DiRT 3 (Review)

In 2007, Codemasters released the newest game in their Colin McRae Rally series simply titled DiRT. It was a stunning rally game that was a huge blast to play and I couldn’t have been happier with it. Two years later, DiRT 2 was released. I was less than impressed with the aesthetics and presentation changes from the first game. DiRT 2 was still a decent game to play, but the game itself had been “mainstream-ified” by tossing in a punk rock soundtrack, silly gameplay features (friendships… seriously?!) that added little to nothing to the core gameplay. Despite these problems, I still thought that DiRT 2 was a pretty great game overall, but it could not compare to the depth of the first game. Now here we are in 2011 and a new game, DiRT 3, has been released. Is it a more traditional rally game like the first DiRT, or does it stray from the established Colin McRae Rally path in favour of something that will appeal to people who don’t even really like rally racing, like DiRT 2 had done?

DiRT 3 has abandoned the whole “the entire game is a career mode” approach that DiRT 2 featured in favour of a more traditional presentation similar to what was found in the first DiRT. The game is no longer centered within a three dimensional motorhome and the career mode is an actual selectable game mode from the main menu once more, and I couldn’t be happier with this. The previous game focused too much on trying to drag the player along a silly career mode and not straying from that path much, which made the rest of the game feel a little weak. DiRT 3 gives ample attention to everything in the game, and it makes for a far better experience than DiRT 2.

From the main menu, there is of course the career mode, but several other choices are present as well such as the single race mode that lets you set up a specific race or rally to compete in. There’s a good number of options here, but I did not seem to see any option that let me make a custom championship or even a custom rally that would let me play consecutive point-to-point stages. This was a bummer for me, and it seems that to access any form of championship gameplay, you will have to venture into career mode and select a pre-made championship. This can be a little upsetting since individual rally stages aren’t very long in DiRT 3. The longer stages will probably take most players about three minutes to finish which is, once you get driving and into your groove, painfully short.

Gymkhana is a fairly disappointing addition to DiRT 3.

There are a variety of ways to go driving in DiRT 3. Typical point-to-point rally racing is of course present, which is a relief since it is indeed true rally racing. Other mainstay modes such as circuit racing and rally cross are there while a new mode tries to establish itself. The new mode in question is gymkhana. Many people have probably seen videos of Ken Block doing all kinds of impressive stunts and tricks in a rally car on YouTube. These videos are in fact gymkhana, which Block seems to be popularizing quite a bit. While gymkhana videos are pretty cool and entertaining to watch, the actual game mode in DiRT 3 is not nearly as impressive. While the controls are certainly responsive, the challenges presented in the gymkhana mode are extremely dull. You’ll be asked to drift around poles, break through obstacles, and even collect tokens. While this doesn’t sound so bad, it is all executed pretty poorly and is not a very replayable game mode. It all feels very gimmicky and out of place, especially when you are forced to compete in mandatory gymkhana events in the career mode.

A lot of lame tacked on features from DiRT 2 have been removed to deliver a slightly more realistic gameplay experience. No more will you have to forge friendships with fictional female rally drivers. In the career mode, you only have one objective… Do better than your competitors! By doing so, you will level up every now and then which now serves a much better purpose than it did in DiRT 2. In the previous game, gain levels would give you pretty useless things like dashboard decorations for your car. DiRT 3 understood that this was pretty stupid, so now gaining levels will instead increase your popularity and recognition in the rally scene. Get enough recognition by leveling and new rally teams will be interested in offering you a drive. The career mode is also narrated by a few different characters who serve as your staff (mechanic, etc.). They are a breath of fresh air compared to the hopelessly bad narration by Block and Pastrana. While they never say anything particularly important or useful, they will crack a few jokes or say funny things from time to time, and this helps break up the mononotous nature of the game’s menus.

As far as gameplay is concerned, there’s a definite step up from the previous two games. In the first DiRT, games felt very floaty and gave the impression that they were hovering above the ground. DiRT 2 tried to address this issue and did indeed make the cars feel slightly grounded, but the controls were still incredibly forgiving and cars still felt a little floaty. DiRT 3 has eliminated all previous issues with controls, with cars that now feel completely grounded and respond brilliantly to your inputs.

