The race for the genre’s crown of best is always a very exciting occurrence. Last year Codemasters won the BAFTA award with an excellent re-introduction to F1 racing, a title that received high honours from this site among others. Now they’re introducing Dirt 3, is it another potential winner? Let’s find out.
This year’s instalment of the rally series offers plenty of changes including a new menu scheme. The trailer sequence is gone and replaced by a simple menu structure that is highly inspired by the triangular shape. It definitely reminds me of the Need for Speed series for some reason, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Without the trailer I can’t help feeling less immersed into the whole driver experience.
The now simplified menu gives access to a host of familiar modes including: Dirt tour, multiplayer and singleplayer. The last mode offers all the different types of racing and grants control over all the criteria.
As I mentioned earlier, the career mode in Dirt is no longer accompanied by a nice little trailer sequence that stitches it all together. Instead every year of racing is represented by an unwrapped triangle. You will earn points by participating in races and once you’ve earned enough, the grand final will open up.
The races offer plenty of variation and challenges for gamers of all backgrounds. All the previous types of off-roading are back, but to mix things up Codies added a few more into the mix including smash attack and Gymkhana. Both of them rely heavily on the art of doing tricks on wheels and moving about with absolute ease. While they definitely help cement Dirt 3 as the ultimate arcade racer, I’m not a huge fan of this type of racing. Luckily they can be skipped by excelling in other, more meaningful, events.
Great success comes with more privileges than just the option to skip. Podium finishes will earn points that go into Dirt’s ranking system. By obtaining higher levels other teams will offer you a seat in their team. Most of the time these offers will be a trade off between having a faster car and earning more credits for the win, but luckily there’re some exceptions to this rule.
Modes are fun but they all require a great driving mechanic to become meaningful, unfortunately this is where arcade racers tend to stick their ugly heads out. To judge the game I connected my Logitech G27 wheel and turned off all the aids. From what I’ve heard, these parameters can help players of all levels feel like a star, which is important for an arcade racer, so props to Codies.
Initially I have to admit, I was rather impressed with how Dirt 3 handled. The car responded nicely to my basic set-up changes (a couple of sliders), and the surface really changed the input of the steering wheel.
Then a race in Monaco came up, an asphalt track inspired by F1’s famous venue, and I started to peel off the layers behind the driving mechanic. And, to my heart’s discontent, I learned that all (!) cars share a tendency to oversteer and have too much grip overall. This definitely promotes big slides so I can understand this working in off-road conditions, but on asphalt this becomes an issue. So, in a way, Dirt 3 almost becomes Grid in disguise, which is arguably one of the worst handling racers ever made.
Now you could argue to just stay off-roading, what it’s meant to be, but there’s one more thing: weather. No matter the conditions: rain, dry, drizzle, the car always grips the same. It’s awful because after the initial rush, gamers will learn that the driving mechanic isn’t that good.
Despite all the great sugar coding they’ve done to hide it because at first glance it all seems fine and dandy. The force feedback is amazing for one, and the drifting is loads of fun. And with all the aids turned off, little mistakes are bound to happen, but here’s the kicker: it’s all highly artificial and feels that way. The latter is something games have gotten rid of over the past few years, but Dirt 3 hasn’t.
I love races where everyone is on the edge, where there’s always something on the horizon to manage or look forward to. The same can be said about Dirt 3, and that is mostly thanks to a terrific AI.
It happens so often that the computer cars get notice for a negative thing that it becomes hard to give out compliments in those regards. In Dirt 3 the AI cars never caught my attention and that can only mean one thing: they’re good! Depending on the settings (difficulty 1 – 6) they will attack the inside and harvest from any mistakes you make. They’re fast too; in my first week of playing I only managed difficulty 4, albeit with all aids off. That means that it will take a lot of practise to reach the highest difficulty – and that means lots of gameplay potential.
