DiRT 2 was a great racing game, but it almost became more famous for its grating attempts to win over after an American audience than its gameplay or graphics. So it’s peculiar to find that the first game to abandon the ColinMcRae name is also the one that drags the series back to its roots.
The obnoxious extreme sports motif and grating American voiceovers haven’t entirely disappeared but they have definitely been diluted. Ken Block remains the game’s frontman, ensuring it retains its xtreme credentials, but there’s much more of an emphasis on old school point-to-point rallying than there has been in recent games.
Formats: PlayStation 3 (reviewed) , Xbox 360 and PC
Developer: Codemasters Southam
Release Date: 24th May 2011
Age Rating: 12
The Colin McRae name may be gone, but the legacy is fully honoured in Codemasters’ new smorgasbord of off-road racing.
The upshot of this is that DiRT 3 feels surprisingly fresh and the suspicion that DiRT 2 was actively trying to hide the fact that it’s a rally game, for the sake of the almighty dollar, has been abandoned.
What hasn’t disappeared though is the series’ rock solid handling modelling. Inexplicably dismissed as arcadey by some it remains purposefully accessible and responsive, but it also requires a lot of technical skill to master. Admittedly drifting around corners is still easier to do than in real life, but the technique bares no relation to the pure fantasy of something like Ridge Racer.
Championing a middle ground rarely works in any creative endeavour but Codemasters has always straddled the gap between arcade racer and simulation with a keen sense of balance. DiRT 3′s racing feels authentic, but it also works as a fair and consistent video game. (And for really novice drivers the now familiar Flashback feature lets you rewind a few seconds of time to repair a momentary lapse.)
Codemasters’ mania for including as wide a range of cars and events as possible, whether they’re particularly relevant or not, is also in full effect here; from rallycross and head-to-head races to the more freeform Land Rush mode with giant trucks and busy little dune buggies. The most important new event though is Gymkhana, which is where Ken Block comes in and the reason the game can afford to get old school with its point-to-point racing.
If you haven’t seen Block demonstrate the concept in real-life the gymkhana is exactly what it sounds like: racing around tight, obstacle-filled courses defying spectator’s expectations that you and your car are going to end up a cube of crushed metal at every turn of the wheel.
Block has been doing this sort of thing for a few years now and how it’s never ended up in a game until now is a mystery. In DiRT 3 it almost feels like an engine-drive version of Tony Hawk’s, complete with open world arenas to explore and missions to discover.
Other features include the inevitable Call Of Duty style experience system, although gaining reputation points doesn’t feel quite as important as it used to be. The main single-player mode is the DiRT Tour, which is split into four seasons and offers an almost perfectly smooth difficultly curve of slowly increasing challenges.
Online everything is present and correct too, although there’s also more unexpected extras such as a two-player split screen mode and a range of wackier game modes comprising what amounts to capture the flag and an a game of automotive It.
The graphics are excellent throughout, with the standout features being the excellent damage modelling and the superb new weather effects and night time racing. Although it’s the same basic technology from F1 2010 the effect of rain on a course is far more important in rallying that it is in Formula 1 and the blizzard like conditions that can occur when snow is falling are hugely impressive (and dangerous).
And yet it’s the night races which impress the most, in terms of the use of lighting and the sheer attention to detail, with flies flitting about at twilight and trees looming dangerously in your headlights.
Innovation and originality is almost impossible in racing games, but the way this balances both realism and arcade excitement – along with traditional rallying and newer concepts such as Gymkhana, is a close as it gets.
In Short: A near perfect combination of rallying old and new, that gives precedence to neither and remains accessible to all.
Pros: Well balanced mix between arcade racer and simulation, in terms of handling and event types. Gymkhana is excellent, as are the graphics.
Cons: The X-Games style presentation will still rub some fans up the wrong way and some events, such as Land Rush, aren’t as fleshed out as others.