Game: Dirt 3
Platform: PS3, XBox360 (Reviewed), PC
Release date: May 24th 2011
Price: $59.99 – Here
I’m going to be brutally honest and admit that although I’m no stranger to games in the racing genre I haven’t played any of the previous titles in the Dirt franchise. It was only that I learned of Dirt 3’s affiliation with Codemasters and the Colin Mcrae series that I awaited its arrival with anticipation. It’s actually quite hard to put into words what I’m trying to say so I guess the simplest approach is often the best way. This game is by far and away the most enjoyable, well structured and varied experience I have had from ANY other game across any platform. In my opinion it stands above such giants as Gran Turismo 5, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit and any others in its path, offering huge variations in vehicles, tracks and conditions and the perfect reward and REP point system that won’t leave you frustrated having to do everything perfectly or spend ages on the same tracks. Seriously this game is flawless, cars handle like a dream, the visuals are exceptional and seasons are long with multi stage bonus rallies and special tracks unfolding as you progressively rise through the ranks.
This is where all the action is, from traditional staged rallies and track events through to speed runs and entertaining the crowds with donuts and massive airs this game truly has it all. The tour is broken up into 4 separate seasons which are again broken up into 4 different events. Within each event players compete across 6 different races ranging from beautifully rendered tracks in Finland through to the soft dry deserts of Kenya. While the cars handle vastly differently on each surface the transition between each leaves the player with a feeling of satisfaction rather than frustration as you glide and drift your way past opponents leaving thick clouds of dust and sand in your wake.
In a nutshell, players progress through the game by earning REP points given at the end of each race. The higher your position, the more objectives you complete and the number of flashbacks (or replays) you use determines the amount of REP points you receive. REP points add to a players overall level, with new sponsors and cars becoming available as you gain higher status. Dirt 3 is a sponsor’s dream, with representation from OXY, Colin McRae Vision, Reddmango and Kenwood as well as Mitsubishi, Subaru, Ford and Peugeot to name just a very small few.
Within each event the 6 races are vastly different from each other and all culminate in a final that will earn larger REP points than the lead up races. The events will range from
Multi-stage (usually 2 or 3), rallies – spanned across a huge variety of tracks and conditions. My favourite were the night races, powering through the desert at high speed with nothing but the head lights which only just lit up the area beyond the track. Added to the excitement is that you don’t really know what position you are coming until you finish the stage, although the bar on the side does give out some information about your opponents position. Also coming 2nd or 3rd in a race doesn’t mean you still can’t make up that time in the next stage and still take out the event.
Motor Cross – You and 7 other cars battle it out across multiple events to see who reigns supreme. Again players won’t know what to expect with landscapes ranging from snow tracks, traditional asphalt and dirt, all requiring vastly different tactics.
Gymkhana – Pretty much a racing drivers rendition of a skatepark. Gymkhana is a new addition to the franchise and adds a new dimension to racing with outrageous stunts and tricks. All of these are performed across highly imaginative environments that will hone your skills into a fine tuned art.
Speed runs – These will put your skills to the test as you jump, spin crash and drift your way around the track in an attempt to gain platinum status and beat the clock. In the latter part of the game these can become very difficult, but the game is so well structured that by that stage you should have built up enough REP points to skip over any of these that are providing difficulties.
Crowd Pleaser – Addictively fun, these involve you earning points through various learned tricks within a designated ‘playground’. Repeating tricks bores the crowd so you really have to mix it up to maximise your points. The longer you are able to hold your donuts, spins and drifts the more points you receive as well as increasing your multiplier, essential in reaching that coveted first place.
Skill tests – Ranging from crashing through barriers to hitting targets while skilfully avoiding others, the skill tests are fun and a good way to level up and unlock new sponsors and events. The environments are awesome, featuring racing on top of shipping crates, drifting through u-shaped barriers and generally creating havoc on whatever your tyres touch.
Completing the 3 events within a Season will unlock the final series. Only by placing on the podium will you be allowed to progress to the next season. Personally I think this was a good feature, in being, though you are allowed to essentially skip the odd event by having lots of REP points, you cannot move forward unless you have finished the previous season. Possibly one of the only negative features is the fact that you can actually skip an entire event by having sufficient REP points allowing you to compete in the final series without finishing the others. This does however require you to have done so well in previous events that your level is high enough. Personally I wouldn’t recommend skipping anything. Every track offers something different, a different approach to the genre across a vast array of different vehicles; it’s honestly a shame not to give them all a go.
Scattered throughout the Tour are many bonus events and special trick ‘playgrounds’ for you to unlock and really test out your skills. The 6 world tour events are unlocked as your driving skills increase and provide a much more challenging environment than the standard races. The DC compound located at Battersea London gives players the opportunity to terrorise the tarmac across the parking lot, depot and power station environments. There is so much variety just within the compound, including full pipes, shipping containers, massive jumps and of course the standard drifting through dangerous corners and under cranes and trucks.
