the game will pan out, and already I’ve got my favourites.  The straight up rally sections are easily the highlight, with their inventive courses and masses of tension as you scream down the tarmac trying not to blink, and the rallycross and ice racing not really clicking – the bumper to bumper action organic enough (the AI makes plenty of mistakes) but doesn’t quite feel as polished or as fluid.

[drop2]The drifting and Gymkhana sections are superb though: the first time you get behind the Ford Fiesta Hill Climb is an absolute blast and the inclusion of classic cars (including the frankly terrifying RS Cosworth) is a smart move from the developers, giving each course its own individual identity depending on the vehicle class.  The single player mode flows really well, open ended enough to avoid any frustration but structured enough to encourage players to try to better their positions if they don’t make first.

The build didn’t include any online functionality, sadly, nor did it let us sample the single player mode outside of career (so no time trials) but there was split screen multiplayer, which is most welcome. It’s a shame we couldn’t get to grips with the promising sounding Party Mode, but we’ll try to get another version before release as the internet-based gameplay was what made DiRT 2 so popular here on TheSixthAxis, especially in the Meets.

So, yes – Codemasters have done it again. DiRT 3’s easily the best looking of the recent EGO powered games, it’s now much crisper and sharper, frequently photographic and – for the most part – runs nicely at a motion-blur enhanced thirty frames per second. But more importantly, it handles like a dream, players able to make high speed snap decisions that instantly transpose onto the screen whilst retaining subtlety and elegance.

And they’ve nailed those tetrahedrons.

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25 Comments

  1. Wasn’t a fan of DiRT and DiRT 2, the thing discussed here, the feel of the car on the road felt lacking and the braking was faaaar too good. However after F1 2010 and the good previews of this I am more interested than maybe I expected to be.

    From what I have read Rallying is more at the forefront again and this is something I am very happy about.

  2. Awesome, this preview is a pleasant surprise. Just one question..
    “core rally mode” – can you play a full core rally career without having to play other events in order to progress? That would be sweet.

    • nope.

      • But they have said rally makes up ~%60 of the single player. Sound about right?

      • From the first year, possibly, maybe a bit less.

  3. Oh …I will probably still buy it but that’s taken a bit of the shine off for me :(

    • Wait, what bit took the shine off? It sounded like pretty positive preview to me.

      Confused.

      • Don’t get me wrong – i was thrilled with the preview but the answer to my question above was disappointing. I long for the good ol’ days of CMcRae3..

      • Ah, sorry I missed the fact that this post was a reply to the one you made above. My mistake, your fault ;)

      • Apologies for the confusion i caused ;)

  4. A question for those who have played it: do all the cars have a cockpit view? I’ve seen a lot of third-person screenshots and videos, but I need cockpit view. Can anyone confirm?

    • Yes they do, at least the ones I’ve tried do.

  5. I don’t like the shade of blue they’ve chosen for the HUD, I think I’ll give it a miss.

  6. I loved Dirt 2, even if it wasn’t a perfect rally sim it was a LOT of fun, particularly online.

    I’m really looking forward to the most ralliest of Colin McRae Rally games in a long time, particularly as it has support for the new Thrustmaster T500RS on the PS3 (and PC).

    nofi, what platform did you get this preview on? Did you try it with a wheel?

  7. This is a Day 1 buy for me, DiRT games are superb and addictive

  8. Was the preview on PS3 or 360. Did you use a wheel.

  9. I might get this but the lack of rally is disappointing, I avoided Dirt 2 for that reason. I will give it a go and hopefully will be pleasantly surprised. One question, is the gymkhana section intuitive or is it difficult to get to grips with?

    • It does have rallying. Or didn’t you read it.

  10. not going to bother with Dirt 3. The preview makes it sound fantastic but what i really want is Grid:2 or Toca2012 or something along that line :D

    • Simbin’s great with Race 07, have they team up with Codemasters for a new Toca game

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