Colin McRae Rally fans were up in arms when Codemasters overhauled the series into the more accessible (aka US-friendly) DiRT, a few years ago. Some shunned it forever, others approached it with caution, but after three games, it’s hard for even the strongest critics to deny that Codies have succeeded in turning Dirt into a true, all-encompassing, off-road racing franchise that has something for everyone. Dirt 3 only handbrake turns around the haters and drives that point home further.
Ken Block turns Battersea Power Station into a gymkhana playground
If you’ve played Dirt 2, you know most of what to expect from its successor. It’s a wholesome off-road racing game that features an array of race and time trial event modes, tight and responsive controls, and stylish, crisp presentation. The impressive controls and presentation are pretty much a given in every Codemasters-developed racing game, but even there, Dirt 3 sees significant improvements over its predecessor. The game employs the EGO 2 engine this time, and its effects can be seen in the sharper graphics, impressive weather and lighting effects, lush trackside foliage, and phenomenal draw distances.
On the gameplay front, while track deformation is still missing, there’s now a telling difference in handling as you move between track surfaces. This means you’ll experience a sudden and noticeable increase in grip as you move from dirt to asphalt. As always, you’ll be able to adjust your car setup before every race or rally stage, and while it isn’t as deep as what you find in an out-and-out simulation, there’s enough to zero in on the setup you’re looking for. You can also independently adjust the AI difficulty, rather than having it tied to the level of driving assists you have enabled. There wasn’t much wrong with Dirt 2’s twitchy, hyper-responsive controls, and while this game doesn’t mess too much with that system, a few tweaks and the improved track feedback significantly enhance the immersion factor. And even if it’s not your cup of tea, you absolutely must try at least a few races in the cockpit camera view. It is out of this world!
As cool as the caravan first-person menu in Dirt 2 looked, let’s face it, it made navigation a slow and tedious affair. So it’s a welcome change to see Dirt 3 adopt a more conventional menu structure. In signature Codies style, the menus are slick and efficient. The career this time is broken up into four seasons, each with several tournaments comprising multiple events. It’s lengthy, and there’s a rich variety of events across many different locations. So one thing you don’t have to worry about in Dirt 3 is monotony. The race modes from Dirt 2 are available here, but a lot of publicity this time as gone behind the Gymkhana mode. This is essentially what you would see if they had cars at the X Games. Open spaces are littered with barriers to run donuts around, trucks are parked to drift under, and foam is stacked for you to crash through. The aim here is to chain stylish manoeuvres and rack up high scores. Gymkhana adds further variety to an already diverse game, but it didn’t do much for me, and I’d much rather stick to the traditional events.
That brings us to rally, which by popular demand, has received a lot more attention in Dirt 3. Besides the multi-stage structure, the game also includes iconic rally vehicles from over the last 50 years. The rally events are the most technical of the lot, and feature lots of tight courses with challenging layouts, making you rely heavily on your co-driver’s instructions. If rally is technical, the other timed event type – trailblazer, is all about speed. The tracks in these events feature long straights but throw in a few hazards to keep you on your toes. The race events are fun, and the scoring-based modes are a nice distraction, but rally and trailblazer is where Dirt 3 truly shines.
Get down and Dirty
One thing that might disappoint players is the lack of importance given to the cars in Dirt 3. The only purpose of earning XP in the game is to unlock more events. Vehicles are randomly unlocked as you go on, and the game rewards you for using the most recently unlocked cars, making the older ones pretty much useless. You don’t buy cars, and you don’t decide which ones or in which order they get unlocked. For a game that aims to cover every aspect of off-road motorsport, Dirt 3 doesn’t devote enough attention to the most important aspect of all.
The biggest surprise for me in Dirt 3 came on the multiplayer side of things. It’s great to see the game introduce a split-screen mode, and there’s LAN support too, but things get really crazy once you hop online. While all the offline game modes are playable online, the most fun are the party modes that borrow from other genres. One such mode is Outbreak, where a zombie vehicle must chase down others and infect them in a game of cat and mouse. My personal favourite is Transporter, a capture the flag variation where a randomly spawning flag must be collected and taken to a designated location, while every other player tries to stop you. The traditional and party events, plus a hardcore mode that strips away the HUS and all assists, make Dirt 3’s multiplayer not only expansive, but also accessible, with the various modes catering to all skill levels.
It really shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore when Codemasters puts out a great racing game, and that’s what Dirt 3 is – great. Whether you like your racing games pure and technical or unconventional and flashy, they’re both here. And the best part is that one never gets in the way of the other.
Dirt 3 is available across platforms like Xbox 360 (Rs 2,499), PS3 (Rs 2,499), PC (Rs 699).
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Oct 20, 2016
Oct 20, 2016