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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Top 5 Most Immersive Racing Games

As a huge fan of racing games, I like it when I feel immersed in what I play. I like to feel like I am the one racing, that the opposition are trying to cut me off, and not a digitally rendered racing car. There are a few games that, in my experience, nailed immersion so well that they should be recognized for their achievements. I’ve selected what I feel are the five most immersive racing games ever created.



Before Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft came into existence, there was Rock n’ Roll Racing. Today, the idea of Blizzard Entertainment making a racing game sounds laughable, but they did it in 1993. Of course, this was no ordinary racing game. Rock n’ Roll Racing was set on alien worlds, and the racers were aliens and monsters. So how could a game like this, which doesn’t even seem to carry much humanity in it, possibly be immersive? For starters, the soundtrack was stunning for it’s time. Midi renditions of Paranoid by Black Sabbath and other heavy rock and/or metal songs populate the soundtrack for this game. In 1993, this was simply awesome and was the next best thing to having the real recordings. The gameplay was pretty great as well, and I felt immersed by it simply because the racing felt truly personal. In a lot of weapon-themed racers (such as Wipeout), the in-race combat doesn’t feel authentic and only serves one purpose – to frustrate you. In Rock n’ Roll Racing, it felt different. The guy in second blasting at you? It felt personal. Add in a primitive career mode, which was rare at the time, and you have a good racer from 1993. It may not be much today, but back in the Super Nintendo’s early days this game was something special.


In recent years, Need for Speed has forced us to pretend that we are convicts, cool dudes from the ghetto, or whatever else their protagonists are now. This was a colossal mistake by Electronic Arts when they tried to force coherent storylines in each Need for Speed. It began in Underground and only got worse. By the time Need for Speed Undercover rolled around, I wouldn’t touch the series with a ten foot pole. You see, the key mistake that Electronic Arts made was not giving their racing games some basic storylines, no. What they did wrong was plunk us into the lives of daring street racing punks who, well, are nothing like us. There was just no connection, and I couldn’t get into the games as a result. SHIFT changed this by making you the main character in the story mode, which was essentially just a career mode. It was very refreshing, and it made me feel like I was really part of the game. There is some good voice over work in the game that only enhances the experience as well. Electronic Arts did a fine job with SHIFT by making the player the main character rather than having us follow the exploits of Biff Dangerous or Slugger McRoadkill. However, Electronic Arts failed to capture one thing that a few other games pulled off wonderfully. They failed to make the games “speak” to us.


Codemasters, on the other hand, have become masters of making racing games speak to us as if they are our friends or colleagues. Upon starting up GRID for the first time, players are instructed to create their profile, which includes choosing your full name, alias, and country flag. The game will use these to communicate to you. If you named yourself Bob, then you will probably hear the following during races: That was a great pass, Bob! GRID recognizes a few dozen male and female names, so there’s a good chance that the game will be able to call you by something. If your name isn’t one that the game knows, you can always give yourself a nickname that suits you. How does this sound? You’re on the last lap, Dump Truck. Yeah, I don’t know what to make of the nicknames, but the fact that GRID speaks directly to you and addresses you by name adds heaps of immersion to the game. On top of that, the career mode has you building up your own racing team by purchasing cars, designing liveries, signing sponsors, and so forth. There’s quite a bit to do in the career mode, and you’ll be guided by the voice of a female narrator of sorts who also addresses you by name. It’s pretty cool, and I was surprised by how much a game calling me by my name can help the immersion.


DiRT 2 is another Codemasters game, and it took everything immersive about GRID and refined it. The profile set-up is exactly the same as before, and you’ll hear your name a lot. What pumps the immersion up a lot in DiRT 2 is the pre-race menu system. The game itself is presented as a full career mode. As soon as you start the game, you are thrown into your travel trailer which is rendered in full 3D. From in here, you can select race events, check relationships with other drivers, and purchase DLC. When you exist your trailer, you can check out your purchased vehicles, go racing, and tweak the game’s options. It adds a lot of personality to the game, which is really fantastic. Immersion takes another huge leap up during race events when rival drivers will call you out by name. If you perform well after a race, they’ll always compliment you on your performance. Travis Pastrana serves as the game’s menu narrator, and he calls out to you a lot. In my case, I heard “Hey Dan!” a lot. You can also form friendships with most of the drivers in the game, which you can take advantage of in team events and such. DiRT 2 has a pretty good system, and is definitely Codemasters’ best at the moment.


