Without Codemasters, do you realise just how dull this industry would be? They consistently produce some of the best racing games out there, and DiRT 3 is no different. The untimely death of Colin McRae threw the franchise into limbo, unsure about how to move forward. His legendary name was eventually dropped, but DiRT lived on with a polished sequel, spoiled by controversy. If you drop the bias and ignore the transition from simulation into arcade, you'll find that Codemasters has produced one of the best racers of this generation. The hardcore McRae fans will be unhappy with this new direction, and that's understandable. It's also missing the point. DiRT is not a realistic racing game, that was never the plan, but it's still incredible. In terms of delivering a complete, polished package of arcade racing, DiRT 3 is at the top of its class.
This is going to sound like a paraphrased version of every racing game review over the past year, but good lord, DiRT 3 is absolutely gorgeous. It's pretty much faultless, unless you want to be very fussy and complain about some ugly roadside pedestrians. The environments, the cars, the weather, the lighting; everything is amazing and Kenya stands out as a real highlight. It's difficult to match the enjoyment of racing through African countryside, of screeching past tribal villages, or just stopping the car and gazing at the scenery. The attention to detail here is quite extraordinary, you can even see beads of rain flowing along the shell of your car. Similar to Codemasters' last outing, F1 2010, weather plays an important role although it doesn't have as much of an impact on the mechanics. Finland's snow will reduce visibility and heighten excitement, but there's so much more. DiRT 3 is loaded with of content, so the silky smooth visuals are just the icing on a very rich, filling cake.
The first layer of that cake is the best menu system ever designed. Are we crazy? No, we just love menus that are both stylish and practical. The original DiRT started the trend of...trendy menus and immaculate presentation, and thankfully Codemasters has kept up the quality across all of their racers. Unlike DiRT 2, where you had to walk around a trailer, installment number three has reverted back to a more traditional design. You can still shift the camera and adjust the zoom, but this time you're going to be showered in pretty triangles. Navigating from your career to Xbox Live and taking a pit-stop at the gallery in between has never been easier. Certainly never been sexier. In the background, you'll be treated to a cool mix of tunes; nothing spectacular, but nothing intrusive either.
Now you're biting into the core of DiRT 3, and it couldn't be tastier. This is pure arcade, off-road driving. Settings can be tweaked to minimise friendly assists, but you're never going to be able to make this feel like a realistic rally game. That's one of the few faults here, DiRT 3 leans heavily towards arcade racing and never challenges you in the same manner as Forza 3 or Gran Turismo 5. Leaving that aside, you've got the most solid arcade racer on the market and what makes DiRT 3 excel more than anything else, is the sheer amount of variety. There's more classic rally than ever before, you've got buggy races, sprints, land rushes in big trucks, complex dual battles and much more. Easily the biggest new feature however, is a booming subsection of motorsport called 'Gymkhana'.
It's crazy, dangerous stuff. Essentially, it's a point-based mode where drivers can achieve higher scores doing very specialised tricks. These include donuts, drifts, jump and spins. Linking them together will multiply your score and send your ego sky high. The only issue with Gymkhana is the way in which Codemasters introduced it. You're thrown in after getting a few tips on how to control your car, but apart from that it's up to you. The events are so distant from everything else in DiRT 3, so it really needs a more in-depth tutorial. However, once you get into the swing of pleasing the screaming crowds, Gymkhana is a really enjoyable addition the series, and it's made even more exciting with friends. DiRT 3 has a wide range of multiplayer options (local and online), so there's no shortage of things to do.
All of our races on Xbox Live went wonderfully. We didn't actually win anything, but we had no lag whatsoever. The hit detection was occasionally frustrating when other drivers reset their cars, but generally speaking it all runs well. Another new online component, and this is a first for video games, is the option to upload highlights directly to a YouTube account. No more recording off the television, DiRT 3 is connected straight out of the box. Don't get excited about uploading hours of footage, there's a limit, but it's still a really nice idea and strengthens the community. The rest of your time will be spent completing the career mode, a long trip that will keep you occupied for many, many nights. Unlocking everything is a daunting task, and only for the brave. But when the gameplay is so good, you won't think twice about competing in every race.
The most defining part of any racing game is how it handles, and DiRT 3 handles as well, if not better than every Codemasters title before it. Standard controls apply, triggers accelerate and brake etc., although we were unable to try out any form of steering wheel. All of the vehicles have a decent weight, some are easier to drive than others, but for the most part it's a very accessible game. This is helped by rewinds, allowing you to go back in time if you slide into a wall. You're always going to be encouraged not to use them, as doing so will result in earning less experience points. The commentators are continuously trying to make you challenge yourself; their voices can become irritating after prolonged yapping, so consider that a warning if you prefer listening to engines revving (they sound damn fine too). Rally is more prominent than ever before, except we have one final tiny complaint. Your co-driver's notes have been heavily simplified into three degrees of severity: easy, medium, and hard. Unless the World Rally Championship has changed drastically in recent years, those commands should be spoken using numbers, a far more precise method. Alas, it's merely a speck of dust on superbly polished racer.
Judging DiRT 3 as a package; a complete, whole, finished package - there's nothing else like it, at least not recently. We've only touched the surface in this review, not because we haven't dedicated enough hours, but because there's almost too much to enjoy in DiRT 3. There's a bunch of new party modes to play around with, a deep career, intense multiplayer and plenty of extra features. What comes across strongest is the passion of Codemasters, how they take pride in forging a racer of this calibre. It not only supersedes every previous installment, it speeds off miles into the distance, leaving every other arcade racer in its wake. DiRT 3 is essential for anyone who prefers to drive something fancier than the car in their garage, you really can't afford to miss it.