Review: DiRT 3

May 30, 2011, Author: Andy Corrigan

There aren’t many games out there that I can look back to as being landmark titles in my gaming life, but one of them would easily be the Colin McRae Rally series. While I’ll never class any of the series among my favourite games of all time, the reason I recall it with so much importance is it was one of two titles back in the 90s that helped change my mind entirely on the merits of the racing genre (the other was Gran Turismo, if you’re wondering). Since the series’ inception in ‘98, a lot has changed in its transition from simple Rally simulation to the off-road extreme Motorsports powerhouse it has become in recent years, but the most felt change came with the passing of the titular man in tragic circumstances in 2007.

With McRae gone but not forgotten, Codemasters have decided that now is their time to move on, with DiRT 3 being the first off-road game from them in eight iterations to omit the McRae moniker that would no doubt have otherwise adorned the box. It’s fitting then, that while respecting what came before, Codies have taken a chance on implementing what could be a big part of the series’ future in Gymkhana. The burning question, though; is that future bright?

A DiRTy story!
DiRT 3 surprises almost as immediately as the main menu by ditching the racing team vibe and trailer-based menu system that has become staple in all their other racers since DiRT 2. You still have an agent, an engineer, and a random who will explain all you need to know throughout the game, but these guys are simply disembodied voices playing characters to keep things light and breezy; merely there to entertain you in-between rounds. In the old menu’s place is a more traditionally structured (but no less impressive) menu system that has been streamlined a fair old amount and is better for it.

Let’s hit the Gym… Khana…
Over the last three iterations, we’ve seen the more traditional rally elements slowly phased out for other, more ballsy, codes of off-road racing (with a lot of them being entirely fictional). What we’re left with in the single-player mode is the DiRT Tour, which takes place over four ‘pretend’ seasons. When I say pretend, there’s no calendar to stick to, no overall championship (although you do start to unlock something slightly resembling properly structured events around the halfway point of the four seasons); you have set events where your priority is to win or earn a passing grade in a challenge.

Each ‘season’ is represented by a pyramid, and each side to that pyramid has a series with a number of races and events to plough through. To keep unlocking the series events, you need to earn the required amount of Rep Points, which are earned during gameplay by taking part in races, getting podium finishes and winning the overall events. You can also earn bonus Rep points mid-race by achieving challenges set out before you start, and these include such aims as hitting a certain speed limit, not using one of your five rewinds (yes, they’re back too) or achieving a drift over a big distance. Rep points also count towards your driver level, and as you level up, you’ll open up more cars and liveries for you to use as you progress. There is great variety in the car selection, with cars from the 60’s, right through to current day racers. The basic set-up for the DiRT Tour is pretty much the same as the previous campaigns found in DiRT, just presented a little differently with the pretence of a race season thrown in for good effect.

The sheer variety of the events themselves has always been DiRT’s strongest point and it continues to be so. You still have your standard point-to-point Rally events, which if I’m honest are still my favourite part of the game. There are some variations in these events, though, with ‘Trailblazer’ being the main offshoot. This mode, rather than using standard Rally cars, you are placed in high-speed single-seater super cars. These cars are light, blindingly fast, hard to control and easy to total. Fun as hell to use, though, especially in night races.

In all the normal point-to-point modes, and just like life, you aren’t the only car on the course at any one time; the cars set off at timed intervals and at times you might find the car that set off before you has crashed or taken a corner badly, leaving you with an unexpected obstacle. These moments are unscripted and dynamic; following such an instance, hit the rewind and you’ll probably find that they’ve avoided incident; nicely done Codies.

Saturation, everywhere you look!

Of course, the way the game has evolved over the years, you’re not just racing against time, and there are some awesome modes that’ll keep core racers happy. Returning is Rally X, where you battle around a traditional circuit on mixed surfaces vying for the all-important podium finish. There are also events where you’ll be in some of the more unconventional vehicles in Land Rush, driving the trucks or buggies on circuits with a lot of mud/snow and high jumps. That would be fun on its own, but combine them with the typically aggressive Codemasters A.I. and it means that these modes are all suitably challenging experiences.

