Rally has always been a great highlight sport to me. Watching the power slides and jumps always brings a smile to my face. However after watching an episode of the fountain of all knowledge that is Top Gear rally took on a new face for me. Its name is Gymkhana and it creates a whole section within Dirt 3. This helped me to make the purchase of Dirt 3 as I wanted a fun driving game; the main question is could the game deliver?
The basis of any Driving game, in my opinion, comes down to gameplay and this is something Dirt 3 does very well. You feel in control of the car and so you can push it to the edges of its limits with confidence, however push too far and you will pay for it. This is true with both a controller and a steering wheel. The control scheme is standard, the triggers acting as accelerate and brake/reverse with no boost or other driving gimmicks. It keeps the control scheme pure and simple. You are also able to alter the setup in the control menu to create you own scheme.
There are three preset difficulty levels which alter both the opponent difficulty and the cars handling model. You can also create a custom setting which is a great addition. The accessibility of the game is easy due to the casual difficulty which gives you brake and steering assist as well as cosmetic damage only. I found this setting great for getting to know the tracks, but due to the assists the challenge becomes stale very quickly as all you need to do is keep your foot down and occasionally avoid other cars. As you get familiar with the tracks and disciplines, moving the settings to a more difficult level can help the game to become more challenging and rewarding, therefore increasing the longevity of the game. One nice touch is you can alter the these settings before each race in the service area so if an event has a different track than you are used to, you can alter your settings very easily. As with over Codemaster racing games you are also given a rewind function. This allows you to go back a few seconds so you can rectify a mistake. You always have 5 rewinds no matter the level you play to. If you do not use them during a race you are rewarded with extra reputation points.
Coupled with the gameplay are the excellent graphics. The car models are amazing and the scenery and tracks are great to look at as they whizz past. The weather effects do leave a bit to be desired, but they are as good as any other racing game. The Damage models are the best graphical representation of any driving game I have played, with bonnets flying and doors hanging off, you almost want to crash just to see what it will look like. Of course, in the higher difficulties, this will affect the drive of the car meaning it can be virtually impossible to drive the car if you cause too much damage. My biggest gripe is the cockpit view; it just seems lifeless. I would have prefered it to be more vibrant and have greater depth and so more representative of a real car.
The choice of cars is limited at the outset but as you progress through the game you can unlock both cars and liveries/sponsorship for those cars. There are a number of classes of cars from modern day all the way through to 60’s greats like the mini cooper (my personal favourite). You also get specialist Trucks and Buggies for the Land Rush events. The choice of class is preset by the game for each event but you can usually choose from a few classes and then your opponents have to have cars from the same class. The cars themselves feel relatively similar, within class there are no stats except weight and bhp and only limited custom tuning is available. The tuning is very easy with 5 preset choices for all the functions. These can alter the feel of the car and some tinkering can allow you to create a comfortable set up. I still would prefer a statistical representation as the tuning feels ‘tinker and see’.
Within the game the XP is called reputation points, the idea being you build your reputation in order to attract better sponsors, open up more cars and events. You can earn reputation in all events and if you redo events you still gain points.
The sponsorships give you liveries which are the only cosmetic changes you can make to the cars. These represent deals from real world companies like Red bull, DC shoes and Puma, to name but a few. Each deal also offers you challenges to complete while driving and gives you extra XP for completing them. The main problem is that you only go up to a level 20 and after that, no more unlocks and this does reduce its long term appeal.
The main single player campaign is called The Dirt Tour. The tour itself is split into four seasons comprised of four sections. Three sponsored sections acting as qualifiers the fourth section is the final which can only be opened once you have enough reputation points. These sections are then split between four to eight events. Mixing disciplines means, even if you struggle with an event, you can still finish a section and qualify for a final. There are also discipline-specific sections allowing you to gain extra XP and become more proficient in those events
Events are all based on rally but are split into different categories these are:
Rally is the easiest discipline to recognise. It’s a race against the clock, split across multiple sections. The winner is the person who covers the distance in the shortest amount of time. There is hardly any overtaking unless another driver is particularly slow.