Despite only playing Prologue, I am placing this mammoth at the top spot. Gran Turismo 5 never addresses you by name or tries to make you believe that you are behind the wheel, but these are all very positive points surprisingly/ Gran Turismo 5 has an absolutely perfect engine for racing, and the game plays silky smooth. The racing in the game is what is undoubtedly the most immersive I’ve ever experienced. GT5 blows every other racing game out of the water with it’s fantastic handling, intense racing, and stunning graphics. You really have to fight the cars in order to make them work the way you want, which is just fantastic as there isn’t even a single shred of arcade racing in this game. The stunning visuals help immersion along nicely, as some locations look so amazing that, at the high speeds you are usually driving at, they will pretty much look photo realistic. The lighting on the London street circuit looks absolutely awesome, and the panaromic mountain view at the Eiger Nordwand is pretty much the best looking landscape I have ever seen in a video game. The racing in Gran Turismo is where it’s truly at, and is proof that Polyphony Digital doesn’t need any gimmicks such as voice actors calling you out by name in order to make their games immersive. No, Polyphony relies solely on good, solid racing. Gran Turismo has always been famous for having fantastic racing, but the fifth game undoubtedly takes the cake as the king of racing. In terms of immersion, no racing experience can even come close to this behemoth.

Honourable Mention: ModNation Racers
It’s game driven by community-made content. How can you not be immersed when you play with a character you created who is driving a vehicle you also created…. on a track that you created as well? Now if only the game didn’t have hour long load times, which I’ve found to be huge immersion breakers sine they allow you to take full bathroom breaks while the game loads.

Return to August 2010 Articles

DiRT 2 (Review)

INFO: This is a review of the PC version of DiRT 2, which is identical to the 360 and PS3 version. I have no experience with the DS or PSP versions of the game, therefore this review has absolutely nothing to do with them.


“A respectable sequel that takes a few steps forward, but also a few steps backwards as well.”

A few years ago, Codemasters released DiRT, which was then the newest installment in the Colin McRae Rally series. The game was received favourably by gamers and reviewers alike, so it was only a matter of time before they capitalized on the success of the first DiRT game and released a sequel. Last year, DiRT 2 was released and received an even greater reception than the first. As for me, well, I think I might like the first one more.

DiRT 2 borrows heavily from a racing game that Codemasters had released just prior to it, GRID. The overall presentation of DiRT 2 has more in common with GRID than the previous DiRT game by a landslide.

Gameplay features and menus are almost ripped straight out of GRID, which makes the game give off a sense of deja vu that it truly should not have. GRID was an arcade racer and DiRT is a semi-serious rally game. It just feels awkward that the presentation of the game is so similar between DiRT 2 and GRID.

The profile function from GRID, which allowed the game to call you by your name, makes a return as it lays nestled in the game’s menus which, while cleverly scattered across a 3D environment, are borderline carbon copies of GRID’s menus. Another feature that returns is the flashback ability. Five times in each event or race, you can rewind time to before you make a bad corner or before you crash, and you can pick up and play from that point on. This essentially allows you to undo your mistakes, which I didn’t approve of in GRID and I certainly don’t approve of in DiRT 2.

The game’s presentation is very flashy and loud, which is a huge contrast to the calm and vivid presentation of the original DiRT. Codemasters aimed for style with this game, throwing in loud punk rock tracks and making half of the text in the game look like graffiti. It’s clear that, with DiRT 2, Codemasters changed their marketing campaign and aimed for DiRT 2 to appeal to the mainstream audience rather than the semi-hardcore fans of the old Colin McRae games.

The game itself is presented as a full career mode. As soon as you start the game, you are thrown into your travel trailer which is rendered in full 3D. From in here, you can select race events, check relationships with other drivers, and purchase DLC. When you exit your trailer, you can check out your purchased vehicles, go racing, and tweak the game’s options. I find that this menu system is a little cumbersome. Sure it looks good, but the game wastes a lot of time moving the camera around when it could instead be hurrying along and showing you whatever you’re trying to access. To hop into an event, you have to first select one on the event map that is laying on a table inside of your trailer. This can take several seconds or more to find an event that you want to do. When you choose one, the camera pans back and takes you outside so that you can select a car. Once you do this, the camera then moves to show you your car, and it is here where you press the confirm button/key to finally go racing. What takes only a few seconds in conventional racing games can take a minute in DiRT 2.