Also returning are the Head 2 Head events, where two of you race on adjacent circuits in the same arena (imagine a normal circuit split right down the middle of the track). These are always close run affairs, with crossover points that highlight just how hard you’re both fighting to take the lead.

The big new inclusion here, as you’ve probably heard, is the Gymkhana event type. In case you haven’t seen our hands on and press event run downs here and here, Gymkhana sees you placed in an open playground with a number of obstacles and tricks to perform. Your aim is to rack up as many points as possible by doing donuts, spins, jumps and drifts to either beat your competitor or hit a target score.

This mode is the centrepiece of DiRT 3 for a reason; it’s a great deal of fun and is challenging with it. Stringing together the moves is key, as you earn big multipliers for starting a new trick within a time-limit from ending the last. The one thing I will tell you is that it’s difficult to master, but it’s immensely fun to learn.

There are a number of variations on this mode too, with mini-games such as being required to smash down cardboard cut-outs of Robot Invaders while being penalised for running down cut-outs of buildings. This takes controlled but brave driving. In other variations, they might give you required tricks in set locations to perform within a time limit, or give you a time sensitive point-to-point race where you need to pass between cones. Alongside the campaign versions of Gymkhana, you also unlock segments of the Battersea Compound training grounds to explore with each ‘season’ that you complete. Once all these are unlocked you can drive around the entire compound either dicking around or tackling a series of missions.

At its core, handling is the same as it’s always been and it feels great to play. The game is all about breaking early, counter steering and sliding to take the corners; it is twitch gaming at its very best. It’s also worth mentioning that in this iteration, as with nearly all racing games now, you have a myriad of assists to switch on and off, including racing lines, throttle, breaking and steering assists. Anyone at any skill level can now jump in and enjoy the game, and that’s always welcome when not causing those who want the additional challenge to suffer. My one complaint is the same as it’s always been with Codemasters’ racers; the cars feel too light to feel wholly realistic, and with weak use of the pad’s vibration, you sometimes don’t feel that you’re getting enough validation from what’s on screen.

Lastly, Codies have included the ability to edit clips of your replays and upload them directly to youtube. This is an awesome feature, and I say it often, but this sort of thing should be included in nearly every game nowadays. There is one problem, you can’t save these replays and upload them later, you either have to do them from the menu mid-race or at the end. This breaks up the action too much, leaving you with lengthy spells of just sitting there. It would have been so much better if you could just save the replay to your hard drive and upload them all in bulk later. If you want to see a couple of the ones I’ve done thus far, why not check out and subscribe to our youtube channel?

Here’s DiRT in your eye!
In almost every aspect, DiRT 3 looks absolutely phenomenal. The usual saturation filter over the visuals stylise the game perfectly, while the cars all look fantastically modelled, both inside and out. It is, however, the environments that are so much improved this time around. From the starkly lit browns and greens of Africa, the snowy white areas of Aspen, to the overcast areas of Battersea; the game has diversity in spades and it all looks gorgeous. For a real visual treat, make sure you check out the L.A. Coliseum.

In reality, the entire game is a visual treat, though, and it’s all about the detail. Cars get grimy in-car between rounds in dustier climbs, or rain and snow effects batter your windscreen at every opportunity. Try to not be impressed as you pass through a puddle that splashes up onto your windscreen or when you have a raging blizzard blowing in your face the entire event, restricting your view but looking phenomenal with it. It’s not just weather that carries sweet little touches either, if a car gets too close for comfort on a night race, their headlights flood your cockpit with light; it’s the little things like this that make the experience that much more immersive. On some of the courses you might even find the odd spectator frantically running across the track in the distance as you power around a corner; there’s literally action and movement everywhere you look. None of this action comes at the price of a shoddy frame-rate either, which is more than stable throughout.

Gymkhana: The jewel in the crown.

