When it comes to rally games, Colin McRae: Dirt 2 hit the balance between approachability and realism brilliantly, keeping us reaching for the Restart button to try and perfect that tricky Croatian rally stage again and again. It wasn’t all rally brilliance though; much of the game was bogged down with tediously forced extreme sports branding and an excessive variety of events that shifted the focus away from pure racing.
For sequel Dirt 3, which understandably drops McRae’s name, Codemasters is looking to keep the core rally fans happy. The game has been refocused away from the gimmicky stages of Dirt 2, with more than 60 per cent of Dirt 3 comprising rally events in various guises. While Dirt 3 still lacks the official WRC licence, which is effectively squandered on Milestone, it’s still been able to officially licence many of the WRC’s competitors. Most of the WRC’s cars are present and correct, including newcomer Mini. Notable rally drivers show up too, including three-time WRC world champion Sebastien Ogier.
As well as the current crop of rally machines, there are also a host of motors from rallying’s past. Yes, the group B monsters of the 1980s are back, but so are a clutch of cars from the 70s and 60s. As much as we’re looking forward to thrashing a group B Escort, taking a Monte Carlo Rally Mini through a series of hairpins sounds just as much fun.
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On top of rally’s greatest hits, Codemasters has also used the enhancements made to its Ego game engine for last year’s F1 2010 and added much sought after weather and environment effects to Dirt 3. Combinations of night, rain and snow are confirmed, as is the long awaited return of rallying on snow stages. Codemasters has also promised us deformable snow banks in these events, so don’t always count on those snow-bank safety buffers being there.
We didn’t get a great look at the singleplayer portion of the game beyond a few individual rally stages, but Codemasters seems to have taken an ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ approach. Hurling a Ford Focus through a desert stage was great fun, with the traction differences of dirt, sand and tarmac clear and a big grin resulting from a perfectly executed handbrake turn. Codemasters wouldn’t comment on whether Dirt 3 will inherit F1 2010’s story-like career mode, but we were happy to let that slide once we saw that Dirt 2’s ridiculous 3D menu system has been binned in favour of a simpler design.