If there’s one developer out there that’s truly listening to its fans, it’s Codemasters. The original Dirt was released to generally positive reviews, with critics praising the game’s driving physics but complaining about the general lack of variety that plagued the title. So for Dirt 2, Codemasters added in loads of new race types and drastically improved the game’s presentation. But as good as Dirt 2 was, the new additions pushed aside the core rally content that fans were expecting. As before, fan-demanded refinements have continued for Dirt 3. The latest installment brings rally racing back into the forefront and straps on Dirt 2’s flair for the dramatic to deliver the strongest racer of 2011.
Similarly to fighting game developers, racing developers tend to have their own styles. Since Dirt ’s first release, the drift-heavy driving physics have been some of the best in the business. Dirt 3 feels just as good as past releases. With the ability to tweak and adjust your car’s handling, breaking and acceleration without having to navigate through menus and load times, you can easily tailor each and every car to exactly your style. You feel the weight of the car, its momentum, propelling you through slides. The driving engine demands subtlety and nuance. High-speed drifts are earned through well-timed squeezes of the break and acceleration triggers. Very minor adjustments going into turns can mean the difference between a devastating wreck or a new lap record.
It takes some adjusting to, but once you finally pull off a flawless victory, you’ll feel like you can take on any race. Dirt 3 responds to your new-found confidence with a variety of different event types all centered around the core rally experience. In addition to an expanded rally mode that doubles the amount of rally content found in the last game, Dirt 3 introduces Gymkhana, a driving discipline that challenges drivers to perform complicated driving maneuvers like drifts and jumps as they drive quickly through obstacle courses. Gymkhana is all about being able to maintain your car on the very edge of losing control.
Gymkhana is a perfect complement to Dirt’s rally offerings. Both modes are demanding on the same player skill set, as the driving styles are very similar. But the two modes are distinct enough that they feel very different. Whereas rally modes have your traveling dusty African roads and Scandinavian forests, the Gymkhana challenges put you into what basically amount to playgrounds for automobiles. Gymkhana events are scored and multipliers can be earned by linking tricks like spins, donuts, jumps or drifts, together. This gives Dirt 3 an almost Tony Hawk feel that proves to be very compelling.
Perhaps the best improvement though is how streamlined all of Dirt 3 feels compared to the last entry. Everything from tuning your vehicle to uploading a video to YouTube are accessible exactly where you would expect to find them. Races restart almost instantly without loading, and there are very few videos that you’re absolutely forced to sit through, with the exception of the Gymkhana tutorials (I personally welcomed them). The streamlined approach is excellent and bests anything found in other racing franchises.
Dirt 3 is certainly the most accessible entry in the franchise, both in menu organization and general gameplay. Dirt 3 offers several difficulty levels and takes no knowledge for granted. Driving assists can be turned on or off as needed and the game explains all the racing terminology with the push of a button. If you have no idea what downforce is, with the press of a button you can hear a simple, concise definition that allows you to make informed tuning decisions. Since simulation racing can be harder to break into than arcade racing, these are welcomed additions that will hopefully help more people get into the franchise. Furthering the novice support is a handy feature that allows you to rewind up to five crashes per race and take another shot, penalty free — another welcome return from the last entry.
The franchise’s excellent presentation continues in Dirt 3 and for the first time in the series, snow-covered tracks are on offer. Instead of dirt, snow kicks up into the air as you trail behind a couple of cars, lingering to obscure your view as you slide around a corner. It’s a nerve-racking couple of seconds as you wonder if you took the corner properly (or if the car in front of you did) in the game’s rally cross races. It’s a great effect that compliments the franchise’s already excellent vehicle deformation and sense of speed. The sound effects, particularly engine noise, are all very nicely implemented and once you gain familiarity with a vehicle, you’ll be able to keep track of your speed based on how quickly the scenery passes by and how loudly your engine is roaring. It’s a great, immersive effect.
Dirt 3 is the best entry in this highly-regarded franchise and an easy recommendation to any racing fans. The game is accessible while still retaining great depth and with dozens of excellent tracks and a huge fleet of cars spanning five decades of racing, there’s a ton of content to keep players interested. The new Gymkhana inclusions break up the standard racing with something a little more visceral and the game is all the stronger for it. To top it all off, there’s also split-screen multiplayer for any of the modes, which is a rarity in today’s racing market. Codemasters’ aimed to make the game that Dirt fans have longed for and they’ve certainly hit their mark.