The game also features a single player and multiplayer mode where players can compete in time trials as well as take on their friends locally in split screen or online modes.
Online play is as fast and competitive as the tour mode. As well as featuring standard races there are many fun new game modes to enjoy. Capture the flag, while being a little confusing at times as multiple vehicles all compete for the same air space, keeps you glued to the screen in excitement. Outbreak is like a big game of tag with your car glowing green when infected by others.
From start to finish I can’t think of any single feature that provided any frustration, nor can I think of much that could have enhanced the experience. In short it was pure joy to play. The cars handled with a rare fluidity I can’t recall in any other game within the genre. I showed it to a friend briefly who commented that it gave the closest representation in terms of feel to that style of driving. Codemasters have even succeeded in the hard task of adding any kind of fun to tutorials. Learning to drift and manoeuvre the car under cranes and over containers only made you want to take your skills to the track even more rather than being a mundane mandatory task.
Difficulty levels can be tweaked for new players to the genre as well as seasoned veterans. Once players have ascertained the level they are comfortable playing at, there are still the multiple assists that can be turned on and off depending on your skill (or laziness) levels. The assists that have the most impact on gameplay are the cornering assist, throttle control and best line. Turning off any of these will greatly increase the difficulty level, but provide the player with a much more realistic experience by allowing more interaction and immersion with the cars delicate controls.
It’s hard to categorise this game within the genre as it’s not a simulation nor is it an out and out arcade title. In my opinion it provides the perfect balance between them both. Players earn REP points and level up, giving them access to more powerful cars with better handling. At the same time, the game is frantically paced, and players are encouraged to drive with reckless abandonment. In many tracks and events the brakes are merely a novelty and quite often simply releasing the throttle combined with good timing was easily sufficient to obliterate any competition. What this translates into and where the developers have done a fantastic job is the realistic weightless feel to the cars as they fly over jumps and the almost perfect representation of speed. As the screen blurs pasts you, wondering how long you can maintain control without braking, it’s simply awesome.
As well as a huge selection of tracks and environments, Dirt 3 also has much to offer in the way of weather conditions. From dawn races in Kenya with the sun rising on the horizon giving everything a reddish yellow glow, through to the night races in the rain on brightly lit streets Dirt 3 is a racing fans paradise. It’s too hard to describe the exhilarating feeling of racing through the desert at night, with the rain coming down, catching glimpses of the car in front as its headlights weave and drift through the track. The night races and those where you compete in crappy weather always give you the chance to push yourself a little harder and gain those few seconds needed to clutch victory. As to be expected the competition is much slower over these stages.
It is one of the few games that has made me felt on the edge of my seat. I jumped, swore and physically thrust the controller Mario Kart style, urging the car around corners and over ditches. Your navigator is exceptionally accurate once you get used to him being a little ahead of the actual track. Although it is not necessary to listen so intently that you neglect where you are going, the navigator is essential for inside info such as which corners to cut or which side of ditches to launch on. A wise player will learn quickly to maintain control while being guided by the navigator.
I almost forgot one of the best features of the game, the replay factor. While not new to racing games, the ability to rewind has been incorporated into the REP system. Players are given 5 ‘flashbacks’ to correct mistakes but give up valuable points with each use. It just further emphasises the amount of effort that the developers have incorporated into to title. Players can also automatically upload cool footage of their races to YouTube, although this did require you to have a XBOX360 with a HDD and a dirt 3 pass, still pretty cool nonetheless.
Graphics and Sound
The amount of work that Codemasters have put into the graphics and environments is amazing. While the cars are not immensely detailed they are very accurately represented on screen. In terms of audio, well, I always judge my racing games on my wife’s reaction to the sound. And I can safely say that the powerful grunting engines on my car, along with the screaming sounds of my competitors both in front and behind me annoyed her to no end. So a positive thumbs up. In all seriousness the audio is very well done. While I can’t recall a particular song that caught my attention, the soundtrack was loud and aggressive, more than pumping you up for competition. The game is narrated in part by WRC champion Ken Block. Ken is instrumental in teaching you the ins and outs of gymkhana and how to compete at a high level in the trick stages. Anyone not familiar with his work in gymkhana I recommend a quick look on YouTube, the guy is amazing.
Overall I think by now you get the idea that I have a lot of respect for this title. The developers have put so much effort into every aspect of it that it is a joy to behold. There is something in it for everyone, and the structured nature of the REP unlock system ensures there is always something new for players to compete in. The Gymkhana is a welcome addition and proved to be much more of challenge than it showed on first glance. More than anything it’s the feel of the game which works so well. From the accurate representation of high speed racing to the weight shift when jumping and drifting, everything just fits nicely together. In my personal opinion this is the best of the best and will take something special to remove it from its perch.