The Dirt series made it’s stunning debut in 2007 winning over the hearts of racing fans everywhere, particularly rally fans. The second game came out after Colin McRae’s death in 2007 yet still sporting his name on the cover. At long last we have the latest entry in this wonderful rally racing series, though McRae’s name no longer graces the cover (this was previously only the case for the American versions) for reasons unknown to me at this time.
Dirt 3 has some big shoes to fill. The previous games were very beloved by fans. Promising more content than any previous Dirt game, can it live up to it’s legend?
The biggest complaint many fans had with Dirt 2 was that actual Rally events were under represented in the game. It would seem that Codemasters listened to the fans as the events are much more balanced this time around, with Rally races receiving a stronger showing. In addition to Rally, all the previous events make a return including Trailblazer, Rallycross and Raid among others. Joining all the old races is the fun and showy Gymkhana, which is essentially an obstacle / trick course using drifting techniques.
In the main single player Tour the events are broken up into four sequential seasons and further broken up by smaller events and invitationals in each season. Beating races earns you Reputation points which unlock new events and races. At the completion of each season you unlock the next one. The first season unlocks a freestyle Gymkhana stadium which has no time limit and it’s own set of objectives and goals. Each of the seasons unlocks another section of this area which are all interconnected.
Each group of events is often varied enough that you can pick and choose which race you want to tackle next. If you don’t feel like doing another Trailblazer race right now, do the Rally and Gymkhana event and come back to it at a later point. This holds true if a particular event is giving you trouble as well.
The actual tracks you race on are pretty widely varied. You’ll be racing on all sorts of different environments, ranging from tarmac or dirt to snowy mountains or muddy forests. Sometimes you’ll race on the same track, only to find that it’s now sunset or night time, or maybe it’s either raining or snowing or is covered in standing water from an unseen rainfall. These add great variety, and it’s not uncommon to race on the same track a few times in an event with different weather conditions to change the course.
Gone is the money system from the previous game, instead everything relies on the aforementioned Reputation. As you level up you’ll earn new sponsors that will give you new cars and liveries. In addition to having different stats, each car also has a different “objective bonus” rating. Each track has a bonus objective such as “Reach a top speed of 91 MPH” or “Complete the track with no damage taken”, the completion of which awards you bonus rep equal to the rating of your car.
The later cars you unlock often feature a higher bonus rating than previous ones which at first makes them seem like the more obvious choice, but I found the differences so negligible that I would prefer to take a better qualified car for the course than one that will give me a few extra points.
The flashback feature returns from Dirt 2 as well, and is a very welcome tool. If you’re not familiar with the series, this allows you to rewind time and undo mistakes. This is invaluable in undoing huge mistakes where the tiniest miscalculation sent you spinning in circles rather than gently sliding around a corner. But more importantly this is a huge learning tool. As I went through the tracks I found myself relying less and less on Flashbacks as I learned what I was doing wrong each time I was forced to use it. Should you choose not to use it or don’t need it you’ll gain a reputation bonus for each unused one you have, so it certainly pays off learning not to rely on it.
A new addition to the game comes in the form of a YouTube uploader which allows you to share your clips with the world with the push of a button. When you’re rewinding or viewing the replay at the end of a race, pressing the YouTube prompt will allow you to highlight an area and upload it to your YouTube account. Unfortunately these clips are limited to 30 seconds, which is fine for grabbing that sweet drift you pulled off, but leaves those wanting to upload full races in the dark.
This video features footage I uploaded using the YouTube uploader, spliced together with YouTube’s Video Editor.
In addition to the wealth of content in the single player, the game also contains a fully featured multiplayer component. You can partake in any of the races available in single player, or take on a variety of “Party” modes which feature such interesting additions as Capture the Flag, Cat and Mouse, and Infection (a zombie infection type of game). In all of the online modes you can set restrictions such as forced cockpit view, no driving assists, etc and of course you can select which of these you want to search for play at your discretion. If online multiplayer isn’t your thing, Dirt 3 also features a split-screen mode allowing you to play offline with a friend against computer bots. You can play any of the events except the above mentioned “Party” modes.
The graphics in the game are nothing to scoff at. From the drops of rain peppering your windshield to the clouds of dirt kicked up, everything is wonderfully rendered and looks great. Small details like pedestrians crossing the track in the distance (don’t worry, they always get out of the way JUST in time) or fireworks going off in the background combine to make tracks that truly feel alive rather than just a dirt road.
The amount of settings available will please hardcore and casual racing or rally fans alike. By default your navigator will give “simplified” instructions (Easy Right, Hard Left, etc) but you can switch to detailed instructions which use the number rating system rally fans will be familiar with. You can tweak all kinds of driving assists ranging from a driving line to how much braking or cornering assistance the game gives, as well as how difficult your opponents are. Hardcore fans can even turn off the HUD while driving if you so choose.
Everything about Dirt 3 feels good. I came into this game with very high expectations from the previous game, and all of those were met and exceeded. With a large variety of events and game modes to play, this is a title that has a lot to offer to any racing fan. I’ve been playing for days and still haven’t unlocked all of the events, and due to the low number of players online I’ve only scratched the surface in multiplayer.
For newcomers to the series it can be overwhelmingly difficult at first as you get used to the fact that races aren’t won by just going as fast as you can, but for new and old players alike persistence pays off. Each race you complete you’ll feel better and learn more, until you’re ranking on the podium each race. Dirt 3 is quite possibly the best entry into the series thus far, and is an extremely fun rally racing game that I feel everybody should experience.
NOTE: Dirt 3 features an online pass, please be aware of this if you planned on renting it. This doesn’t affect the score and what that means for the game is an argument for another day.