Reviewed: June 3, 2011
Released: May 24, 2011
I love racing, all kinds of racing, so much in fact that Iíve done the various driving schools for stock car and open-wheel racecars and I even got to take a spin in an F1, or what I like to call the F-15 of racecars. The only type of racing I havenít got to experience firsthand is rally racing, but thanks to DiRT 3 I feel like I have. |
Iím a big fan of the Codemastersí racing games dating back to the TOCA series, and then GRiD and finally the DiRT series. Each franchise offers a unique look at a certain type of racing and manages to blend just the right amount of video game fun with realistic simulation. When I reviewed the original DiRT back in 2007 it was a near-flawless racing experience. While I didnít get to review the second installment I still played it and enjoyed it just as much, but now DiRT 3 is here to really up the ante.
The first thing a lot of gamers will have to overcome is the sense of loneliness that comes with rally racing. In most events the cars are sent out one at a time in regular intervals and you are merely racing the clock to see who can do the section of track in the least amount of time. On a few rare occasions you might be doing so well that you catch up to the car ahead of you and possibly even pass him, but for the most part itís just you and your co-pilot who will be calling out the direction and the severity of each upcoming turn, rise, and dip in the road.
DiRT 3 delivers a whole lot of racing with new events being unlocked as you progress through the various series. Each race will have a certain rating that will dictate your car selection. Some cars will have certain bonuses associated with specific win-challenges, but most livery options are purely cosmetic. Sometimes the HP and maximum speed will vary, but keep in mind that with twisting dirt roads the fastest car can also be the most difficult to keep on the road. To that end you have six tuning options available to tweak your car to the terrain of any given race.
Rally racing is international and youíll be driving through stunning scenery in Finland, Norway, Kenya, Monaco, LA, and the Motor City itselfÖMichigan. Whether you are racing on dirt, gravel, snow, or even tarmac, the physical response of these cars is impressive, even playing with a controller, but nothing beats the realism and immersion when playing with a force feedback wheel. Every bump in the road is transmitted to your hands, and when you catch some air the controls become eerily still until you touch back down.
Race conditions have been enhanced to include rain and snow, which not only means hazardous road conditions but also reduced visibility; especially if you are playing from the cockpit camera view Ė the only way to play. And in events where you are racing against other cars, the visibility can get reduced to zero when plumes of water, snow, or dust are shooting from the cars ahead. Itís best to take the lead early on these races and keep it.
The presentation for DiRT 3 is stunning. I loved the original menus and catchy music from the first game but Codemasters has outdone themselves with these slick menus comprised of triangle shapes that unfold like some type of space-age origami to reveal new cars and new race events. There is a bit of lengthy loading prior to each race (even if you install the game to your HD) but considering how large and detailed these courses are, and the fact that you have an instant-restart available if and when you need it; itís acceptable.
Once in the game I suggest you admire the stunning car designs and environmental landscapes from all the camera views. The level of design and visual quality is beyond perfection, and in my opinion far surpasses the visuals of Sonyís beast, Gran Turismo 5, both in looks and realistic gameplay. Small touches like dirt, snow and mud building up on the exterior of your car will likely go unnoticed during gameplay, but you will admire them in the replays. Even the simple concept of taking your Xbox avatar and dangling him from the review mirror goes to show how much the little things matter.
The DiRT series has always impressed me with its collection of original and often unexpected music tracks that keep the menus alive. Whereas most of the game developers rely on grunge and rap for their racing games, Codemasters keeps things light and bouncy with European techno and trance tunes, but once you get behind the wheel things get serious with some of the best engine sounds ever recorded for a rally game. And then you have all the sounds of tires scratching through gravel or humming on tarmac and the occasional shout or cheer from a trackside spectator and the ever-present voice of your co-pilot calling out the hazards. Itís all completely real and totally immersive.
Also new to the series is the ability to upload your best racing moments to YouTube provided that moment doesnít last longer than 30 seconds. Iím not sure why they placed such a short limitation on the recording length or why it takes 10-15 minutes to process and upload such a short clip to YouTube, but I only played with this feature twice then forgot about it Ė or rather tried to forget about it. Your in-game guide will continually suggest you upload a clip to YouTube after nearly every race. Sadly, there is no way to save replays of any length to your system. I ended up recording a lot of my own race footage using my phoneís 720p camera, and I could upload a clip as long as 10 minutes to YouTube that way.
The solo game is substantial and will keep you racing for around 20 hours or so, but there is also a fun multiplayer mode that supports up to 8 players in a variety of modes like the traditional timed races with ranking leaderboards or the new Jam Session Party mode that integrates a slick capture-the-flag element to the racing. If you prefer freestyling, you can check out the Gymkhana events. Matchmaking is effortless and there are always a large number of people playing at any given time.
DiRT 3 is the best rally game Iíve played to date, both in realistic handling and performance and especially in its visual and audio presentation, which can only be described as perfection. A lengthy solo career and some amazingly fun and addictive multiplayer await anyone who dares climb behind the wheel of any of the powerful off-road vehicles you can drive in DiRT 3. No true race fan should miss this game.