We spent numerous hours with Codemasters' rally sequel, eventually earning the game's illusive Platinum trophy and still secretly longing for more. Codemasters' mix of arcade accessibility and simulation physics created a racing experience that not only felt unique, but also approachable without compromising depth.
DiRT 3 is largely much of the same. The sequel is a model example of iterative improvement, tweaking its predecessor in the subtlest of ways, but emerging vastly superior. From the streamlined user-interface, to the slightest of improvements in car handling, DiRT 3 somehow manages to effortlessly brush the quality of DiRT 2 aside, resulting in a vastly improved package that never appears to reinvent the wheel.
A comprehensive and well structured package, DiRT 3 manages to balance the heritage of its Colin McRae franchise against its own innovation, introducing wildly creative gameplay mechanics such as Gymkhana that hark back to the glory days of the Tony Hawk franchise. With care, Codemasters has crafted a package that showcases the ambitions of the developer whilst carefully toeing the line between Americanisation and the franchise's historical roots. DiRT 3 feels like a more consistent package than its predecessor despite the loftiness of its goals.
That ambition is precisely honed into the game's handling mechanics. Vehicles posture around dusty hairpins with trademark simplicity. And yet bubbling beneath the game's flighty accessibility is a tangible sense of challenge, a desire to regain control of the vehicle's flagging rear as it kicks out and sends you sidewards. It's the middle-ground that Codemasters has long been coveting; a racing game that exudes the depth of a sim without compromising the simplicity of an arcade game, and it works gloriously.
The model works perfectly across DiRT 3's multitude of disciplines too. This is a comprehensive game, embracing virtually every off-road racing element from Land Rush to the X-Games. Yet while the package is laced with variety, there's a prominent focus on the isolated point-to-point rally that fans have been calling for since the series inception. From the chilly climates of Norway to the tropical conditions of Kenya, DiRT 3 is not afraid of presenting wildy contrasting racing conditions — something that's enhanced by the game's brand new weather system.
DiRT 3's single-player campaign will run you a solid 15 hours, with online multiplayer included to significantly bolster the package's long term appeal. We'll take a deeper look at DiRT 3's multiplayer in a future article.
It's the most basic of statements, but DiRT 3 genuinely is a supremely enjoyable racing game dotted with exciting events and fantastic tracks. One event put us behind the wheel of a lively buggy in the driving blizzard conditions of Aspen. The experience was visceral, compelling, intense; a testament to DiRT 3's physics model and stunning visual clarity. And that's just one event in a game packed with cleverly crafted set-pieces and thoroughly enjoyable routes.
DiRT 3 produces a stunning sense of connectivity between the vehicle and the track. Vehicles bumble and bobble over the terrain, offering sensationally accurate feedback through controller rumble and sound design. The racing feels supremely satisfying, as the vehicle reacts precisely to your inputs, slipping through dusty terrain and into the traction of the tarmac. While not a sim, everything in DiRT 3 feels natural and as you'd expect it to. Vehicles leap from peaked mounds in the Earth with a realistic sense of weight, while crashes portray the heft of the automobiles involved with startling crunches and a startlingly realistic deformation engine. While the game's been tuned with accessibility in mind, everything in DiRT 3 feels as you'd expect it to. Rally cars slide with just the right sense of inertia, while buggies bounce on the axis of their overcompensating suspension. Each of the elements breed into a supremely satisfying racing experience that feels varied, natural and exciting.
We hated Codemasters' decision to include Gymkhana at first. The trick racing events take place in arenas specced out with ramps, bollards and cardboard targets. Your task is to utilise the environment to perform donuts, spins, leaps and drifts. At first we couldn't get to grips with the techniques required to complete the Gymkhana stages, but with practice we grew to love the variety provided by the trick-driven gameplay. The Gymkhana events play out similarly to classic Tony Hawk titles, with trick variety and performance consistency multiplying your score as you navigate through the arena's executing various crowd pleasing stunts. Hitting the handbrake to slide around an object while carefully caressing the throttle in order to slip into a donut is supremely satisfying, and as you start to improve your technique you'll begin to learn to chain stunts and master the Gymkhana events. The learning curve is steeper than the other events in DiRT 3 but the satisfaction when you nail it is unbeatable. The Gymkhana mechanics aren't restricted to short events either; Codemasters has opened up the entirety of London's Battersea Power Plant, with a checklist of cryptic challenges adding a sense of exploration and creativity to the inherently linear nature of the game's other events.
We are becoming obsessed with multiple weather effects in games. With powerful consoles and stable engines now available, we want to see weather become more of an important component in games. DiRT 3 combines heavy rain showers, thich snow storms and different time periods to create events with different moods. Naturally, the different weather conditions have more than an aesthetic impact, with rainy and snowy conditions adapting your race strategy significantly.
DiRT 3 has some of the best engine sounds we've ever heard in a racing game. Engines literally rumble, fizz and pop with a clarity that's just not present in other titles. The soundtrack is similarly memorable, replacing the pop-rock vibe of DiRT 2 with a more imaginative set of Euro-club tunes.
Codemasters' Ego engine is a phenomenal piece of technology, but it is prone to giving games a slightly yellow tinge. DiRT 3 shares this problem, offering an unclear, over-saturated image in places. The menus emphasise this issue the most. While the game's futuristic three-dimensional UI is heaps better than DiRT 2's quirky but irritating caravan system, the whole set-up suffers from a serious lack of clarity that detracts from the system.
DiRT 3 does away with much of the Americanisation that plagued its predecessor, but still has plenty of room for some brash and irritating voice acting. It tries to off-set the chants of, "Yo brahh, that was sick man, you should totally upload that footage to You-toob," with an irritatingly unlively British woman, but falls short on both counts. Just stop talking, ok?
DiRT 3 enhances Codemasters' rally franchise in the subtlest of ways, transforming the already stellar DiRT 2 into a formidable racing package. Everything from the game's core physics engine to the user-interface has been overhauled, resulting in a supremely polished experience that's going to be difficult to beat.