Mud in your eye!
People are seriously going to start saying that there's a conspiracy, if Codemasters keep on producing quality racing titles like Dirt 3. Seriously, I'm not a massive rally fan but I have had a fun racing experience from this one right from the moment that I was able to sink my teeth into it. The bottom line, so you don't have to read this particular diatribe all the way to the end if you don't want to is: Dirt 3 is a worthy addition to the rally genre, knocks spots off Dirt 1 and 2 and whilst it's not a huge leap forwards, it's like one of those high performance cars where everything is tuned to near perfection and works better than before.
This is a high-scoring game and like many of our peers on Metacritic, it deserves every high mark it gets. Whether you're a hardcore rally racer, Dirt fan or just a casual gamer, this one offers something for everyone.
One of the biggest changes is in the menu system, right there and then, things have been juggled around and it's got one of those 'in your face' menu systems that could leave some fans wondering just what Codemasters were doing when they invented it. Dirt 2 always struck me as some kind of crazy radical thing when it came to the menus; Dirt 3 eschews this and basically looks like they took a trip to the Ikea School of Design, except you know what...I actually quite like this aesthetic. It makes things a lot easier to navigate and the menu system doesn't seem as off-putting as Dirt 2's.
There's another big change which struck a chord with me right away, gone is the money made from each race, no more cash ca-ching payouts and so on. It's all down to Reputation and Driver Sponsorships from the various racing teams that are on offer in the game. They give you the cars and you give them the talent. It works pretty well and is a welcome change from the old style racing ethos of cash equals cars. The more Rep you earn the more rewards that you can walk away with in the end. Pick a sponsor you like, with the kind of Rep bonus you're looking for and away you go.
You can compete in Single Player mode, where you can pick from various races and modes but the meat of the game is in Dirt Tour and that's what we jumped right into. You can expect to compete in familiar modes such as:
Rally: staggered point to point races through a variety of tracks and locations.
Rallycross: a little like motorcross only with cars instead.
Land Rush: An intense form of rallycross, more aggressive and using trucks and buggies.
Trailblazer: Imagine a rally mode but with highly tuned and extremely fast cars.
Head-2-Head: A single circuit where you race another driver in the opposite direction, in a one on one race to the finish.
New to the series though is Gymkhana, a stunt based mode that takes quite a lot of skill to get the best out of. We predict some angry controller throwing until the basics are learned and then the mode offers a lot of fun and some of the best skill-based driving yet in a game.
Each mode is placed into Dirt Tour and is featured in a triangular style multi-race menu, spread across several series. You gain Rep points to unlock these and once they're unlocked you can pick/choose the events that you want to enter as long as you have the Rep to do so. You get Rep by not using Flashbacks (similar to Grid's use of these which is basically a rewind feature) and placing well, completing optional objectives like reaching a high top speed or beating a certain time. A huge amount of points can be garnered this way, especially if you have managed to score one of the special unlock cards that lets you get access to the Dirt 3 super-teams.
As a point of note regarding Flashbacks, you get 5 of these per race no matter the difficulty and so on. This may seem like things have been dumbed down, but remember - you don't HAVE to use them. They are an adequate tool though for casual gamers and help you if you manage to mess up and don't want to restart the race over again.
Dirt 3 has 8 environments and it puts the various modes across all of these, the environments are (in no particular order): The Smelter Industrial site, Norway, Michigan, Monoco, Aspen (snowy paradise), Finland, Kenya (really amazing sunsets) and the L.A. Coliseum.
Dirt 3 has twice the number of tracks in these environments and adds weather, time of day and other features to these. The gameplay is radically different as well, especially at night which has probably been the most fun since it can be nearly impossible to see a turn until it's too late. Snow is excellent fun to drive on and requires a different skill compared to the other surfaces, wet tracks likewise handle totally differently to the dry versions and you have to seriously drive a rally car at night on Dirt 3 for some truly fantastic hair-raising moments, especially in the cockpit view.
With such a sheer amount of driving craziness on offer, the game fortunately gives a wealth of driver assists to cater for hardcore and casual gamers alike. Rather akin to Forza 3 this game offers some serious assists to make a casual gamer feel right at home. This is the bottom line with Dirt 3's gameplay, if there's one thing you take from this review - it's that the game has been tuned for all kinds of gamers and playing it for someone who isn't a hardcore racing fan who likes to tinker with all kinds of options is frankly a cinch. If you're familiar with Forza 3 as well, you'll love Dirt 3's racing line which is just as good, changing dynamically with the need to speed up, brake and slow down.
Difficulty only affects how good your opponents are so if you're a casual gamer, you can still unlock all the cool stuff without having to worry about being hardcore and getting the best toys because you're awesome at the game with your eyes closed.