One joy that I’ve found in DiRT 3 is how much more entertaining it is to deal with a car that is trying to spin out on you. In one rally stage, I took a turn too sharply and ran off the road slightly and over a few bumps in the grass. This was all it took to make my car want to fly off the other side of the road and into the ditch, but I was able to quickly wiggle the car and snap it back in place, thereby averting disaster. While it certainly was not impossible to straighten your car out and continue during spins in the previous two games, it feels better in DiRT 3. The cars are just much more responsive to you when you tell them what to do. Only the worst of mistakes will force you to crash without being able to prevent it from happening.

Yes, DiRT 3 really does look THAT good!

The AI has been revamped to be much more aggressive in DiRT 3. While they wrestle their cars through rally stages more realistically now, the AI racers in lap races are pretty terrifying! It is not unlikely to be rammed from behind, or for a car to violently slam into the side of your car when they try to pass. In many racing games, these events occur from the player being overly aggressive when trying to defend or overtake, but in DiRT 3 I point my finger exclusively at the AI. Outside of lap racing, the AI is pretty bearable. However… Once you’re confined to a race track with the AI drivers, you’d best watch your back. They are positively ruthless in DiRT 3!

DiRT 3 also boasts the ability to upload portions of your replays to YouTube. While this sounds cool in theory, you are limited to uploading only 30 seconds of your replay and uploads take several minutes at a time. There is no way to save the replay and rewatch it from within the game either. Because of this, the YouTube functionality that is present feels half done at best, and the inability to watch entire replays at a later date is a real downer. Fortunately for PC users, programs such as Fraps are easy enough to find and use.

Multiplayer is pretty great in DiRT 3. There are the usual rallies and lap races to take part in, but a few silly minigames are also thrown into the mix. Want to play capture the flag? It’s here. How about playing a zombie themed game of tag with cars? Yup, you can do that too. How about defending Earth from an invading alien swarm? That’s here too, no joke! DiRT 3 offers a variety of fun themed minigames to jump into, and they are all fairly interesting and varied. Gamers who really don’t feel like racing and rallying all the time will definitely enjoy what DiRT 3 has to offer here.

In terms of graphics, DiRT 3 is probably one of the best looking racing games out there. The original DiRT looked great in 2007, and DiRT 2 looked a little above average in 2009, but in 2011 it is safe to say that DiRT 3 is king. I am more impressed with the graphics in DiRT 3 than I am in other games such as Gran Turismo 5 – a game that takes photo realism a little too far. Car models in DiRT 3 look absolutely incredible, and the rally stages that are held in the middle of nowhere, like just about any stage in Finland, look absolutely breathtaking as you zoom through forests and past the occasional house or two. The HUD also looks pretty nice, abandoning the urban graffiti look of DiRT 2’s HUD and replacing it with a cleaner, sleeker looking one that is easier to read and understand.

DiRT 3’s soundtrack is definitely worth mentioning. Most of the tracks are really entrancing techno or foot stomping rock songs, which isn’t a bad thing at all! Every single track I’ve listened to in DiRT 3 simply sounded great. Need proof? Here is a tune that many feel is the unofficial theme of DiRT 3.

Sound effects are pretty much what you’d expect. There hasn’t been much of a change since DiRT 2, so most vehicle engines and such sound more than adequate but won’t really excite the diehard fans. Environmental sound effects are pretty good, though. You’ll hear nearby spectators cheering and shouting an awful lot and, if you park your car in the right areas and listen, you’ll get to enjoy mother nature as well.

So how good is DiRT 3? Truthfully, it is Codemasters’ best rally game since Colin McRae Rally 3, which was released in 2003. The superb rallying from the first DiRT is here and gone are the tacky filler features from DiRT 2. The interface and menus have been cleaned up, and DiRT 2’s reliance on graffiti art and text is now a thing of the past. DiRT 3 is proof that this new series (it is no longer a part of the CMR franchise) has grown up and has established a true sense of identity for itself. While a few features such as gymkhana aren’t really up to par, overall this is probably the best mass appeal rally game there is.

PROS:
+ The graphics are absolutely stunning.
+ Meaningless content from past games has been cut.
+ Multiplayer modes are very fun and original.

CONS:
– AI can be frustratingly aggressive in races.
– Gymkhana events feel bland and lack replayability.
– Rally stages are far too short.

Final Score

9/10

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