Rally racing fans know that that their support is not widely supported in North America. The off-road racing, which is damn exciting, just hasn’t earned its spot in the eyes of racing fans on this side of the pond. Regardless, that has not stopped Codemasters from releasing their newest virtual version of the sport on our shores. DiRT 3 has hits store shelves and after playing the game for a while I have to say that I am quite impressed.
Given that this is a racing game, I was not expecting any sort of story mode, and low and behold there was not much. For those who played last year’s DiRT 2, you may remember that you got to travel in an RV from place to place as you made a name for yourself. Well, in this year’s game you are already a pro-driver who has been signed to a new team, contract and all. Your agent, mechanic, and fan manager guide you as you make your way through the games various races. There is really no advice here though, just some banter to try to make your pre and post-racing commentary different. I did not find myself to intrigued or excited by what they had to say, but at least they did try to spice it up now and then.
DiRT 3 offers up some traditional rally modes, some group and head to head modes, and some good old-fashioned USA inspired Gymkhana modes. In terms of the traditional modes, you will race in Rally or Trailblazer modes, which are classic point-to-point races. Rally is the more traditional while Trailblazer is the more “pushing the speed” type of race. You will also compete in some Rallycross races, Landrush races using buggies or trucks, and some Head-2-Head races, which are 1-on-1 battles on some high-speed cross-over tracks. The race modes are quite diverse and very exciting indeed.
DiRT 3 offers up some Gymkhana modes in the form of DC Challenges, and there are quite a few different ones for those who love the sport. You will compete in Gymkhana sprints (follow a pre-determined route doing tricks as you do), Gymkhana attack (hit the tricks in whatever order you want), smash attack (smash as many robots as you can in a time limit), drift showcase (score points on a drift track) and speedrun (follow a route and pass through the gates as quick as you can). All in all there are a lot of these races and the trick to most of them is to find the right route. You compete to earn platinum, gold, silver, or bronze medals. It is some crazy stuff and adds a bit of change to the DiRT formula.
DiRT 3 involves both single player and multiplayer experiences.
In terms of the single player, you will find yourself spending most of your time in the DiRT Tour. Here there are four DiRT Tour Seasons to participate in, each offering up a series of sponsored events. You even get to participate in the Summer and Winter X Games. You earn points in each series of races that eventually opens up a finale in each sponsored event. As you race you earn Driver Rep, which is like EXP, except that you don’t choose how to use the Driver Rep as the points just accumulate which in turn raise your overall rep. As you reach higher levels you open up new team liveries which also open up new vehicles. As you become proficient in certain modes (e.g Rally, Rallycross, Landrush, etc) specific Wourd Tour events in each discipline open up separate of the DiRT Tour Seasons. Here these races are tough and will challenge your skill to the max. Overall there is a lot of playtime and the four seasons is only a part of your overall DiRT experience.
Of course DiRT 3 has a simple Single Player mode that allows you race in a Time Trial or to just do a single race on any of your favourite courses in any region you like. Here you can perfect your skills and practice getting that one track down pat in order to ‘kick-ass’ in the DiRT Tour.
The singe player experience is an enjoyable one. The game allows for a lot of customization, both in terms of one’s skill level and in terms of the cars themselves. Something that I am always concerned about in regards to any racing game is accessibility. DiRT 3 allows for gamers of any level to pick up a controller, or use the Xbox 360’s force feedback steering wheel, to relish in some racing gaming nirvana. There is a boatload of assists for anyone to turn on or off. This ranges from throttle or brake control to placement of a driving line on the track. DiRT 3 really does make the game accessible to anyone, and I applaud Codemasters for doing this, as it allows newbies to Rally Racing to enjoy this virtual version of the sport. In terms of customizing your in-game car, there are six areas that you can adjust, such as gear ratio, suspension or differential to name a few. Although not as in-depth as some racing games out there, there is still enough play in what you can adjust to make your car handle just the way you want.
One of the most important aspects in any racing game, and in a Rally game of this nature, is the vehicle handling, and DiRT 3 nails it. Your car is responsive from the get-go, and you’ll definitely notice how distinctive cars handle quite differently which forces you will adjust your driving habits based on the car you choose. A 1960’s or 1970’s car handles much differently then the cars of todays Open class of Rally cars. Of course track conditions and track type (e.g. weather, surface, etc.) also play a role in your car’s handling characteristics, and it is yet another aspect you must be aware of and something that plays a role in the vehicles handling.
