If there’s one racing franchise that rivals Gran Turismo in regards to consistent quality, it’s the DiRT series by Codemasters. These games seem to get better and better with each passing year and while the third installment really didn’t need announcers and we could’ve used more garage options, it’s still an excellent production. Featuring great technical elements, tight and responsive control, a slick presentation, and a ton of engaging and distinct events, DiRT 3 will last you a very long time. Although the lack of a PlayStation Store impacted online play (the Online Pass issue), this one is back to full strength on all platforms and just begs to be played. It’ll take discipline to conquer this diverse challenge!
As you might expect, the game excels in the graphics department. The environmental effects are downright amazing in some respects; everything from sunlight streaming in through your windshield to snowflakes whipping by your charging vehicle looks sharp and realistic. The developers even took another step by implementing pleasant ambient additions, like pedestrians ringing a track and the accumulation of mud and snow on your car during the course of a race. In short, just about everything gels together to form a cohesive, accomplished visual presentation, which continually bolsters the experience. It’s all about going that extra mile – forgive the pun – and despite a few small shortcomings (detail and crispness can be found lacking in some areas), DiRT 3 looks fantastic.
The audio is almost as good, as the race effects are almost perfect. Driving on any surface and in any weather sounds exactly as it should, the engine emanations are just about right (regardless of make and model), and perhaps above all else, the sound of an impact will leave you breathless. I wanted to avoid collisions – with either walls or other racers – primarily because the resulting sound is just…nasty. The soundtrack is good, too, as there are nice selections to accompany your driving and the music never gets in the way. Overall, the sound balance is great throughout and the only flaw comes from the voice acting. I’m still not sure it was necessary and unfortunately, it’s just plain mediocre.
This game is full of cosmetic variety, what with various event locations all around the world, the addition of all sorts of weather conditions, and no less than six disciplines to master. Codemasters really tried to think of everything, from the windshield wipers in the rain to how a car reacts when sliding in the snow, so all races and events require your utmost attention to detail. Boasting more than twice the track content of its predecessor and over 50 Rally cars, we’ll take our skills to several different continents as a professional driver. Then we’ve got the Gymkhana style events that demand pinpoint accuracy and, although often a little silly, offer players a cool change of pace.
No racer gets very far without great control and thankfully, DiRT 3 succeeds beautifully. Everything feels tight and accurate and all those weather and track conditions aren’t just for show; you really need to be aware of your surroundings and adjust accordingly. Furthermore, it’s a simulator with a distinct feeling of accessibility so the uninitiated can still learn quickly and become immersed in a deep driving experience. It’ll take some practice to adapt to nighttime racing and skidding around on wet tracks but strangely, one never feels overwhelmed. In some ways, Gran Turismo is a little prohibitive due to its intense focus on realism and authenticity and while DiRT 3 also strives for a lifelike sim, it’s more forgiving. The difficulty also strikes a good balance; most all events are challenging but not overly difficult, and the AI – while not excellent – is plenty competent.
And the number of events is just nuts. For all you Rally aficionados who were worried that the branching out would cause this franchise to lose its focus, have no fear: Rally remains the highlight. The main tour has four seasons complete with six tours focusing on a particular discipline; there are plenty of different locations, beautifully designed tracks, and overall, the longevity is almost unparalleled. I do have one major issue with the game that forces me to knock the production back a few notches; it involves the accumulation of new cars. Rather than spending money on new rides, fresh acquisitions are automatically delivered, which means my collection is loaded with cars I didn’t actually pick. That’s annoying.
Furthermore, you’ll almost always have to use the new cars because they give you the best driving bonuses, so you can’t really stick with a few favorites for any period of time. This really impacts the entertainment factor in my eyes because most racing fans love the cars ; they’re car people. They love picking and choosing new sets of wheels and fiddling with every minute detail. You can still fiddle in this game, but even that feels a touch limited and there’s just a total lack of freedom when it comes to the progression of your garage. That being said, I imagine some racing fans won’t care so much and will be happy with the superb gameplay.
The online option shines as well; we get more options and the driving versions of multiplayer classics like Capture the Flag are awesome. There are tag-based events along with the standard time trials and races, a cockpit view in hardcore mode, and even Gymkhana joins the online fun. I experienced a wee bit of lag here and there but besides that, going online is just as solid and enjoyable as going through the single-player tours. When all is said and done, DiRT 3 is a robust, in-depth and almost sparkling package that is immensely appealing to racing fans of all kinds. The realism combined with great accessibility is quite possibly the biggest draw.
The Good: Beautiful visuals and extra detail. Sound effects are fantastic. Reliable and accurate control. A ton of diverse events. Accessibility for a wide audience. Online play is great.
The Bad: Voices are lacking and maybe unnecessary. Some events can get tiring. Lack of choice in car collecting.
The Ugly: “Damnit, I didn’t really want that car…”