Let us not beat about the bush here. Dirt 3 is good; real good! In fact, I will put my neck out on the line here and say that it is the best racing game since Burnout Paradise. I’m not a massive racing nerd, and I prefer the racing games that have a more arcade feel to them. I don’t get on with games like Forza or Gran Turismo, where I need to have a degree in motor mechanics to get the best out of my virtual car. Of course, there are plenty of people out there who love that type of game, and fair play to them, it’s just not for me.
The Dirt series has a long and tragic history. Originally called Colin McRae’s Rally, the game made its first appearance on the Playstation 1 and PC back in 1998. The series had a long and successful run with 4 sequels, all doing very well commercially. In 2006, Codemasters decided to revamp the franchise by changing the name to Colin McRae’s Dirt (Dirt: Colin McRae Offroad in the U.S.). Again, Codemasters proved their worth by releasing an amazing rally game. Then, tragedy struck. In September 2007, Colin McRae was killed in a helicopter accident. It was something that not only shook the world of motorsports, but also the millions of fans of the videogames. Codemasters decided to keep his name in the title of Dirt 2 (released in 2009) and although Dirt 3 no longer holds his moniker, his name will forever be linked to the series.
Codemasters have always had a knack of producing quality arcade racing titles. They do venture outside of the genre, but this is their bread and butter. With both the Dirt and the Racedriver series in their stable, it is difficult to think of a more successful, long-running and competent racing developer. Every Colin McRae/Dirt game they release is better than before, always bringing something new to the series, and Dirt 3 is no exception.
So, what do you need to know about the game? Let’s get the basics out of the way first. The game looks and feels like a Dirt game. It is strange, but I feel that there is no other rally game that feels the way Dirt does. The attention to detail, the damage models, the sounds of the cars, and the weather effects all come together in one amazing package. Then there’s the way the cars handle. Codemasters manage to tread the fine line by creating cars that make you feel like the king of the road, but at the same time reminding you that you could be mere seconds away from a bone-crunching crash. In my opinion, there is nothing more satisfying!
Dirt 3 allows you to tune your cars slightly, with six variable settings that can change the way any of the cars handle. These settings, and how they affect your car, are explained in the tune up screen, so even someone like me can understand how to get the best out of the car on any given surface. You can also store multiple car settings, to be recalled at any time. It may not be as advanced as Gran Turimso, but it is simple and the difference in how the car performs under different settings is clearly noticeable.
The selection of cars on show is also impressive, with over 50 models in total. These range from a 1960’s Mini Cooper to a Subaru Impreza WRC, there is a car for every decade since the 60’s (and even a few fictional ones, designed by Codemasters themselves). Each car is lovingly designed to look perfect, and it is clear that Codemasters’ love of cars runs very deep indeed.
With over 50 cars to play, you would think that they would need to come up with plenty of ways to play with them, and indeed they have. The career mode will see you start off as a rookie, trying to make a name for yourself. You will need to follow your agent’s advice and work your way up the ladder. To do this, you must take part in Events Seasons which each include a series of different rallying events that will gain you popularity as you win. The events vary from race to race, and it is a good idea to become familiar in all disciplines. There are the standard Rally races; get from one end of the track to the other in the quickest time possible. Then there is Head 2 Head; normally the final stage where you and one other player race the same track. There’s also Landrush, Rally Cross, Trailblazer, Drift challenges and the new event for Dirt: Gymkhana.
Gymkhana is basically an event where you show off your car skills with a variety of tricks, such as jumps, spins, smashes, drift and donuts. In the 1st season you get to enter the Gymkhana training school, where you will be instructed by none other than Gymkhana legend Ken Block. A set of challenges await that introduce you to the tricks and how to perform them, it is then up to you to score high enough to earn a medal. Gymkhana takes some getting used to, but once you have got the basics down it is just a case of mastering the tricks until they become second nature. It’s an excellent addition to the series and makes a change from the standard Rally events.
As you progress through the events, you will gain reputation points from winning races and completing bonus challenges. These not only level your reputation up, but unlock events in the season, allowing you to progress. The levelling up system is fairly straight forward, the more you level up, the more teams want you to drive for them. The more teams you have banging at your door, the more cars become available to you.
In addition to the career mode, you can also race through a single event, either as a standard race, or as a time trial. You can customize the race anyway you see fit and play it as many times as you like. It doesn’t count towards your reputation, but allows you to become familiar with a track or car.
Another feature that makes Dirt 3 stand out is its driving assists, a customizable set of options that you can tweak to match your skill level. It is because of the in-depth level of these options that Dirt 3 is so easily accessible. For the veteran racer, you can switch off all of the assists and just go for broke. If you are someone who has never played a racing game in your life, then the assist will make the transition into the genre as easy as possible. From Dynamic Racing Lines to Throttle Management, there are a multitude of options that will make your life as hard or as easy as you want. You can even get the AI to brake around corners for you!
If you fancy a change from ‘Riding Solo’, you can easily hop online for some multiplayer action. Dirt 3 supports up to 8 player competitive racing in all disciplines, and also lets you race in a team/clan (up to 4 players). As you race, you earn experience points and level up. As you reach certain levels you unlock new cars and liveries and as your online level increases, so does your career mode reputation. So even while you are playing online you are constantly working towards your singleplayer career. The Multiplayer option also allows you to ‘Jam’ with some friends, which can involve racing around or showing off your Gymkhana skills. It’s a great way to have fun if you don’t want the pressure of competitive play. The online works extremely well, with no noticeable lag throughout. The game also ‘Ghosts’ other players in competitive play, so you don’t have anyone trying to smash you off the road just to get ahead of you.
I’ve never given out a 10 before. Even with some of the amazing games I have reviewed, there has always been something that has stopped it from getting top marks. However, with Dirt 3 there is nothing, absolutely nothing, dragging the game down. Technically it is flawless; Codemasters have really reached the top of their game. The MP is fun, the singleplayer is expansive and the cars and tracks look incredible. You can even upload your replay videos on to YouTube via a few presses of a button, something that needs to be in every sports game.
Dirt 3 is the best in the long running series and a must for any fan, but there is fun to be had regardless of your experience with the genre. Codemasters have taken everything that was great about the previous games and improved upon it. By adding Gymkhana, they have injected even more fun in to the proceedings and proved that there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.
I could prattle on even more about how good this game is, but I’ve done enough typing. It’s time I went and kicked up some more Dirt!
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.