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.
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.
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.