Dirt 3 Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC and Sony PlayStation 3
Since its original release in 1998 the Colin McRae rally series has morphed and changed into something radically different from it's first instalment. With the appeal of the World Rally Championship starting to wane Codemasters repositioned their franchise as a racer with only the briefest of connections to it's forefather.
The slew of extreme sports events and over the top presentational style left it feeling anything but a rally game. Whilst technically Dirt 2 excelled it had nothing in common with the Colin McRae games of old. So when Dirt 3 pitches up with McRae's name absent from proceedings altogether you might be left wondering if there is anything for the traditional rally enthusiast to get out of this title.
While the extreme events are back once more (covered by the truck and buggy events) the latest instalment of Codemasters' racer sees a much stronger link to the past. Point-to-point rallying, head 2 head and rallycross feature much more heavily this time around and the game is all the better for it.
Indeed the rally events actually feel far more exciting than anything the more extreme races can serve up. Flying down narrow country lanes in Scandinavia as you desperately try to keep the car on target are superbly realised. Whatever the difficulty setting and whatever the driving aids (numerous options should help players of all levels get started) there is great fun to be had from these sections. At times it can be tough work to keep it altogether but it can be immensely satisfying when you do finally clear a stage ahead of your competitors.
Nowhere is this felt more than the superb trailblazer stages which see you given a mentally fast rally car, a marginally wider track and no pace notes to rely on. The speed and concentration needed to finish first in these events reaches almost Olympian levels at times. Despite that the game never feels unfair. The AI is far from perfect in races, often going wide or worse and when you do lose it (and you will as you push yourself just that little too far) you can normally pin point exactly where you went wrong.
Less of a hit is the Gymkhanas stages. Fronted by YouTube legend Ken Block the events see you pull off tricks, raise your multipler and score points. Despite boasting a tutorial section you are never really given enough to go on and you will probably spend the first few goes failing miserably. Eventually however it does start to click but this mode can feel the most frustrating part of the game at times. Better however is the DC Compound which is essentially an open playground set around the Battersea power station allowing you to pull off tricks and spins to your heart's content.
The rally stages sit at the heart of a lengthy single player career. Split over several seasons it throws all of the game's disciplines at you. There are a few niggles however with it. While presented superbly (as seems to be the case with most Codemaster racers these days) the voices of the people involved in your team rapidly begin to grate after a short while. The biggest problem though with the career is that it gets repetitive after a while. A handful more countries and tracks might have gone a long way to helping things. Fortunately you aren't tied to a team for an entire season allowing you to switch from vintage minis to the more modern offerings. It is certainly one area where the career, and Dirt 3 in general, excels. There are loads of different cars, all of which feels suitably different.
Dirt 3's multiplayer helps relieve some of the repetitiveness of the single player campaign. As well as the usual on-line race options there are some unique modes to pick from. Transporter, for example, is a capture-the-flag game, while Outbreak is an Infection-style game of tag. They are all good fun and certainly add to the package. Throw in a split screen option and Codemasters have covered just about everything on the multiplayer side of things.
With their F1 sim and the Grid series to their names Codemasters' ability to serve up excellent racing action has never really been in doubt. Backed by excellent visuals, crashes and sounds the mechanics in the latest Dirt game feel the benefit of all that pedigree. This time though the package overall feels much more rounded. The welcome return of the more traditional rally events should more than satisfy fans of old whilst the more 'gnarly' sections, despite having been toned down, should still appeal to those who have found the series more recently.