Of course DiRT 3 offers up some Multiplayer madness as well. You can play split screen for some two-player racing or you can hook up online, or via system link, to race up to seven other players. Most of your time will be spent online though, as you will race against people from all over the globe. There are two online modes available, Pro Tour and Jam Session. Pro Tour is for those looking for a more competitive racing experience. It has less customizability in such that you don’t choose what you play as the game chooses for you. You will tackle time trials and straight racing here, and of course you can also participate in some Gymkhana events too. Jam Session allows more flexibility than Pro Tour as you get to choose your own events or join someone else’s. You can play some great party like modes here such as tag style events or capture the flag style events. It is a great twist on regular racing and pretty enjoyable too.
As you race online you will earn a Fanbase. Pro Tour events are worth more than Jam Sessions, but regardless you do earn fans in each mode. Of course the higher you finish in each race, the more fans you will earn too. As you earn more fans you will level up your Fanbase and earn Driver Rep, unlock liveries, and earn other special items.
When I headed online I was pretty surprised with the skill level of the racers I played against. Given that the game was yet to be released when I played online, there were some highly ranked players who dominated the races. I managed to hold my own now and then, but man there are some truly good racers. The races I participated in were lag free and very fast. I do wonder if this lag free experience will last after the game is officially launched though given that the servers will get hit hard. I guess I will have to wait and see. That being said, I was amazed how good the game looked online as there seemed to be no visual downgrade. DiRT 3 is a game that is fun online, plain and simple.
A final gameplay note worth mentioning is that DiRT 3 allows you to upload 30-second clips of your race to You Tube right from the game’s replay menu. It is a seamless experience and something I found pretty neat. The only downfall is that the maximum time allotted is 30 seconds, so if you want to show that perfect lap, or perfect race, you will most likely be disappointed given there is only 30 seconds aloud. I hope that for the next version of DiRT that you can download a lot longer of a clip.
Visually, DiRT 3 is a fabulous looking game. The highly taunted EGO graphics engine has returned and I have to say that I am amazed with how good it looks, but given Codemasters heritage of making great looking racing games this should have been expected. New to the series is the first time that DiRT has allowed gamers to race in the snow. Snow will actually build up on the track, wheel tread and the car itself as the snow falls more heavily during a race. The snow even affects how the car handles as you race though through the track. Of course there is other weather as well from hot and sunny days to wet and rainy ones that all look gorgeous.
The settings for the racing are just as diverse as the weather, and just as good looking. You venture to Monaco, Kenya, Norway, Michigan, Aspen, Finland and Los Angeles in your quest for track supremacy. Each area is wonderfully rendered and solidly presented. From the running water in Finland, the snowy slopes of Aspen, to the faithfully recreated LA Memorial Stadium, there is a lot for any gamer to look at.
As for the vehicles that traverse each track, they too are great to look at, from the rally cars of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and up, all the way to the buggies and super trucks found in most track racing. There are various views to race from as well, including two behind the car, one bumper, one hood, and one inside the vehicle. The inside the vehicle view is crazy, and represents the feeling of actually being in the car, truck, buggy or whatever you are racing in. For those who played last years DiRT 2, the ability to have your Xbox LIVE Avatar hanging down from your rearview mirror returns.
As I sit here and write about the visuals, I cannot really think of any negative to note, given how well everything is presented, from the menus to the in-game play, Codemasters did a phenomenal job and all will be happy here.
In terms of the audio in DiRT 3, it manages to complements a well-rounded package. Each vehicle’s sound is faithfully recreated, from the small whiny engines of 4-cylindar power plants, the chirp of a turbo boost as you hit the gas on and off, to the deep roar of the four wheeled racing trucks, each engine sounds quite distinct and different from one another. You’ll also find a some great environmental sound effects as well, from the aforementioned running water, the sounds of fans screaming and honking horns as you drive by pockets of spectators at various points on the tracks, to the sound of metal crunching at you misjudge a corner and careen into a pole or rock face. As for the music, it is very suitable to the high energy of the racing that takes place on screen. Although not much of the music suits me, I didn’t mind it, but after some extended with the game I did turn it down. Overall you’ll find nothing bad here, and all the sounds that you may think goes with Rally Racing is indeed found in DiRT 3.
DiRT 3 offers up a well-rounded package that is inviting to both rally fans and racing fans alike. Those new to the crazy automotive world of rally racing will also enjoy what is offered here. With great graphics, solid sound, and some very compelling and addictive gameplay, including a well-implemented multiplayer mode, the cost of this game is well worth the price of admission.