Rallycross uses a mixed track of off-road and asphalt. This allows the cars to usually be a bit more powerful than Rally. The surface change means you have to be careful with any alterations you make as to not compromise one surface in favour of the other. You also have to deal with seven other drivers and, as you increase the difficulty, they become a lot less passive, increasing the fun.
Trailblazer is similar to real world hill climbing using modified cars with huge aerodynamic aids. There is not a great deal of elevation in some of the tracks but it’s better to just think of it as a point to point race in the quickest amount of time. As with rally it’s more a race against the clock than an overtaking discipline.
Land Rush utilises Trucks and Buggies. It’s a simple off road track where you have to complete a set number of laps. The tracks have a very off-road feel, whether it’s dirt or snow; you are always on the edge of grip. The custom vehicles help to create a fun, alternative challenge and a nice change of pace from the cars.
Head to head comprises a parallel track of two lanes and a cross over bridge. This allows the two drivers to start at the same point and they will both cover the same distance by crossing the finishing line twice. These tracks have been designed on all surfaces and give you a real feel of competition. This type of racing is similar to the Race of Champions events, which if you have never seen, I highly recommend looking into.
Gymkhana is an odd discipline to try to explain. The basic premise is to try to gain points by doing tricks and stunts within a set time limit. The tricks are based around structures built into the course. You have to complete doughnuts, jumps, drifts, 360’s and breaking blocks. It’s really just a playground to destroy tyres in clouds of smoke and do stupid tricks that look cool.
At the start of the Tour you are given the free run of the old Battersea power station in london, in which to practice. You receive some basic, and I emphasize basic, instruction and then go and complete the tricks to gain points and open up other areas of the course. Eventually you even get to use the building itself as part of the track. There are three types of Gymkhana events; the first is just a free run of points scoring to a set time limit, the second is complete a set number of tricks against the clock in any order and the final set is a pre-laid out track where you complete all tricks in order to gain the quickest wins.
Each discipline has its own idiosyncrasies that do take some mastering.
As with most games these days, as soon as you open the box, you are confronted with a VIP pass. In the case of Dirt 3 this gives you access to Exclusive cars, Youtube access and, most importantly, Online access. The cars themselves are not different from most others in the game, but rally fans will appreciate the McRae R4, a nod to the late Colin McRae who was the name on game before his untimely death. The Youtube functionality is always being rammed down your throat after every race with quotes such as, “That was great, you should share it with your friends on Youtube”. It’s annoying to hear this after every race and I do not do hard-sell. I understand they are trying to create a presence and a community but tone it down a notch, please. As for the mechanics of the upload, it runs at 480p and you only get around thirty seconds of film. It takes around eight to ten minutes to upload a video and it must be straight after a race and you do not have the ability to save footage elsewhere. Its a nice touch but I would like to see it more fleshed out with less hard-sell.
The online portion of the game is a lot of fun. You can play all the game types from the single player as well as three custom games. All the game types earn reputation points, while you play these points are multiplayer specific.
The Custom game types are:
Invasion is based on driving around knocking down cardboard robots for points and trying to avoid similar looking skyscrapers, which will lose you points if struck. You are pitted against all the other drivers in the lobby and it’s a highest-points-win game.
Outbreak makes one player infected and that player has to hit other players to infect them. The last player, healthy, wins. You also get points for every infect you make.
Transporter is a game built for mass carnage. It’s a capture the flag game where you have to collect a flag and deposit it at another point. You can steal the flag off of other players by ramming them, hence the carnage.
The multiplayer is good, however due to the fact the game is a year old entry, it’s very difficult for new players, especially in the custom game types. If you are willing to put the time in, the multiplayer is good,but I’m not sure its worth the extra price of the online pass.
In summary, Dirt 3 is a great addition to my driving collection. The events are challenging and offer a different challenge to the GT5s of this world. The challenging gameplay and lovely looking visuals make the game a great place to spend time. However, due to its limited scope of tracks and events, I would only buy it I were a fan of the genre. If Rally is your thing you will not be disappointed.
Game available on PS3, Xbox360, PC
Buy It/Don’t Buy It = Buy it (if you’re a rally fan)
Will you play it 12 months later? = Only as a change of scene game.
Game Purchased by reviewer
Images courtesy of Codemasters PR