Writing DiRT 3’s review has been one of the biggest challenges of my rather short game reviewer career. Not because the game is bad or uninteresting, but first because I have already written much about it in our preview, but also because I didn’t find a lot of negative things to say about it. I’ve searched and searched, but really couldn’t find much. It’s been a challenge to find enough to write to keep you occupied a few minutes reading this review, but thankfully you’ll also have quite a few videos to pass the time too.
No severe sequels
Let’s start with the obvious: DiRT 3 is Dirt 2’s sequel. Dirt 2 had tried real hard to please American gamers, usually not so interested in Rally racing, by releasing a great game presented in a X-Games-ish wrapper - a rather nauseating one for us Europeans. Codemasters thankfully forgot all about that ambition and delivered a game where most of the time is spent in beautiful races against the clock, and where menus are now actual menus (but classy ones, as is now the norm with Codemasters) instead of a trailer parked in the middle of a noisy crowd. And the cherry on top of the cake is that the incredibly annoying comments of the other racers during races are now gone too.
So what about the game itself? There is of course a quick race mode where the player can select any type of gameplay and track and just go race against the online leaderboards, but the meat of the game is the career mode, as expected. One season is available right from the start, with three more to unlock by finishing the previous one. Each season is composed at first of two championships, with one more to unlock, and a last one to finish the season with something a bit different. Each event in a championship is freely available (unless still locked), and the player earns points by finishing on the podium. These points are used to unlock more events in the championship, and also to unlock the third and fourth ones in that season. Another set of points increases the player notoriety and unlocks new cars and liveries. Nothing out of the ordinary, but it works very well.
There's no blocking us
There are many types of events, as expected. I’m sure purists would have loved that this game only featured Rally races, but everything else is very accessible. Let’s start with the Rally events, with races against the clock with a copilot announcing the next corners and multiple stages (their number increases with the seasons). The Trailblazer mode is mostly the same thing, but with much more powerful cars and no copilot. Quite the adrenalin rush! Good news for Rally racers, these two modes are the ones where most of the in-game time will be spent. Let’s continue with the Rallycross and Landrush events, fun but not so original races for 8 cars or trucks. More in the Rally spirit, Head to Head events are races between two cars on a single track composed of two crossing lanes. Last but not least, the special events, like drifting, and most importantly Gymkhana.
Gymkhana events are the most publicized new feature of DiRT 3. If you have never heard about this strange discipline and its barbaric name, Gymkhana is a sort of obstacle race, made popular by Ken ‘I wish I could finish a WRC event without breaking my car’ Block via some highly popular youtube videos. DiRT 3 tries to reproduce this experience with a point and combo system in a closed field including many different obstacles. The player has to chain them as fast as possible to get the best score at the end of the time limit. I think the simplest way to understand it is simply to watch the video below! These events aren’t that numerous during the championships, even though some of them are mandatory. Thankfully they are very easy to pass with the lowest score possible, so someone who doesn’t want to spend too much time with these can definitely do so and move on. Also worth mentioning, at the end of each season, a new part of a sandbox-ish playground opens up, with missions like doing a 180 while jumping and things like that to do. Completely optional, but it’s a nice addition.
Time to lose some weight
The most important part of a racing game is by far the car handling. The Dirt series has never been known as simulations, and this new episode isn’t really an exception. But it doesn’t mean Codemasters didn’t do some heavy (literally) changes to how the cars handle. The very obvious change is that the cars now feel like they actually weigh something. The first few minutes of the game are a very good demonstration of how mass shifting during breaking and cornering affects how the game should be played. DiRT 2 fans will without a doubt say Hi to a few trees, houses or holes when approaching their first corners. Cars also tend to easily oversteer, and breaking too late can have some surprising results. It’s a bit destabilizing (quite literally again) in the beginning, but then everything just clicks and feels in fact more natural.
Dirt 3 also welcomes back weather conditions, which had been missing since the good old Colin Mc Rae 5 on previous consoles. You can now race on wet tracks, under the rain, on ice, on snow, and even in the middle of a snow storm. This of course affects the cars handling greatly, and help rediscover stages that would get tedious after a few times with normal conditions. Add to that night races and you will understand that Codemasters certainly tried hard to make sure their game would not get too repetitive after a while.
There is one feature where DiRT will not surprise anyone, and it’s its technical side. DiRT 2 already was a very impressive game visually, and DiRT 3 takes it even further. The various lighting settings for each stage - most of them with dawn, dusk, night and some combinations with weather conditions - are all very natural and beautiful. Check out our video showing a snow stage at dawn to see an example of how it changes everything. The modeling of the cars and track details is also way above average, and the game stays smooth all the time. The only real slowdowns I saw were in the menus and during the loadings, so they don’t really matter. On our Xbox 360 review code, I noticed some very rare instances of tearing, mostly when playing with an outside view camera. In the end, Codemasters certainly can be proud of their engine.
I couldn’t try the online races since I was playing on a debug console, but I still got to play the split-screen mode with our good friend BombStrike (who is actually the one playing in all our videos). This mode is limited to two players, but looks very close to the single player. The most obvious differences are the lack of a cockpit view, no reflections on the cars and some slight pop-in of the vegetation. It’s quite impressive to see such a good looking single player game still showing most of its beauty with a split screen view. A lot of racing options are available during the creation of the event; most importantly it’s possible to either all start at the same time (6 AI are possible) and have collisions disabled, or do a staggered start and have collisions enabled. Other classic events are of course also available, like Rallycross, Landrush and Head to Head. A very well done mode, for sure.
What can I say about DiRT3 that’s at least a bit negative? The only real bad point I could find is that there are only 4 environments (divided in many stages of course) for Rally races. Finland, Kenya, Michigan and snowy Norway provide a nice variety of locations, but a more mountainous environment like Corsica or Japan would have been a very welcome addition. Other events like Rallycross and Gymkhana have their own environments, adding some more variety, but more is always welcome. The addition of weather effects and night racing mitigates this issue though.
DiRT 3 is an excellent game, and Codemasters should be commended for not just doing yet another sequel with no real additions when they are basically the only ones still releasing Rally titles. Unless you are completely uninterested in this nice racing style, DiRT 3 is a title that should find a place of choice in your collection.