Briefly touched on earlier is Gymkhana Mode. This is stunt based and requires some serious driving skill. There are tricks galore similar to many Skater games to perform and always take place in big open areas where you have a variety of disciplines to play with. There are a few event types like sprint, where you have to do tricks in a particular order, smash attack, smashing cut-outs of robots and so on. There's a lot of challenge here and to help you hone your skills you can play around in the Battersea Compound where you can free roam and do all sorts of cool jumps and tricks.
If you're also worried about losing some of your hard-won replay, you can upload directly to Youtube if you want. However it's not in HD and it's going to take about 10 minutes for a 30 second clip to upload even on a high bandwidth. This is also the only way to share and save your favourite crashes and racing moments, you can't save on the HDD and that's a shame. All you need to do is provide your Youtube user name and password, then you're all set.
Dirt 3 is a nice looking game, from the cars to the aesthetically pleasing environments. The graphics aren't just for show either, the mud, the snow and the rain all realistically impact the physics of the game and obscure the cockpit view if you play in that mode. Each location is created with a gorgeous eye for detail and the Dirt 3 engine is the best iteration yet for the series, it delivers some truly stunning vistas in places like Kenya and Finland. The frame rate is also rock solid and never shows pop in, pop out or stutters. It's a finely tuned graphical engine this time around. The cars look the part and there's a lot of detail in terms of livery and sponsorship logos on these motors.
The UI and HUD are also nicely done, the in-game HUD is packed with information but it's not cluttered at all.
Dirt 3 features a significant upgrade to the physics engine used in Dirt 2. It's a lot more responsive this time around, the cars handle better and there's a lot more play in terms of drift and slide skills. There's also independent suspension so the cars rock, they roll and they move pretty realistically. It looks great in cockpit camera too. Damage can be visual or downright catastrophic depending on your settings, if you go for the full Damage Monte expect to total your car, leave a wreck on the track and get smashed to bits in the more aggressive rallycross and land rush modes.
Peds get out of the way, the backgrounds are animated and there's a lot of life to these tracks even in the most remote of places. The interior of the cars are all very well modelled and animated too.
The AI can get downright aggressive in some of the modes and it knows how to block effectively, especially on the higher difficulties - beware grudge holding vengeful AI knocking you off a cliff for example. It doesn't seem rubber-band based at all either, so you can see them make mistakes, oversteer and crash just like a human player.
Dirt 3 is packed with lots of quality sound, from the tooting horns blown by pedestrians as you race around a corner, the various roars of the car engines and the screech or slew of tires. It's all there and it's all well modelled audio wise.
Dirt 3 only plays music in menus and in replays, leaving you to enjoy the sounds of your co-pilot and the cars themselves.
Dirt 3 has some decent voice acting, the various members of your team give you advice and encouragement as you finish or start a race. They aren't too annoying and they grow on you after a while. Your co-pilot's voice can be selected from a variety of voices and the instructions come through in-race clear and precisely regardless of the accent. In night time driving you may come to rely on that voice as you tear around a bend and nearly hit a tree.
Once you've tapped in your VIP code, you can access the game's online content. You'll get the ability to upload videos to YT and get 5 additional cars. Of course it's no good if the Playstation Store is down at the moment, which of course it still is. Fortunately this is the 360 version so we were able to dive into the mp madness, and it is madness. There's little or no lag, there's a lot of fun to be had and all of the single player modes are here to play. Sure there are points based matches that you might expect in many racing games...but...
Party mode is where the true fun of Dirt 3 lies. You haven't experienced anything until you have played the infection based Outbreak mode where one car is the zombie green car and passes on the infection to other cars until the last man is standing. There's a Cat and Mouse mode where two teams play escort or attack, one team tries to block access to the VIP underpowered Mouse Car whilst the other team tries to take it down.
There's a load of fun to be had here and exploring all the modes in detail would take a longer review, suffice it to say that there's just something great about playing CTF in a car (which is crazy and probably should appear on Top Gear).
There's also split-screen multiplayer which is a first for Dirt 3.
Yes, Dirt 3 is probably one of the best rally racing games to tumble out of Codemasters fevered hands for a long time. Arguably better than Dirt 2 and packed with more fun modes than you can shake an angry Stig at. This is probably one of the most fun casual and hardcore racing games we've had the pleasure to sit down and review and definitely more fun than the standard fare. We've had our Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (aka Cop Burnout) and our Forza 3, but Dirt 3 sits just between the two with enough fun for the casual crowd and enough depth for the more hardcore obsessed, it's a fine achievement and one worthy of play regardless of your gamer type.
Give it a go and you may just find you become a convert.