Dirt 3

DIrt 3

 

Dirt 3 is the 9th game in the series from Codemasters that started life out as the Colin McRae Rally series, but has evolved into the premier off road racing game on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

The Dirt series as it’s now called (Codemasters dropped the CMR tag with Dirt 1 in the US and after Dirt 2 in the rest of the world) and more specifically Dirt 3, brings back rally racing almost completely as it was meant to be. Let me explain.

Before the Dirt series, the CMR series was the best rally racing you could get in a video game, and it was good, very good. I spent countless hours with each version I could get my hands on. When Dirt came out for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in 2007, I was in love. Here was my favorite racing game on the new gen console. Unfortunately, some concessions had to be made and even though pure rally racing was at its heart, there were some other game modes thrown in. Dirt 2 made it worse, or Dirt X-Games as I call it. Since a few big name, extreme athletes had now joined the ranks of rally drivers (Rally America, not high end WRC rally mind you, think minor leagues) Codemasters had obviously decided to capitalize on that popularity. Rally racing seemed an afterthought to the more exciting rallycross type events and other more “extreme” race types. Now after tons of flak from the CMR/Dirt/rally fan base, Codemasters has decided to fix the problem. Enter Dirt 3, and rally is back.

From the get go Dirt 3 is set up to look more professionally, there’s no more trashy camper van dashboard, no more lame X-games type race pits that we had in Dirt 2, instead there is a simple clean dashboard with a nice easy to read layout. In single player, you start out as an up and coming pro driver that unlocks more and more events as your progress through races. Finishing position is key in these unlocks as you earn points determined by placing with a specific number of points required to unlock new events. Fret not if you find yourself to be a slower driver, Dirt has multiple levels of difficulty that have no real outcome on any of the event unlocks. If you find the computer constantly outpacing your driving, simply turn down the difficulty until you find yourself competitive. It makes for a game that is really easy to play for people who may not be very good at racing games, yet has the ability to give really fast drivers the challenge they desire.

Your single player experience is directed by your in game manager, your crew chief and your PR guy who give you friendly advice and encouragement throughout the game while at the main dashboard. Your crew chief explains car setups and gives you advice in the prerace setup screen. While this sounds nice in function and for less experienced drivers it is, veterans and experienced drivers will more than likely tire of it after awhile.

The single player dashboard is set up with events in a series of triangles. Each triangle opens up to list the races that make up that season. As you progress, more triangles (or seasons) become available. The events are fairly the same as Dirt 2 with Rally, Rallycross, Trailblazer, Head 2 Head, Landrush and one new event called Gymkhana. Gymkhana is the freestyle showboating event that seems like it would fit in perfectly with the X-games crowd. In it drivers drift and jump their cars around in a display of driver skill and ability doing drifts, donuts and spins to score points. The events in single player start out relatively short but get longer and harder as you progress through seasons. Also as you progress you will unlock portions of the Battersea Power plant, which has been turned into a giant Gymkhana playground. Here you will find all sorts of challenges to keep you entertained for hours on end.

In previous Dirt and CMR games, Codemasters has found a pro driver to commentate and help you along in certain sections. Whether it was Colin himself in earlier games, Nicky Grist’s voice as your co-driver, or Travis Pastrana talking up everyone in Dirt, this game is no different. Dirt 3 features the voice of the guy whose car is on the cover of the game, pro driver Ken Block, who is arguably the biggest American name in Rally ever. Block’s biggest contribution in Dirt 3 is his explanations of the different moves and how to perform them in the Gymkhana Academy tutorials where you learn how to actually do Gymkhana in your car.

Dirt 3 also boasts an impressive array of some of history’s fastest rally cars. Current WRC vehicles like the Ford Fiesta WRC and Mini Countryman WRC are joined with cars from throughout rally’s past; like the original Mini Cooper from the 60s and the Lancia Stratos from the 70s (as DLC). Also making their return to rally racing are the famed and deadly Group B class of cars. For those that don’t know, Group B was a class in rally made in the 80s that was for manufacturers to show their engineering abilities. Cars quickly evolved into 500+ horsepower beasts with space age frames, Kevlar body work and other high tech equipment. Group B sadly came to an end in 1986 when Lancia driver Henri Toivonen was killed in his Lancia S4 in a crash during the Tour de Corse rally. This followed a Port Wine rally in Portugal where a Ford RS200 crashed and killed 3 spectators. Simply put, the cars were too fast. But for Dirt 3, the cars are just right. Group B lives on here and the cars are as scary and spectacularly fast as you would expect.

Actual game play in Dirt 3 is standard Codemasters rally driving. That is to say they once again have made the premier off road driving game. While not as realistic and sim like as say Forza, it’s nowhere near an arcade racer. If you were unimpressed with Codemasters other racing game Grid, don’t worry, these cars drive and handle like they should. Tuning is limited in the refinement of what you can do, but the important things, like gearing, suspension and downforce are all adjustable. This makes for a way to set up each car individually to your preferred style of driving, whether it is tight and low to the ground or loose and sideways. Conditions in the game vary from sunny to rain and even snowing and all have an effect on the course. Even the time of day or night has an effect with visibility vastly reduced at night, enough so that every track requires that extra bit of caution. My only complaint is that there are not enough tracks. Yes you can unlock each individual rally event by location and run them like a traditional race, but you are still only limited to 5 tracks in these events. While Codemasters did a good job of breaking up the individual courses into smaller stages, when you get to the point where you want to run full length stages, there just isn’t enough. Where the limited number of tracks really shows is in multiplayer, where the lack of a DLC required playlist means you end up racing many of the same tracks over and over again.

Multiplayer is split into 2 different groups: Pro Tour and Jam Session. Pro Tour is for those that just want to race, either solo or in teams, and Jam Session, is racing plus alternative and customizable game types.

Pro Tour is for those that want to compete. You can pick playlists that run from every game type to pure point to point events, to the real challenge, Hardcore mode. All the other game types are just like single player; Hardcore mode is for those that want the hardest, truest experience they can get. All assists are turned off, full damage is on, and you are forced headcam. Basically it’s just like sitting in and driving a real car. No map and no forgiveness for mistakes. Hit a tree at full speed and your race is done. This is arguably the most rewarding of driving experiences in the game. Win here and you know you did good.

Jam Session is the more laid back, party time game modes. Alternate game types like Invasion, Infection and Capture the Flag make for some fun yet frantic game types. Invasion has card cutout robots spawning every few seconds and you score points for hitting them while avoiding buildings cutouts that spawn as well. Hit a building a lose points; Invasion is the game type that displays your Gymkhana ability outside of a Gymkhana event. Capture the Flag is self explanatory with Infection being the other game type. Infection is a sort of zombies with cars with one driver trying to infect everyone else. All of them can make for a nice alternative to just racing and all will pretty much ensure that your car comes out looking worse for wear.

I guess at the end of the day the question comes down to would I recommend Dirt 3 or not. Well really at this point it should be obvious. Of course I would recommend it, I love the Dirt series. Really it’s probably my favorite racing game out right now. This is really for me the only series that does off road right and gets the right balance of realism and arcade style racing. Dirt 3 is just plain fun and more than worth your time.