Rally fans are rejoicing, as the third installment in the DiRT series has finally been released. Those who felt that the series has strayed away from tenets of traditional rally racing might be a bit skeptical about the direction Codemasters has taken. The developer has promised a return to form, and, while the X-Games aftertaste from DiRT 2 isn’t completely washed away, you’d be remiss to not pick this up. Not only is DiRT 3 a good rally racer, it’s a good racing game, period.
DiRT 3 begins with a brief introduction from your teammates and a series of short explanations regarding each of the race types and locations. If you’ve become accustomed to the planet-hopping RV hub present in DiRT 2 and F1 2010, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s been replaced by a much more efficient menu system, complete with Codemasters’ signature “pop.” To be clear, the entire map-based structure of DiRT 2 is gone, and it makes for extremely easy navigation without significant load times between locations.
The career is organized into four main parts, each with four subsections. Within the subsections are a varying number of events, each having its own requirements for completion. Codemasters has gone to great lengths to make the career mode accessible, but they’ve managed to do so without sacrificing anything for the veteran player. For instance, you won’t have to spend a bunch of money collecting cars and setting them up, as this is taken care of through the sponsor offers that are available to you. If you so choose, you can delve into tuning and change the handling characteristics, but, for the most part, the cars and trucks available are ready to go.
Having RPG elements in racing games has become common of late, and DiRT 3 is no exception. It carries over the RPG-style “rep” system from the previous game, and with good results. Your “rep,” a sort of RPG-style meter, is determined by your performance during events, and that, in turn, determines what sponsor offers you’ll receive. The system works to reward players for performing well at a high difficulty while at the same time not discouraging less experienced players from taking advantage of the various assists.
The staple racing modes of the series have returned. This means that familiar modes like Rally, Land Rush, and Head 2 Head are all back with a shiny new coat of paint. There are some new attractions, as well. One of the biggest additions to the series comes in the form of an entirely new motorsport: Gymkhana. Series front man Ken Block is somewhat familiar with the art, which probably has a little to do with its inclusion. If you’re unfamiliar, Gymkhana is to motorsport what freestyle is to skateboarding, and in this analogy Ken Block is akin to Rodney Mullen or Kilian Martin.
The Gymkhana events require you to perform specific tricks in specific sections of the arena. You earn points for drifts, spins, donuts, and jumps, depending on which marked section of the arena you’re in at the moment. You have the freedom to string tricks together in any way you like, but repeated tricks will earn you less points. The real reward comes early in the career when you unlock your own private Gymkhana compound, complete with obstacles to avoid smashing into as you drive around like a lunatic. Couple that with the fact that you can upload video clips directly to YouTube (though you’re limited to 30 seconds) and you can see the potential of this addition. Fans of traditional point-to-point rally needn’t fear, though. There are numerous events that take place across Africa, Europe, and the U.S. that should satisfy any skeptic. In fact, about 60% of the career mode is devoted to rally racing.
The vehicles of DiRT 3 are also brought to life by a truly dynamic handling model. The first time you transition from gravel to tarmac, you’ll feel the difference instantly. The slip-and-slide feel of loose gravel disappears when the tires bite onto the blacktop, and you’ll lose precious seconds if you aren’t ready for the transition. For the first time in the series’ history, you’ll also be able to race in the snow, which behaves and reacts realistically. As you race along, it will slowly build up in the wheel wells and on the tires themselves. This makes the feel of the car slightly different towards the end of a race in the snow, and results in a deep level of immersion.
The differences in road surfaces aren’t the only ones, though. You’ll also be piloting a number of vehicles, from the tight and compact Ford Fiesta to the tall and lumbering trucks from the Land Rush events. Classic rally cars from the 60s to the 90s make an appearance also, and each of the vehicle types is distinct. The vehicles used for the Trailblazer events, for instance, handle like Le Mans prototypes created specifically for off-road racing, whereas the cars used for Gymkhana are made for chucking into corners at impossible speeds. That all of these vehicle types can exist together in the same game is a testament to Codemasters’ handling model. And when everything goes wrong, which it will, Codemasters’ signature rewind system introduced in GRID is there to help you erase your mistakes. The amount of vehicles, coupled with the variety of event types, makes a great recipe for replayability.
Visually, DiRT 3 is nothing short of beautiful. Codemasters put the EGO engine through its paces here, and while it’s evident there isn’t much more that can be done, the visual spectacle is truly impressive. The reflections are high-rez as well as believable, and the lighting is amazing. The difference between the warm, vibrant colors of a sunset and the cool, grey tones of a rainy afternoon at an abandoned factory really add to the overall character of the locations.
The sound design is also quite good. You’ll be able to pick out the sound of gravel bouncing off of the undercarriage or the sound of tightly packed snow being compressed and then released as you and your opponents drive by. The music is tasteful and only plays while the menu is on-screen and during replays. One particularly appropriate track I happened upon was “Burn Rubber” by the Gap band, which played at the pre-race menu at a Gymkhana event.
The multiplayer modes, which include both splitscreen and online, offer even more ways to enjoy off-roading. All of the modes that are available in the single-player career are also available in multiplayer. In addition, there is a Party Mode. This includes Invasion, where players drive around and smash cardboard cutouts of robots while avoiding skyscrapers; Transporter, which does not involve Jason Statham but, rather, is a capture-the-flag variant; and Outbreak. Outbreak plays like a sort of zombie mode from a first-person shooter, in which one of the players is infected and his objective is to infect the other players by crashing into them. The last player who hasn’t been infected wins.
There’s very little that I didn’t like about DiRT 3. In fact, the only thing that really stands out as an unpleasant memory from my playthrough was an occasionally long loading time here or there. These were so rare, though, that it almost doesn’t warrant a mention. For the most part, the framerate stays right around 60 frames per second. I did, however, experience a slight drop on a race that took place at night and in the snow, which may have taxed the engine a bit. Still, even these gripes were so minor that they really weren’t a bother at all.
All things considered, DiRT 3 is a game that should find itself in the home of every self-proclaimed fan of racing games. And for the rally enthusiast, the takeaway is that this latest entry in the DiRT series is a return to form that should be satisfying to the hardcore fan while inviting enough for anyone to enjoy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Everything from the lighting to the particle effects was absolutely gorgeous. There were a few hiccups, but nothing too serious. 4.7 Control
The controls work fine in the default setting. It should be noted that they are completely customizable as well. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Everything from the minute to the grandiose was rendered in a well-balanced way. The music was also enjoyable, if a tad bit repetitive. 4.5 Play Value
With a variety of things to do and loads of replayability, the events list will keep even the most enthusiastic players busy for quite a while. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|