Dirt 3 is Codemasters’ latest off-road racing game, following up 2009’s Colin McRae: Dirt 2. While legendary rally racer McRae has been dropped from the title, Dirt 3 marks a return to the series’ rallying roots.
True to form, the action is split across several off-road disciplines, including rally, rallycross, trailblazer, landrush and head-to-head modes. These races take place across lushly detailed stages, from the snowy wilds of Norway to the sun baked roads of Kenya. These disparate locales are newly enhanced with weather effects and night driving, which transform familiar courses into untested tracks that you’d be foolish to take at full speed, not least because you’d be missing the visuals.
Dirt’s big draw isn’t the scenery though; instead it’s the clever driving model which convincingly captures the thrill of barely-in-control off-road racing for newcomers and veterans alike, letting you feel your car squirm around every slick corner and bounce over every bump.
As well as the staple point-to-point and circuit racing modes, Dirt 3 also features Gymkhana, the brainchild of American rally racer and Dirt front man Ken Block. If you’re not one of the thirty million people who’ve seen Block’s freestyle stunt driving shenanigans on YouTube, Gymkhana is a highly technical autosport where racers use jumps, drifts and burnouts through obstacle-strewn tarmac to show off their skills and please the crowd.
It’s more demanding than normal races, but can also be more rewarding when you get it right. If you decide Gymkhana (or any other game mode) isn’t your bag, the permissive campaign structure will let you skip those missions for more favoured fare. The driving itself is also quite friendly to newcomers, with a plethora of assists for casual drivers as well as the invaluable flashback system that lets you turn back the clock on a nasty accident.
The presentation is much more laid back this time around, toning down the brash Americanism that pervaded Dirt 2. Your crew are still petulantly eager to provide their breathless enthusiasm for all that you do, but the flock of extreme racing celebrities and their canned sound bites are thankfully absent. With these empty voices gone, you’re free to listen to the whine of the engine and the bite of the tires, a much more fitting backdrop.
The menu design has also matured, returning to the simple shapes, crisp type and bold colours that defined the original Dirt’s interface. Triangles are the shape of choice this time, unfolding like origami to reveal events on the calendar and cheerfully flying out from beneath the tires of animated cars to the tune of down-tempo electronic music. You’ll be spending a lot of time in these menus, so it’s just as well they’re so ably crafted.
Dirt 3 manages to capture the rally racing fervour of McRae titles past with the latest in made-for-YouTube technical driving, again raising the bar for a Codemasters produced driving title and producing one of the most polished and satisfying games of the year.
Dirt 3 was reviewed for PS3, with additional testing on PC. Dual Shock, Driving Force GT and Keyboard controls were all used. Multiplayer was not reviewed, as due to the continued outage of the PlayStation Store it is impossible to activate the VIP code that enables multiplayer.