You're doing it wrong...
Of course, while smashing up your ride is a lot of fun, sooner or later you’ll begin to realise it also looks cool when you play well. The game encourages and embraces skillful driving like no other, as subtle use of the handbrake yields tight cornering and perfect exit angles. Despite the reported extra inertia, I actually found the game to be grippier and more responsive than its predecessor. Try turning your rally car into a ‘right 4’ corner and it’ll likely find the traction to shoot through across the apex and out the other side with a few shaved milliseconds in the bank.
Above: Get ready with the handbrake... if you can see the apex through all that awesome
But wait... everything so far sounds suspiciously like DiRT 2. What does the new game bring to the mix? Let's take a look...
After the split
Firstly, there’s split-screen two-player mode which is a bigger deal than it sounds. Omitting only the helmet cam and restricting flashbacks to a simple ‘quick respawn’ to keep the game moving for the other player, it moves and feels exactly like the single-player game.
That means it's bloody brilliant X2. At this stage, it doesn’t even surprise me any more that it runs at full screen and full speed. This engine could probably handle it another two times over without even breaking sweat. Witness:
The other new headline feature is Gymkhana - the show-off style of driving championed by Ken Block and used to advertise the last game, even though it didn’t actually feature in it (amazing really). Now it’s here in all its glory, complete with its own free-roam practice area around Battersea Power Station. There are even hidden packages to find if you fancy a change of pace.
The various techniques involved are all given their own challenges in the main game to get you used to this ‘hooniganism’. Interestingly, Gymkhana only unlocks after you've gad a good hour or two of traditional rally events. And if you're worried your precision driving is more Ken Dodd than Ken Block, fear not - it's by no means the meat of the game. Scraping through with the bare minimum scores isn't going to slow your progress too much.
Above: After DiRT 2 hinted at it, DiRT 3 finally lets you loose to show off
After a while, you’ll get to put all the various skills together in timed competitions, which give you colourful playgrounds to go nuts in. These include poles to donut around, marked areas for spinning, ramps to get some air and gates to drift through. It’s all rather ace and is even given a score multiplier system to encourage you to maintain a constant stream of trickery until the clock runs out.
The grading system takes all this into consideration and, while it’s relatively easy to progress through the events with a bronze medal, getting the perfect ‘Platinum’ ranking requires some serious skill and determination. I don't mean you'll need to have another go - we're talking half an hour or more of start, fail, retry. You don't have to get Platinums to progress, but some gamers won't be able to continue until they do it. I feel your pain. Observe:
But what’s the point in being awesome if it’s only you that gets to see it? Codies thought of this too, allowing you to upload replays to YouTube straight from the game, provided you have an internet connection, a hard drive and the ‘VIP’ pass that comes with the game (or it can be purchased online if your copy isn’t first-hand). It’s a great idea that’s bound to ignite the imagination of the community.
USA! USA! US... eh?
However, that very same community is probably responsible for some of the game’s few points of contention. For instance, the vocal minority chimed up when DiRT 2 came out because it was ‘too American’. Some people didn’t like the festival atmosphere and the rock soundtrack (both of which I thought suited the action very well, regardless of personal music taste). The outcome is a sequel that, for better or worse, completely abandons the festival presentation in favour of something I thought I'd never see in a Codies racing game - dull menu screens.
Above: Not quite as inspiring as the 'hundreds of people having fun' idea from the last game, is it?
Sure, the occasional stadium event features large crowds and big banners, but the majority of the game takes place under grey skies, around abandoned industrial complexes and through spooky forests. Don't worry, they're still wonderfully realised grey skies, industrial complexes and spooky forests, but it feels much grittier than its predecessor. That said, I think I’d happily trade 10 races of desert sun for one Rallycross race around night-time Monaco.
Above: Monaco seems an odd choice for a game called 'DiRT', but we're so glad it's in here. Look at it!
Something that's much more annoying, however, is the omission of context-sensitive banter from your rivals during races. You still enter your own name at the start but, unlike in other Codies games, it’s barely spoken either by the drivers or the male and female voices that comment on your progress. That’s a big knock for the game’s feeling of immersion - being called by name never got old, even if it was by pantomime villain Katie Justice in DiRT 2.
Finally, while the new weather and time of day variations work beautifully, they've arguably narrowed the career mode somewhat. Despite the wealth of disciplines, you always seem to be in Kenya, snow buggies, a night time forest or Monaco. An exaggeration, perhaps, but a few more area themes wouldn’t have gone amiss, or perhaps even some of the last game's stages could have been recycled. In this instance, I think all-new content is commendable but perhaps asking a lot for such a big career mode.