In terms of events, I was a little upset to find that there is a huge lack of actual rallying in DiRT 2. Most events are competitive races, meaning multiple laps and a full field of opponent racers. Look, the old Rally Cross games were not rally racing, nor are more recent games such as MotorStorm. DiRT 2 isn’t a rally game either, it’s just a racing game that features rallying.

Some events are even more peculiar and questionable, such as the gate crasher races. These play as point to point rally stages, but there are many breakable checkpoints all along the course, and to win you essentially have to break through more of them than the opposition. Does this even sound like rally racing anymore? This isn’t a minigame or an optional game mode, these are mandatory race events.

The event that you take part in is decided by the country you choose on the map. The available countries for you to race in are China, Croatia, England, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, and the United States. Since I bought DiRT 2 to play a rally game, I find myself sticking mostly to Croatia and Morocco, where I find most of the enjoyable rally events to be located. While mentioning the countries available, I want to touch upon Malaysia. I find it very peculiar that Malyasia, on the ingame map, is Madagascar. China’s name strangely appears over Malaysia instead. I don’t want to question Codemasters, but do they know their geography? Labelling Madagasar as Malaysia is quite an odd thing to do since they are on opposite ends of the Indian Ocean. It’s a shame that Canada is not featured in DiRT 2, because part of me believes that they would mistakenly label it as Ireland.

In terms of gameplay, I must admit to being quite impressed. Controls are tighter and much more responsive than they were in the original DiRT, and gone is the sensation of your vehicle feeling as if it is “floating” around the course. All cars feel like they have genuine mass to them now, and they behave as such. Actual rallying feels more developed in DiRT 2, and I really enjoy whipping around hairpins in rally cars, something that was extremely rare in the first DiRT. I truly couldn’t be happier with the rally portion of game. I do not feel that the buggy/truck racing really stands up to the rally racing, nor is the lap racing particularly exciting, but there is still some enjoyment to be had in these races and, thankfully, the quality of the racing never dips below average.

As you race, you will earn experience points and level up. This doesn’t increase any abilities that let you drive better. Instead, gaining levels unlocks new events to race as well as new liveries and car decorations. You will also be able to forge relationships with other rally drivers in the game. Real life rally drivers Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and Dave Mirra can be befriended, as well as two fictional female drivers named Jayde Taylor and Katie Justice, whom I presume are in the game to add some equality to the game. Unfortunately, the friendships that you develop hardly matter at all. A better relationship with a rival driver will really only increase your chances of partnering them in team events.

The sound in DiRT 2 is about the same as it was in the first game, meaning that the sounds of cars accelerating and crashing are about what you would expect. They sound realistic enough to get the job done, but in truth are not very convincing. The voice acting in the game is a different story though, and I find that it annoys me frequently. Throughout races, fellow drivers will make witty quips about you or the circuit, or yell at people who hit them. It’s pretty unrealistic and makes it seem that the drivers are all wearing headsets to talk to one another, making it feel more like the races are casual and friendly events that good friends are taking part in. It’s just really silly and doesn’t fit the game’s atmosphere at all when you’re driving and I find it very distracting. Co-drivers sound good and do their jobs well, and listening to them is more of a required fixation rather than a distraction.

DiRT 2 doesn’t look too bad graphically. I’m not sure what the reason is, but I found myself not being surprised by any of the graphics. Nothing really stands out as being exceptional in DiRT 2, and unlike the first game which looked absolutely stunning when it came out, DiRT 2 just looks simply good.

Overall, it’s certainly an evolution of the original DiRT. While I don’t like how the rally experience has been neglected in DiRT 2 very much, the ability to replay rally events whenever I want makes me feel a little better. For the most part, DiRT 2 is a vicious offroad racer that can be quite unforgiving at times. If you’re a fan of rallying or chaotic offroad races, then DiRT 2 is likely your cup of tea. However, if you’re looking for the next Need for Speed, then you may want to give DiRT 2 a pass.

Final Score

8.1/10