DiRT 3 hands-on preview

It’s always been sort of baffling that rally racing isn’t the most popular sport in the world; turbocharged monster cars, triple digit speeds on narrow dirt roads and catastrophic wrecks? Yes please. The sport couldn’t have a better standard bearer than Codemasters, whose recent near flawless run of racing games have captured the visceral feel of the sport without ever getting too arcadey or too simulation. We recently got some hands on time with DiRT 3, and from what we saw it’s looking even better than the already good DiRT 2.

Codemasters is directly addressing two of the major complaints about DiRT 2, namely the fairly narrow car selection and the awkward XTREEM X-Games veneer. DiRT 3 takes care of the latter by breaking the game up into two distinct parts; a sober, professional WRC championship race series, and a more X-Games styled Gymkhana section that pays tribute to the outrageous Ken Block videos that swept the net.

The car selection has also opened up in DiRT 3, with over 50 vehicles on the way. Of real interest to rally fans, and petrolheads in general, is DiRT 3’s inclusion of vintage rally cars from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. While DiRT 2’s car selection was fine, we’re really excited to see some of rallying’s elder statesmen make an appearance. Our demo let us get our hands on the Group B legend Audi Quattro Coupe and all its turbo charged right angles. Our (well, mine at least) fingers are crossed for the Lancia Stratos showing up at some point.

As with all Codemasters racing games, DiRT 3 is gorgeous. Glossy cars reflect the Finnish trees and Kenyan villages before becoming battered, dirt covered wrecks leaking parts all over the course. DiRT 3 also introduces the much requested dynamic weather feature, making each race less predictable and more hazardous than before. Deformable courses will also be included; cars will cut ruts and tracks into the ground as they go, which means extra traction for following an established line through a turn. Forging through snow and mud to take a shortcut may be faster but it’ll certainly be less safe.

Warning, TECHNICAL TALK: Paul Coleman, DiRT 3’s Senior Game Designer, explained to us the cars’ suspension physics have been tweaked to enhance dampening, and the center of gravity has been made more accurate to convey more realistic body roll and car movement. After a few laps through Finland in the Audi we could feel the car tugging to the outside on hard turns as the body leaned heavily over and then regain its neutral feel once the body had rolled back to center on the straight. Obviously in a race suspension fitted car like the Quattro Coupe there isn’t much body roll to speak of, but the additional sway in the cars will be a huge help in executing picture perfect Scandinavian Flicks through tight haripins.

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