If I had one complaint it’s that the car damage, while looking splendid in most cases, can look a little flimsy at times, almost as if segments of the car are stuck on by Blu-tack. With this, an occasionally innocuous looking knock can see parts of your car coming off a little cheaply. Another minor glitch is your driver’s hand flickering rapidly when trying to queue up a flashback. It doesn’t, however, impact greatly on the gameplay, so it’s not a major grumble by a long shot.

Elsewhere, the general presentation is as polished as you’ll see in a game these days, if not a millions miles away from what you’ve seen before. The menu system is slick and a joy to navigate, something that Codemasters always get just right. It’s just another aspect that underlines the amount of work that’s gone into making DiRT 3 one of the most visually thrilling titles around.

Christina is nowhere in sight!
First thing to mention is that there is a lot of dialogue in DiRT 3 for a racing game, with chatter from your three aforementioned guides and Gymkhana specialist Ken Block at every possible opportunity. It’s all fluff, though, but nicely produced fluff that suits what you’re presented with and keeps things moving along as you progress throughout the DiRT Tour. It’s a small part of the high-end production values that run throughout the experience. The cars roar nicely, if in some cases sounding a little whiny (especially in the cases of your opponents). The weather and environmental sounds effects also validate everything on-screen perfectly, be it a slide on wet gravel, crunch of the snow or the sound as mud splatters your windscreen.

The accompanying soundtrack is a nice eclectic mix of electronic and rock music from the likes of Biffy Clyro, Run DMC, UNKLE, Leftfield and many more. It’s a nice selection all round and while some of the more unknown choices might fit the ‘too stereotypically extreme sports’ variety, it at least all fits the DiRT 3 experience just right.

Rallying together!
Thankfully, to go with the great handling and presentation, DiRT 3 features an equally polished online mode to go with it. Just be warned that if you pick this game up second-hand, you’ll need to buy a ‘VIP Pass’ to take it online. So, the online is split into two schools; Pro Tour for your ranked matches, and Jam Session for your custom matches (the ranking system here is labelled as your Fan Base; the more fans you have; the higher your rank).

Up to eight of you can play every type of game from the single-player in either solo or team-based races, be it Point to Point, Rally X, Head 2 Head or any of the Gymkhana courses. These are all really enjoyable modes, standard fare, but solid online racing nonetheless. For those seeking additional challenge (or for those elitist pricks amongst you), you’ll find the Hardcore mode, which sees you lose all assists, automatic gear changes and HUD; not one I spent much time in and I imagine it’s more for those who really enjoy their rally.

Flying the flag!

Where DiRT 3 really shines are the Party events. I can say straight away that I had the most fun playing the Transporter mode, which is pretty much a capture the flag in cars. You all spawn randomly, a flag spawns somewhere you all frantically race to get there first (usually in one massive pile up). Once you’ve got a hold of the flag, you have to fight tooth and nail to get it back to one of the designated scoring areas without someone stealing it off you. Invasion is imported straight from the cut-out smashing game in the Tour Mode, really testing those Gymkhana skills you’ve picked up along the way. Then you have my second favourite of the bunch; Outbreak, which is a play on the old Zombie modes found in online shooters. One of the cars is ‘infected’ and he must infect the other cars by smashing into them. Once infected, they must do the same and so forth until there is one uninfected car left.

The good news in all of this is that I didn’t encounter a single issue anywhere while playing the online mode; this is as stable as they come and it didn’t have to take a hit in graphical quality to achieve it. For those who are internet-challenged, you’ll be pleased to hear that there is a split-screen mode available for those who want it; a welcome (but dying) addition in this day and age.

Get DiRTY!
I don’t think I could recommend this game enough. The rallying is as solid as ever, the races are thrilling and unpredictable and the Gymkhana events bring something fresh, challenging and inspiring to a very enjoyable single-player campaign. The multiplayer is also nigh-on flawless, making DiRT 3 one of the best all-in-one packages around. DiRT 3 is loud, exhilarating and has so much variety that it never gets boring; a definite purchase in my book.


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