For a game these days to stand out apart from the crowd it usually need some new mechanic or to be a very polished and simply fun game to play. Theres only so much you can do in the racing genre to add new mechanics to keep it fresh and inviting to play. Dirt 3 has gone the polished route (over new mechanics) and its apparent how much care has gone into making Dirt 3 a very polished and fun experience to play for anyone of any skill level.
Dirt 2 was fantastic and brought some new fans to the genre; Dirt 3 looks to do the same once again all while adding new features to the series and making it almost easy enough for anyone to play and enjoy. The game expands the car list, locations, tracks and modes to make a much more rounded experience. Vets of the series can play with all assists off and youll truly appreciate how difficult the sport is, while newer players to the series can have a very hand-held experience to the point of auto braking and turn-assist that make even the most difficult courses easy enough to rank first. Be warned, having it set to easy with all the assists on is simply way too easy (you never have to let go of gas and wont ever hit a wall) and customizing it to the hardest difficulty will make it a challenge to simply keep the car straight.
Campaign will take you across four racing seasons (and an unlockable master once completed) which will take you many hours to master locations far off in Norway, Kenya, Aspen, Monaco and even closer tracks in the United States. With over a hundred different tracks (many being variants) youll be racing through snow (which is new to the series), mud, dirt, rain and more on your quest to place first in each race.
Most of your races will take place off-road (hence the titles name of course) from rally to trucks and even buggies. Rallycross was easily my favorite race mode and will have that X-Games style to it, others might enjoy the head to head races which will have two racers racing each other at the same time on side by side courses trying to beat each others time (though you wont ever meet in an intersection) and others will really enjoy the new Gymkhana style racing, but more on that later. Tracks can feel completely different with the variants of night racing and weather conditions so youll never feel bored saying oh, this course again?.
As you progress in your career youll unlock new types of racing focusing on different styles and disciplines and even a compound where you can freely train your new skills. Almost every racing game out there has the same progression system in place that has you racing to win money to buy and unlock new cars as you go. Dirt 3 does things quite differently where instead of collecting money to purchase your new rides, youre racing for reputation which will increase your driver level and attracting new sponsors, this giving you more vehicles to ride. Instead of having a garage with all your owned cars, youre given choices of what vehicle you want to race a certain event with based on your driver level and rep. Its a little odd at first wondering why you cant always use your preferred car, but I found most of the cars handled more or less the same (though they can all be tweaked to your racing style).
Youre going to need to learn the tracks intensively if you want to rise in the standings and shave time off your best runs. This will take some time with the different tracks and driving surfaces; for example, taking a hairpin turn on dirt feels completely different than on an iced over road or in mud. Youll crash many times before you learn the small intricacies of perfect speeds and angles for each track and vehicle style. Even though youve slowed down enough to take the turn, you might need to come in at a tighter angle or start drifting sooner to make that perfect slide.
This is where the difficulty changes mentioned earlier comes into play. Dirt 3 has a high learning curve if youre not a racing game enthusiast and this is where the Casual difficulty even let my wife stay competitive racing against me. Casual difficulty with all assists on will almost feel like an arcade racer and youll have to make a server mistake to knock yourself out of a race or crash. For those that are racing legit (sorry Casual setting users, its true) theres a Flashback system in place that weve seen before. This allows you to essentially rewind time and go back to before you started skidding out and lost control. You only have a limited amount of uses of Flashbacks but to promote driving better and not use them, youll get bonus rep for unused Flashbacks.
So whats new to Dirt 3? The biggest addition would have to be the Gymkhana events that are essentially a trick orientated style of driving. It has drifting in it that weve come to know and love, but this freestyle mode has you tricking together insane maneuvers to keep the crowd excited and entertained. Ken Block was really the pioneer of this style of freestyle racing (check out his youtube videos to be amazed) which is why hes also included in the game to teach these maneuvers to you. You get points for linking spins, drifts, breaking targets and more. These moves when stringed together by an expert is so entertaining to watch and its even more exciting to pull off once you master the harsh driving style.
