Codemaster was nice enough to send us a preview build of DiRT 3, and as a fan of not-too-sim racing games I just had to get my keyboard out and write something about it. So after a few hours of gameplay, here are my first impressions.
First things first, it's very important to note that this preview build only features the carrier mode, and only its first season (out of four). Thankfully it's enough to get a better idea of what this game is all about. DiRT 3 is without a doubt a game that will be defined by what's been added, but also what's been removed compared to the previous game. Forget about the very american X-games-like theme of DiRT 2 and all the rallycross, raid or landrush events. Even though these are still here (but thankfully without the annoying realtime comments of the opponents), they are now a minority. Codemasters said that 60% of the game was all about the Rally experience, and I don't think many people are going to complain about it.
There are of course some new features too, more than enough to justify this game in fact. The one that was definitely the less anticipated was the Gymkhana mode, who will most likely be the final event for each season. In order to pass the event, the player will have to get a certain number of points, points you can get by doing a number of figures on a semi open track. Jumps, drifts, donuts and more have to be chained to get the best score. Passing the event with the bare minimum number of points is easy enough, but getting a gold medal certainly requires a lot of skills. Also worth mentioning, a playground is available where it's possible to just play around with the various obstacles. No clear goal there, but a lot of small missions like jumping from one point to another while doing a 180. Easier said than done!
Just like the good old times
Other new feature, and this one more than welcome: The weather. As incredible as it may seem, we had to wait for 6 years to get the weather conditions any Rally game should have right from the start. The ever nice weather isn't your only companion anymore on the road since now rain, ice and snow are there. And of course the effect isn't just pretty, it also drastically changes the behavior of the cars. Add to this the return of the night events, and I'll let you imagine the result. A landrush event on ice in the dark is some of the best (or worse?) chaos I ever got to experience in a racing game yet.
Graphically DiRT 3 will not really surprise anyone, and is a very good successor to the already very pretty DiRT 2. Codemasters' Ego engine is much better optimized for racing than it is for open world military shooters, thankfully. We only noticed a few slowdowns and tearing during the loadings between menus or races. The menus are as usual quite original and classy, as is now a tradition for Codemasters.
Last point, and without a doubt the most important one for racing fans: The gameplay. Codemasters keeps tweaking the behavior of the cars with each new game, with this time a focus on the weight of the car, and how it changes the way you drift around corners. The cars feel much heavier than before, and will go into oversteer much easier than before: The back of the car will tend to go to the outside of the corner faster than the inside if the entry speed is too fast. So the first few minutes will be a bit disconcerting for previous DiRT players, with lots of crashes or at least huge loss of speed. But in the end it's all for the best, as it makes the game feel a bit more realistic, and it also helps with the Gymkhana.
It looks like Codemasters kept their promise and delivered a much more Rally focused game, even though the previous racing events are still there. The few hours spent finishing what the preview build had to offer were enough to convince me. I simply can't wait to get the full game and experience more specials!