A great AI not only drives good, they also make mistakes. I’ve driven plenty of races where the AI would simply crash out and stay stranded, with smoke coming out of the bonnet as I blast by in one of the many rally events. Or the cars would lose body parts that actually stay there until the race is finished. In most racing games they can’t even fall off!
These crash consequences also come into play when the player has an off. It looks spectacular and makes an, albeit small, impact on the handling as well. The only problem is that the game is too lenient at times. Even with damage set to full, players can still crash at incredible speeds and come off with only visual damage or a slight knock on the handling.
For arcade games multiplayer is important. Codemasters has introduced a new VIP pass this year. This pass contains a code that unlocks the basic online functionality; it can only be used once! This is clearly a clever scheme to fight the second hand market, but I’m not a fan. I think the industry should not annoy the consumer with silly codes just to prevent them from reselling a product (they legally own!) after purchase.
Personal opinion aside, Dirt 3 offers plenty of online functionality, most noticeably split screen. Players can set any criteria they’d like including multiple rounds, AI cars and laps. This is an incredible achievement and cannot be said about most split screen games – that tend to come with awkward limits.
Online racing is also included and works well, but it desperately needs a lobby to back it up.
Codemasters are known for setting the bar in terms of visuals and in that aspect Dirt 3 does not disappoint. I love how the ambience changes in different conditions. Driving in the dark is genuinely scary, and cruising in a hot sunset is nothing short of breath taking. I also appreciate the scenery they’ve added despite offering less of a variation compared to Dirt 2.
Where the world has gone down in variation, the cars have gone up. Dirt 3 offers a wide range of vehicles from different classes. From the ’60s to modern racers, there’s something for everyone in Dirt 3.
There is one strange issue in terms of graphics though. I’ve played the PS3 version of the game and found the image to be a little soft in places. The menu falls into this category, looking strangely washed out. This is pretty minor though and could even be platform specific, but that’s purely speculative.
Less speculative is the way the world is set up. They look great but tend to lack a sense of immersion. For example the people in the background barely move and the little animations that do make me smile always occur at the exact same spot. The weather conditions aren’t dynamic either. There’re no dynamic puddles and rain doesn’t ease or intensify, there are things we’d love to see in a 2-year-gap sequel like Dirt 3.
The sound supports the image in the most literal way possible, sounding exactly the way you’d expect them to in a Codies title. The way the ground interacts with the tyres is implemented beautifully. Ice, dirt, loose sand, all sounds believable and adds to the thrill. Praise can also be given to the sounds after a crash, those weir
d little ticks drivers often hear after a knock is definitely there. Less convincing is the ambient noise (public, wind etc) or lack of almost.
With big titles come high expectations. Unfortunately Dirt 3 only partially delivers, mainly due to the way these cars behave and drive. On the flip side, the game does offer plenty of variation and nice gameplay mechanics that makes it a joyful experience overall. However these were in Dirt 2 already, leaving me wondering whether the jump is big enough to justify the purchase. Right now Dirt 3 is the best off-road racer available but it is by no means a perfect game.
All the modes gamers could want and more, Dirt tour is perfectly set-up allowing wiggle room in the way racers reach the end. It’s a little less immersive though.
The aids will guide players of all levels, but a deep experience is far fetched. Even for an arcade, this racer lacks a decent driving mechanic. Set-up work only helps to some extend.
The AI is very solid in this game, something that is not easy to achieve. The damage system is beautiful, despite being too lenient overall.
Great split screen and online support, unfortunately it’s not backed up by a convenient lobby.
Very good graphics but the world lacks dynamics and the picture tends to be a bit soft at times. This is further emphasized by the lack of dynamic weather, a must-have in triple-A racing titles today.
The best off-road racer on the market but it has some issues and the gap to Dirt 2 isn’t big enough considering the extra two years of development time.
Dirt 3 review
I’m Robin Chung. In my spare time I like to write articles and stories. My ultimate dream is to write a life altering story for a lot of readers. Feel free to visit my website and learn more!
[url not allowed]