This is where Ill warn you, the Gymkhana maneuvers are extremely difficult to pull off with precision and thats not even taking into account that you need to chain these moves together one after another. You will become frustrated and some of the moves dont feel natural to do (turning the opposite way youre travelling for example), but it is the proper way to do it (in the game and in real life apparently) and will take some time to learn to do properly. With enough dedicated time you will get the hang of it but just be warned that it does have a high learning curve to do properly.
Racing games have let you share your best replays for quite some time with some sort of in-game video editor and share but Dirt 3 will let you link your Youtube account for easy uploading. Now this is a cool feature, but it is extremely limited as youre limited to 30 second clips at a time (and only in 480p), so no full races to show off your perfect run. It will also take up to ten minutes to render and upload, which you have to sit and watch the progress bar instead of it being done in the background as you resume play. You also cant save replays of full races so if you dont upload your clip right away (or after the race is immediately over) or accidently back out, you lose that replay forever. Its a good step in the right direction but with it being so limited and taking an obscene amount of time to upload, I stop using it after a few short replays.
Dirt 3 is a gorgeous looking game. The cars have great detail, the environments (though usually always going by quickly) do look fantastic and detail in general is superb. While I would still put Forza on the top of the pile for graphics in comparison, Dirt 3 definitely can hold its own for the stylish looks. The same goes for the car sounds as itll always sound like you have a beast of a machine taking the tight corners.
Up to eight players can compete online but Split screen and System link are included as well (and are often forgotten). You can customize that style of race you wish to compete in and can even turn on or off options such as forced cockpit view and more.
Dirt 3 has some of the most unique multiplayer modes that Ive ever seen in a racing game though which should be commended. The most unique would have to be the zombie mode. Yes, you heard me right, theres a zombie mode in a racing game. One random car is the infected and needs to slam into other cars to infect others with that last survivor that hasnt been hit being the winner. The Invasion mode will have your team of racers trying to defend earth from robots which needs you run into cardboard cutouts of them while avoiding the cutouts of buildings. Transporter mode was my favorite which is essentially a capture the flag that randomly sets a flag somewhere in the area and it needs to be transported to the final check-in with the person delivering gaining the point.
If youre a Dirt fanatic and have $300 to spend on an insane collector edition, Dirt 3 has you covered. For $300 you will get Dirt 3 (obviously) and a fully assembled Ken Block Gymkhana RC Car that is huge and completely usable to do donuts, drifts and other stunts youll be performing in the game. Its modeled exactly as the car he races (and you will be in-game as well) and from all the videos shown, its an insanely fast RC car. This is no Toys R Us brand car you had as a kid, this is professional grade that can actually enter into RC Gymkhana events, if you have the cash that is.
Just like almost every other game today, youll get a onetime use VIP Pass which will enable the online multiplayer modes and unlock some exclusive cars for new game purchasers. People buying Dirt 3 used will need to shell out 800 Microsoft Points ($10) to enable online and unlock these cars.
While no game is perfect, Dirt 3 is extremely polished and clearly wasnt rushed before it was ready. The only big downfall I have to make note of is the amount and length of loading in the game. Before and after every event youll need to load the race naturally, but its obscenely long for how short some of the races are themselves. I would say its on par with the elevator loading length from Mass Effect its that noticeable; but at least you can slightly move the camera showing off your car while zooming in and out to keep you entertained for the duration.
Dirt 3 is simply a solid racing game. While it may not bring any crazy new features or mechanics, the complete and polished package it brings makes up for it in stride. The different difficulty settings makes Dirt 3 accessible to almost any experience level of gamers and the vast majority of modes will keep your interest and the disc in your tray for some time. Even if youre not a huge fan of the genre, you wont go wrong with Dirt 3 as it really will have something for almost everyones style and tastes.