It feels like it has been a long while since the release of Dirt 2, but it has only been less than two years! In that time we’ve not seen much, if any, competition to the rally-racing crown that Dirt 2 so easily filled back in 2009. Codemasters has really sewn this market up, and for a good reason too; every release has brought a thrilling racing experience to us gamers. Now in 2011 the team are back again with Dirt 3, a title that literally spins donuts around its previous titles of the franchise and any other off-road racer on consoles today.
Dirt 2 was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessors in terms of its visual design, and in Dirt 3 this ‘grungy’ style continues throughout with more influence from its front man – Ken Block. Even though Mr Block branded the previous title, his presence is much more known this time around.
Past titles have shown that Codemasters make great gaming menus and Dirt 3 is no exception. We leave the comfort of the touring trailer in Dirt 2 for a much cleaner, simpler and more stylized interface, which cuts down on the lengthy transitions between menus that I found in the previous game. With that said though, Dirt 3 can still take longer than you want to really get going. This is due to the lengthy pans and sweep transition animations and menus throughout the game. These are nice, don’t get me wrong, but after you’ve seen them a few times already you just want to be able to skip them and get behind the wheel.
The Championship option is your main port of call for your racing career. New locations, cars and events unlock with every level of reputation (Rep) points earned throughout your progress in each of the five main seasons. Rep points can be earned by winning each event with additional points awarded to you based on the type of sponsor you drive with and any set bonuses achieved in each race. So the bottom line here is to win races, earn Rep, unlock each season, car and stage along the way and finally become champion. Got that? Good.
Like its predecessor, the type of vehicle you drive is limited to the type of race you are racing in; from the many rally cars from all eras, to buggies and trucks. There is a small choice of vehicles to begin within each class, but there are plenty more classic rally vehicles to choose from later on in the game, once more Rep points are earned and more sponsors acknowledge your winning prowess. Each unlocked car brings bigger Rep points if they are driven, which ruins the game a little as it forces you to select the higher Rep cars and sponsors if a speedily progression through the career mode is your main priority. Some cars however may handle differently, so you might select a car with less Rep points to guarantee a better ride and be able to finish first place overall in a particular stage or event.
There are some new and exciting race events in Dirt 3. The usual Rally, Trail Blazer, Head-2-Head and Land Rush event types from Dirt 2 are still present, with Rally X, Drift Showcase and Gymkhana events adding some further variety to the game, and does well to break up the usual rallying and verses race types.
Gymkhana is a fairly new sport that has been endorsed by Ken Block, so it goes without saying that he does lead in the rankings quite often in the game. This event is basically a skill points based event where you drift, jump, spin and smash your way around a few concrete playgrounds that span the globe – from London Battersea Power Station to Michigan, USA. As a spectator sport Gymkhana looks thrilling, but it is another world when you get behind the wheel and have a go yourself. The first few runs will see your vehicle’s bodywork crumbling around you as you smash into all sorts of solid structures, barrels or plastic walls as you attempt to pull off the required technical moves against the clock. It takes practice to be as good as Mr Block, so don’t expect to be leading in these rounds any time soon, but with some practice you’ll soon have a grin on your face after you’ve seamlessly pulled off some stunts without hitting anything.
To help with fine-tuning your fastest times, or to see novices through an event unharmed, flashback modes make a welcome return in Dirt 3. So if you find yourself off the track and heading into the woods at 80mph, then a quick nudge of the shoulder buttons will pause the game and, with the sacrifice of Rep points, allow you to reverse time and correct the error that caused it. This proves crucial for new events like Gymkhana where precision is key.
Graphically, Dirt 3 has proven to be as flawless as the car handling and gameplay within the game. Whether you are racing through sun-kissed deserts of Kenya, the rainy wetlands of Finland, the slippery snow circuits of Norway or the city road tracks of Monaco, every event is captured with great detail. Add the variable weather and lighting conditions and you have a fair few different racing experiences to be had under the hood. Each vehicle has been well crafted, to a point that it is a shame to get them muddy or finish a race with bumpers and doors hanging off. My main disappointment was with the spectators, where it would have been good to see the start and finish crew receive similar attention.
Dirt 3 is one game that I wanted to take still in-game shots from but sadly there is no such feature, which is a big shame, as some replays can look extremely jaw dropping! Alternatively the creators have focused on video and the ability to share your replays on YouTube. This is a nice feature but is one that I found to be too time consuming to do often. Once captured and edited you then sit in a waiting line to upload your video, which can be a minute’s wait or much longer. More than not I just kept these moments to myself and carried on with the next race - It was a shame you couldn’t archive and upload them later.
Make sure your speakers are cranked up high, as once again Codemasters have done themselves proud in the audio department. Other developers should take note of how to create fantastic engine audio and not to make cars in their games sound like bee’s locked up in a biscuit tin – I’m looking at you Gran Turismo! The soundtrack is also worth a mention too, as there is a good mix of tracks being featured throughout the menus and whilst you wait for a race to load.
This game has also a fairly bustling multiplayer side to it too. Sessions can be had on ranked and friendly servers, solo and team based modes, and across all race types and tracks. There is very little waiting time, with tracks selections and car choices all given a speedy countdown before choices are locked down and racing begins. A welcome feature is being able to join lobbies whilst a race is currently in progress, which helps to make sure there are many joinable events and that you are not just searching for rooms where people are waiting for a race to start. Time trial events are played where other players are ghost cars, however if you like to trade paint with other players, then head into the Trail Blazer or Rally X events for some carnage.
If you missed the previous Dirt titles, then Dirt 3 will certainly bring you up to speed with Codemasters’s finest racing series, and comes thoroughly recommended to any petrol-headed gamer who loves to power slide through gravelled forest tracks. There are many hours to be lost in the game’s Championship mode, and the smaller race type series events and online modes expand the game’s longevity and appeal even more. Dirt 3 has given fans what they were expecting, and more. Codemasters has developed yet another enjoyable rallying title and is one title we will not be matched, let alone beaten, at least until Dirt 4 is released.