Rally is a sport that fascinates me, purely out of the danger aspect not only for the drivers and their navigators, but also for the fans. How many other spectator sports can you stand a couple of feet away from the action involving 500+ horsepower as the vehicles careen around dusty potholes corners and slide on icy straight-aways with nothing but a plastic rope or a small tree between them. That being said though, I’ve never been one to want to dive headfirst into a racing title that didn’t feature the words Burnout in the title, but this third iteration of the Dirt franchise sunk its hooks into me from the moment I hit the first track and the mantra of ‘just one more race’ kept being uttered even late into the night.
Admittedly, I did not play Dirt2 (sacrilegious I know) but from what I can gather there have been changes. And rather than try to outline all of these changes, I’m going to talk about Dirt3 as a new player and my experience with it. To be short – it was highly enjoyable both online and off. People who migrate towards the single player experience, such as myself will find a fairly lengthy campaign that is appropriately titled, My Dirt. Upon starting this mode you’re introduced to two narrators who are supposedly your management throughout the game, but only seem to serve as cheerleaders as you progress through the races and ultimately the four seasons that you race. Each season will take you through various locales with varying weather and driving conditions, all of which are not only drawn very effectively but also affect how your car/buggy/truck handles on the track. Rally isn’t the only style of racing here, but each variation save for Gymkhana is a variation thereof. Rally Cross places you on a shorter somewhat wider track with other vehicles to race to the finish, these sessions are a blast online with people jockeying for position constantly; Trailblazer is a slightly more adrenaline fueled version of Rally – where you are driving a super powered rally car without a co-pilot there to warn you of sharp turns or jumps.
Gymkhana is a section that is both folded into the flow of the seasonal play, and also offers up its own dedicated location and set of challenges within the game. What is Gymkhana you might ask? I think of it as parkour on wheels – what is parkour you ask? Google it! Gymkhana places you in a smaller rally car that packs a lot of punch, and the goal is to perform as many tricks as possible in a specified location and time frame. Tricks vary from catching air off ramps and smashing through obstacles to pulling some crazy drifts under and around parked trailers or scaffolding, and even to performing very tight spins in a marked area not much wider than the vehicle you’re actually driving. My initial experience with the Gymkhana events was underwhelming to say the least, but as I continued to do the events I got to the point where I could perform the moves on demand, and strung together some pretty impressive runs. For those with a desire to do so, any replay in the game can be edited and then uploaded to a linked YouTube account.
The game controlled as good as it looked, especially when you immerse yourself in the cockpit view of the game. The little tweaks of the steering wheel are both exciting to see happen, and also completely necessary and intuitive to pull off, especially when your drifting around a corner that’s flanked by pedestrians who seem to dart across the road just as you’re approaching. For gamers new to the series, the game features a very forgiving assistant mode, which outlines an ideal path to take as well as lets you know the ideal speed at which you should be taking each corner. A further assistant will automatically brake for you, so the game becomes even easier if that’s what you need to make it through seasons.
Sure, the menu system is convoluted, unnecessarily time consuming to navigate and the career mode slimmed down to the point where each race features an always ready to race car, no fixing needed – but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t having a blast on each and every race I was in win or lose. Careening around corners while a rooster tail of dirt or snow flew out from my car while listening to my co-pilot inform me of a pending bridge around the next corner was so exhilarating, that the lack of depth really didn’t detract from anything this game offered. Some dedicated Dirt fans might feel slighted by the shift, but as a newcomer to the series this was a fantastic place to slip in.
Score: 8.5 / 10
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360