How can I put this gently? Colin McRae’s DiRT 2 was one part driving game, one part douchenozzle simulator. Despite bearing the McRae moniker which is synonymous with down-to-earth professionalism, DiRT 2 was a down-with-the-kids, American-pandering, rally-lite “car-nival”. DiRT 3 is the first title in the series to remove Colin McCrae’s name (due to his untimely and tragic death). Ironically, as Codemasters has corrected the tone and gracefully drifted the IP back towards technicality and tradition, this is a DiRT game that has never been more deserving of his endorsement.
The overtly Americanised sideshow events have been stripped right back as has a lot of the bombastic ‘bodaciousness’ of the presentation. I say ‘most of’ because there is still a “duuude” voice-over character who takes every opportunity to aurally fellate you (eg “you nailed it amigo, you gotta thrill the hills to fill the till to pay the bills, compadre”). This imbecile is balanced out by your British team sponsor and an Aussie mechanic, who subtly take the piss out of this motor mouth at any chance they get.
In the DiRT Tour the random buffoonery events have been stripped away. This is a sequel that has three times the ral¬lying content of its predecessor, and thanks to the long awaited inclusion of snow, rain and night events it’s immediately superior to anything else in the series. The traditional rallying is set across Finland, Kenya, Norway and Michigan (go figure), and puts a larger focus on WRC, Open Rally, Super Rally 2000 and Raid events.
In truth I found the most entertaining disciplines to be the ludicrously overpowered Group B events and the classic rallies tiered to every decade from 1960 to 2000. All told you get access to 30 pure rally machines and there are some great fan-service appearances in that mix – such as the Mini Cooper S, Audio Quattro, Celica GT-Four and the stalwart Lancia Delta. Petrol-heads will also be pleased to hear that the sketchy driving physics of DiRT 2 have evolved. Codemasters has paid a lot of attention to damper response characteristics, which, as a result, make for more realistic weight transference, not to mention better suspension and tyre behaviour. It’s a pity then that the tuning options are dumbed down to a small collection of sliders.
Even still, I instantly found that I was getting improved feedback from the car through the controller, especially in the later courses where shifting surfaces required measured pedal feathering. Failure to show respect means bonding with a tree as the glorious new destruction model crumples you into something better resembling a Terminator’s crap. On the plus side, any AI spectators near said vehicular vivisection will freak the hell out. It’s a small touch, but it sells the experience and makes me smile every time – as do the incidences of suicidal spectators running across the track.
When Codies popped the hood for a tune-up it decided to bolt on some new improvements to its gorgeous Ego engine as well. Two of the big¬gest disappointments we had with DiRT 2 – a lack of weather and no track deterioration – have been seen to, but they’re fairly stopgap solutions. Rain effects have been ported across from sister racing title F1 2010, but it isn’t on par with that title. The downpour looks amazing, however it’s static precipitation that doesn’t dynamically change in intensity.
Similarly, the ability to shred up the track has been implemented in a fairly lacklustre manner. It only comes into its own on the multi-lap snow tracks – mud is still fairly immune to your wicked handbrak¬ies. Beyond those niggles, hardcore rallyists can turn off the HUD and the assist and be assured of a decent challenge. Trusting your life to a co-driver and going flat-chat through some serpentine, black ice ridden goat-trails at night makes DiRT 3 an utterly exhilarating experience. Conversely, there’s a casual setting that effectively turns the game into Sega Rally – only prettier, and without a mocking game over jingle that plays every time you cock up. Should you take the time to tweak it to your needs DiRT 3 is a car game that can service the needs of practically anybody who wants to get more sideways.
Speaking of accessibility, Codies hasn’t completely done away with the more approachable ‘to the extreme’ events – rather, it has excised the wackier ones and streamlined those that did have potential. DiRT 3’s garage holds 20 non-rally vehicles and now has the good sense not to house the sort of unlikely rides that belong in a Hot Wheels collection. Returning events include Rallycross, Trailblazer (both modern and classic), Landrush (trucks or Buggies) and the surprisingly technical, recently popularised Gymkhana.
Gymkhana, for those not “hip to the drive jive”, is basically what we all did with our first car when we lost line of sight with our parents and the po-lice. We’re talking doughnuts, burnouts and busting morbidly-obese air; all of which has somehow been legitimised into an actual, rateable sport. Despite what the old guard may think of it, these side diversions require a heck of a lot of skill to complete. Each trial is essentially a sequen¬tial series of tricks in a sandbox ‘skate park’ that is built for high-performance paddock-thrashing.
If that sounds like big globs of goofy fun, that’s because it absolutely is: driving like you stole it through an environment that’s a stuntman’s wet dream come true is a phenomenal pass-the-controller (or splitscreen/online) concept. This massive DC Compound offers structured events, or you can just bomb about in free-roam and hunt for collectibles, tick off 80 skill objectives or just shred your car to pieces. Codies score extra marks here for including YouTube integration for replays, but promptly lose them again for failing to put in a ‘save to HDD’ option.
As mentioned earlier the splitscreen multiplayer – another first for the DiRT series – works fantasti¬cally, and the online enabled can also enjoy an all-new selection of eight-player Party Mode diversions. They’re pretty left field modes for a car game: Invasion has you running down card¬board robots whilst avoiding miniature skyscrap¬ers, and there’s a serviceable Capture the Flag mode. The pick of the litter is Outbreak which is a game of tip based on Halo’s Infection mode. Honestly, I haven’t had this much fun trying to avoid diseases in a car since my Year 12 formal after party. Aside from that, purists will be happy to know that all the traditional rally modes are available too, and they perform just as well as their single-player counterparts.
Dirt 3 isn’t perfect as there are still a few kinks that need to be ironed out of the formula. Damage, for one thing, still has bugger all conse¬quences in multi-part rally events (you still get insta-fixed) and the stages in these events reuse environment and seem pretty damned short. On top of that the flashy-looking, triangle obsessed DiRT Tour menus look slicker than owl shit but are just as unpleasant to sift through – the main problem being that they don’t provide enough info to let you make informed decisions.
That aside, DiRT 3 has confidently overtaken DiRT 2 in my esteem (which, admittedly, I disliked a whole lot more than my contemporaries did). DiRT 2 sacrificed a lot of its soul in the hunt for a wider, more youthful audience. DiRT 3 has halted this ‘fun at the expense of realism’ devolution, picks the perfect line between core and arcade, and ends up setting the pace for my favourite driving game of 2011.